The Art of the Content Audit

Originally published on Pulse, University of Utah Health’s intranet, June 12, 2017, this is a case study about a content audit for the Women’s Health Services website at University of Utah Health.

Content, if you haven’t noticed, is a complex beast. For example, we spend a lot of time focusing on good content, what it is, where we get it from, and how we deploy it. But we spend less time than we ought on considering the outcome we want from the content we curate and post.

A content audit is a tool that allows us to review the content we have and take its pulse. It’s a great benchmarking tool with which to craft and test which content pieces are performing the best and where there might be gaps in the content. If there is important content missing that would benefit our users, a content audit is likely to reveal this.


For our content audits [at University of Utah Health], we have identified these specific goals:

  • Reduce number of website pages with thin or low-performing content
  • Combine pages with thin content OR flesh these pages out, depending on website goals
  • Archive pages that are out of date, no longer applicable, or very low performing
  • Identify areas where we might want to add content

Where to Start

An audit can be as in depth or concise as the site necessitates. You can also tailor the information you collect in the audit to fit your overall site goals. The typical content audit might include these items:

  • Analytics
    • Page views
    • Time on page
    • Bounce Rate
  • SEO factors
    • Meta title & length
    • Meta description & length
    • H1 heading
    • H2 heading
    • Subtitles: additional use?
    • Word count
  • Content type (video, form, text, etc.)
  • Contact information
  • Images
    • Type of image
    • Image alt text
  • Affiliated documents
  • Duplicate content
  • Last modified

We determined to add in these additional audit points as particularly applicable to our patient-facing sites:

  • Call to action
  • Referring physician link included?
  • Specialist list included?
  • Related MBM specialty?
  • Affiliated service line
  • Affiliated marketing campaign
  • Affiliated research or other programs
  • Any additional content
    • Patient experience story included?
    • Health Feed/Scope inclusion? [U of U Health blog and podcast respectively]
    • Related tags to Health Feed/Scope
    • Clinical trials inclusion?
    • Patient education?
    • Vendor library content included?

Once you have outlined what you would like to inventory, you can begin to collect the data.* Take a look at the content inventory for our women’s health services website:

Redacted content audit women's health
What the full content audit looks like for women’s health services; please forgive the omission of analytics data!

Now that we’ve inventoried the content (rather exhaustively), we can examine how each piece is performing and make some assumptions as to whether the page should be kept, revised, or removed.

Example: Content About Midwives

Previously, we had two website pages about midwives on our women’s health services site.​ The page /what-is-a-certified-nurse-midwife.php receives far fewer page views than the /midwives.php page. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly as the time on page is over 1 minute. That’s a lot of time in our virtual ‘verse. So the content is important to those who are looking at it, even though the page doesn’t receive a lot of traffic.

In this case rather than get rid of the content, we are going to optimize it by moving it onto a page with more visibility, in this case /midwives.php. This should increase the main midwife page’s value while indicating to Google that we have both updated our site and checked our content for accuracy. (When search engines crawl websites they look for a number of factors that might tell the importance of the webpage. One of these factors is the date the page was last modified.)​

Webpage featuring content about midwifery (or midwives) on University of Utah Health’s women’s services website

The sticky navigation (a navigation bar stays with you as you scroll down the page) allows readers to access all the content about midwives and our services without leaving this page for another. Thus we’ve consolidated a low-performing, but important, page into the content with which it fits, letting the search engine know that we’ve updated the content by modifying the page, while keeping content that is clearly valuable for our readers.

End Objective: Increase Quality of Page Visits

This is just one page treatment out of many options that we might use when it comes to structuring content. All of the content audit goals lead to the most important objective of our content strategy: increase not just traffic to the website, but the quality of the traffic; namely, we want this content to show up for the right people at the right time in the right place.

Where Do We Go Next?

What happens after an audit? We look at the recommendations we’ve made after reviewing each page and determine who is responsible for whatever action needs to be taken. We also track the progress of the content updates.​

Ideally, we apply this process to all our websites on a regular basis, ensuring that our content remains up to date and within best practices.

And that, my friends, is the short of it (the long is all wrapped up in all that data and detail gathering). In the next few months, we’ll keep checking in on this content to see how the website data analytics change (usually we must allow about six months to get a relatively accurate picture of how the content is performing—performance has leveled out by then after the significant changes have been made to the site by then).

