It’s been a year and a half since writing how to do a quantitative content audit, so it would be an understatement to say this is overdue. The quantitative audit dealt strictly with objective analytics and page elements, utilizing various data sources to create an unbiased inventory. Now we move on to the qualitative content audit, which requires subjective views and expertise to provide value. Although subjective, qualitative data collection is necessary to gauge the full effectiveness of your web content, whether you’re about to complete a redesign or just keeping tabs on your content marketing strategy.
The Qualitative Content Audit
First, the motivation. A stranger emailed me requesting this, Brain Traffic tweeted part 1, and my own standards have resulted in an extremely long time to complete the framework. Together, the quantitative inventory and a qualitative audit is like having 2 hearts to power your content strategy.
But first, a word about qualitative data. Yes, it is subjective, and yes, it is based on opinion. However, this is your professional opinion, and it’s why they pay you the big bucks (damn, I need a raise). Develop a system or set of rules to help remain consistent. This is especially important when evaluating content in context with each other. So when a colleague asks you why you’ve given a certain score, you can simply reply:
Here is the sample spreadsheet of the qualitative audit, with the older quantitative inventory from part 1 on the other tab. The first 2 columns should be familiar; both start with ID numbers and web addresses. Page names from analytics platforms may also be used if they’re different than URLs or URIs. Besides Sales Cycle Stage and Search Intent, all scores are on a scale of 1-10.
Sales Cycle Stage
Each piece of content receives a classification for the highest-level stages in the sales funnel: Awareness, Research, Conversion and Retention. Use this to filter the view for one sales stage at a time to see the best-performing in each. If you have a large team, the sales cycle stages can be used to split responsibilities among team members for unique campaigns to target each one.
More granular than Sales Cycle Stage, the search intent communicates a specific informational need. Each stage in the sales funnel has very specific tasks which a user is trying to accomplish, so these provide a deeper level of tracking and “purpose” for each piece of content. If you’re an SEO practitioner, think of these as distinct buckets of keywords which can be answered with the same piece of content. For example “how to waterproof boots,” “waterproofing hiking boots,” and “can I waterproof my own boots,” might all be answered with the same piece of content.
This is a judgement of natural search presentation (SERP = search engine result page); the basis for which are the page title and meta description. Are these elements the proper length or are they truncated? Do they inspire a click or are they bland? Do they blend in with other results or stick out? Are there rich snippets or opportunities to use them? Is there sufficient use of the primary keyword(s) used to find this page?
Internal Linking Quality
How well is the content linked to from others on your site? How many times? Is the anchor text appropriate, varied, but on-topic? Use Screaming Frog to help you get these internal links. With internal linking, the most important thing to look for is that the phrases are varied and not targeting the same exact text over and over again. Change up the link text to communicate the topic- not a keyword. If you have similar pieces of content, use internal linking to differentiate them.
Organic Search Referral Quality
Yes, this means keywords. It’s OK, you don’t need exact numbers or even numbers at all. Use Google Webmaster Tools’ queries report to give you a flavor of the type of keyword visibility each piece of content earnes. Are they on topic or completely irrelevant? Mostly branded or unbranded? Use the designated Search Intent/Task to help with this score.
Is the content distinct from others on the site? Exact copies? Close enough to confuse search engines? If the content is very similar to another, consider making one more specific, or put a different spin on it. Use your knowledge of the site and the Organic Search Referral Quality to help you judge uniqueness. If there is significant keyword overlap, they’ll pop the same or similar keyword referrals and impressions.
Does the content have a clear call to action? Each piece should have a purpose, which the reader is driven towards. If there is no call to action, you’ll dead-end the visitor to a possible site exit. Remember to keep this action in mind when creating the content in the first place. The function of the content is to persuade the reader into taking action and doing something with their new-found information.
On-Page Text Quality and Quantity
This one deals with how much static HTML text is on the page. Is there sufficient text or visual information to satisfy the demand? Remember, Google has a hard time indexing images so make sure that infographic is accompanied by a few paragraphs of plain text. Is the reading level appropriate? Consider this attribute with other media types as well. For example you might have a blog post introducing a concept or process to a reader, but invite them to go more in-depth through downloading a white paper.
IA & URL Structure
Is the content easily found on the site? Rather an internal linking strategy (above) which is mostly focused on links from within body copy, consider major site elements for this one. Can the page be found through navigation? Site search? Are there breadcrumbs on the page? Does it live where it should on the site and does the URL communicate what can be found on the page?
Finally, we arrive at a total score. This, like the other scores, is on a scale of 1-10 and is calculated simply as an average of the previous scores. No thinking involved in this one, just simple math.
Once you have all this qualitative data, what are you going to do with it? What are the actionable insights you’ve pulled out of this kick-ass spreadsheet? Typically the actions needed are keep, update, decommission, or reformat, but these can be much more in depth. A short paragraph of notes and actions to take are appreciated by your teammates who might not have the same intimate knowledge as you.
When To Audit
I usually do an audit like this once a quarter, or any time there is a major redesign taking place. These should be stored in a safe place, and referred to frequently. I also find it helpful to review past audits in-depth before conducting a new one. If you look at the historical data for a single piece of content, you can keep the context of where it’s been and the progress it has made. Once you’ve done these audits for some time, you can pull individual items out to the story of content over time (and space).