*I’m afraid I’ve had to redact the data here; I’m sure you understand!.

Be Brief! And Other Paradoxes of Long Form Content

After All, Brevity Is the Very Soul of Wit*

“Be brief!” says Howard Rauch, author of Get Serious About Editorial Management.1 “Following this should be duck soup for most editors,” Rauch writes. “But that’s hardly the case.” What does Rauch mean by this? Should our sentences consist of only three words—noun, verb, direct object? Or should we seek for more, as the long form content movement progresses?

Primarily, Rauch references sentence structure and grade reading level. He writes of something called the Fog Index, a quantitative measuring resource I will have to check out. He brings up, what is for many of us, a fantastic point: how long are our sentences? What grade reading level are they written for? For whom are we writing?^

But how does this figure in to long form content?

Long Form Content

At first glance this long form business appears to be based around search engine marketing, but hark! What is the end goal of search engines? I find the answer to my question “What does a search engine do?” confusing:

What does a search engine do?

Apparently, a search engine is a web index. That’s nice and all, but how does that help me? Web indexes in search engines provide us with results to our queries on the internet. So, let’s ask Google another question: What is the point of search engines?

The result can be found with an even better question: Why do people use search engines? suggests the top uses for a search engine are:

1. Research,
2. Shopping, and
3. Entertainment.

While my experience certainly does not support the ordering of that list, it definitely supports the content. (My experience rarely equates with the 99%, however, I can only guess that it does make up some part of that total percentage as someone, somewhere, does relate with my experience, probably that miniscule .00000001 percentage of people—I call them friends).

If those are truly the top uses of search engines, then it behooves the search engine to try and align the quality of their web indexing to match those user goals. If search engines are focused on users, then it follows that perhaps we should be too.

Why have I followed this train of thought so thoroughly? Because I focus quite a bit of energy on thinking about applying SEO guidelines to my work. And SEO best practices should be very aligned with content best practices. While search engine results can’t tell us why users are doing something, they can certainly tell us what they are doing.

And if what they are doing is spending a lot of time and energy on long-form pages, perhaps we should spend some time focusing on quality long-form pages.

There and Back Again**

Not too long ago, I recall breaking up long form pages of content. These pages were miles long—well the web equivalent of miles—with anchor links and “back to top” under every section. If long form is The Thing, why then did we change our pages a couple years ago, breaking up information into tabbed pages?

I tend to think we followed a design trend. Or perhaps it was the explosion of SEO-gaming tactics, writing multiple short articles about nothing—fluff punctuated by keywords leading to higher search results. There were also things like microblogging and tumblr.

Design-wise, in a desktop focused industry, it was a way of making vast amounts of information more visually palatable. The web however, as all other things do, evolves. What remains constant is the centrality of search engines in our lives.

With this brief reminiscence, we now ask: long form content, what are you now?

Long Form: 2,000+ Words

A return to Search Engine Journal indicates long form is primarily 2000+ words formatted in whitepapers, e-books, and how-to guides. Short form content, like blogs, social posts, and emails (although I’ve seen some reallllllly long emails…) are apparently also useful, often referencing this long form business.

The best length guidelines for content that I’ve found focus more simply around your audience. What are their needs? What research are they conducting? What do they need to know to make a purchase? What tasks will your content help them to?

Longer form content for webpages focus on these user tasks. What does our user need and how can we deliver that information?

In my work at University of Utah Health, we discovered in our content audits that pages packed with information approximately 1,600 words more or less in length performed very well, at least as far as number of visits and time on page. Whether these met marketing and conversion goals, however, is another story!

Duck Soup^^

Our mission then is clear: we must be brief—but not too brief—focusing on our users’ needs. We must write for our readers using well-constructed but not overly wordy sentences. Our brevity must be more than a haiku but less than a dissertation, and I like to think witty.

Shall we organize a duck soup tasting?

  1. 2017, Get Serious About Editorial Management, Howard S. Rauch, pg 120.

*A sentence that was for Shakespeare, indeed very brief.
^Note: I write this primarily for myself to study and consider the vocation of content. If you are reading it, then wow! Please continue!
**A reference to Bilbo Baggins’ recounting of his journey in The Hobbit. If you don’t know who hobbits are, you have missed out.
^^An idiom meaning something easy to do or accomplish, which became widely used after its use as a title for a Marx Brothers film in 1933