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seo content audit

How to Run an SEO Focused Content Audit

  • July 4, 2020

About the author

Ryan Stewart

I have an unhealthy obsession with being considered the world's BEST internet marketer. I'm highly active on social media and love a good debate.

I have mixed feelings about the explosion of web content.

On one hand, content can be the glue that holds campaigns together (SEO, social, paid, email…everything).

On the other hand, content has gotten saturated. So many marketers misinformed about what “good” content is.

I don’t know how many more “ultimate guides”, “complete lists” and “expert roundups” the internet can handle…

But, I digress. This post is not about creating good content, it’s about how to clean up bad content.

Why does this matter? Because having dated, irrelevant and flat out bad content can negatively impact your SEO.

When I say “content”, I don’t mean just blog posts – I mean your entire website:

  • Legacy product / service pages
  • Irrelevant category or auto generated “tag” pages
  • Dated blog, resource or informational pages
  • Doorway pages that don’t connect to your site’s core architecture
  • Subdomains, forums, staging domains, etc

Specifically, in 3 ways…

  1. Content that doesn’t resonate with your target audience will kill conversion and engagement rates.
  2. Google’s algorithm looks heavily at content quality, trust and relevancy (aka having crap content can hurt rankings).
  3. Too much low quality content can decrease search engine crawl rate, indexation rate and ultimately, traffic.

In this post, I’m going to break down everything down, step by step, how to audit your website’s content. Specifically:

  • How and where to get the right data inputs for your audit
  • The parameters to assess the quality of your data / content
  • The options you have to manage low (and high) quality content

I’ll be using our Website Quality Audit as a baseline for you to follow along.

crosswalked data

The content audit process

The end goal of our content audit is to have a decision about what to do with every URL on your website – delete, redirect, update or leave as it is.

To make that decision, you’ll need to review pages manually. It’s necessary for human eyes to review pages that:

  1. Provide no value to your target audience
  2. Are no longer relevant, up to date or correct
  3. No longer exemplify your messaging, brand and marketing

We can leverage automation to gather and format the data, but there’s still an element of human analysis needed to make decisions.


Part 1 – Gathering the data inputs

Data is the only way we can make informed decisions about how to handle pages on our site. Our content audit pulls data from 4 sources.


1. Full website crawl from ScreamingFrog

We need to review and analyze every URL on your site. This data can be easily pulled using Screaming Frog or from your Sitemap.xml file (our tool uses Sitemaps).

screaming frog site crawl


2. Traffic and engagement data from Google Analytics

This data helps us understand content quality by looking at organic visits per page, bounce rate and conversion rate. We set parameters to help determine outcome of that page.

google analytics


3. Backlinks data from Ahrefs

Backlink data helps determine if a page should be deleted or 301 redirected into a similar piece of content. Good links are hard to come by and we want to preserve link equity by properly managing content with links.

ahrefs data


4. Server log files (optional)

A server log shows us how many times / often search engines are visit each page on your site. If a page is low quality and gets crawl often, it will change how we manage that page (i.e. 301 or update as opposed to delete / 404).


You’ll need to compile this data using VLOOKUPS. If you don’t know how to do that, no worries, we’d love to run this audit for you. Grab a time here to have a risk free consultation. 

Part 2 – Bulk check URLs

Now, you’ll have every URL on your site with corresponding:

  1. Organic traffic
  2. Bounce rate
  3. Conversion rate
  4. Backlinks

The analysis starts by cross walking the Sitemap with organic traffic data.

Here’s a process diagram showing how we can eliminate URLs to review manually applying the data + logic…


If the page DOES get organic traffic… If the the page DOES NOT get organic traffic…
…and has a low bounce rate, we want to leave it alone (200). ….and has NO links pointing to it, we want to delete it OR (404).
…and has high bounce rate, we want to review for content quality (QR). ….and DOES HAVE links pointing to it, we want to redirect it into a similar page (301).
.and has a high conversion rate, we want to leave it alone (200).
…and has a low conversion rate, we want to review for content relevancy (QR).


Here’s a process diagram showing how we can eliminate URLs to review manually applying the data + logic…


Process to Manage Content


Our decision tree ends up in 1 of 4 actions.

  1. Leave as is (aka 200). If a page does receive organic traffic, has a low bounce rate and high conversion rate, we want to leave that page alone.
  2. Quality review (QR). If a page has does receive organic traffic, has a high bounce rate and low conversion rate, we want to review that page for content relevancy. After manual quality review, you will want to delete (404), redirect (301) or rewrite the content to improve it.
  3. Delete (404). If a page has no organic traffic and no backlinks, it has little value to your site. You should manually review it or delete it from your site.
  4. Redirect to similar content (301). If a page has no organic traffic but does have backlinks, you want to preserve link equity by setting a 301 redirect into a similar piece of content.

Part 3 – Quality review

The goal of our audit template is to cut down on the manual work of reviewing every page on your site for quality.

However, some manual review is inevitable as machines can’t read content for quality (YET).

If you followed our template you will have every page on your site with the following recommendations:

  1. Quality Review (QR)
  2. Leave as is (200)
  3. Redirect into similar (301)
  4. Delete (404)

Let’s walk through the manual process and your final options for dealing with the pages.


1. Quality Review (QR)

Execute this option if a page…

  • Gets steady traffic from search engines (100 or more a year)
  • That traffic has poor engagement metrics
  • If a page is performing well in search and has low quality engagement metrics, we want to review it for relevancy.

Google doesn’t want to send traffic to your site if they’re not going to enjoy it. If they bounce right away, it’s a signal to Google that your website was not a good result for that query.

For that reason, we want to make sure the content on our site is up to date, relevant and delivering value to our visitors.

If you have URLs that triggered a QR, here’s what to do…

  • Visit those pages individually
  • Read them for quality – is it well written? Does it make sense?
  • Read them for relevancy – is this topic still relevant? Is is on point with our brand?

From here, you have 3 options to manage:

  1. Rewrite or update the content to reflect updates, branding, keywords, etc.
  2. Delete the content if the topic is no longer relevant.
  3. Redirect the content into something more up to date and relevant.

I can’t tell you how to make the exact decision, but any of these will suffice.


2. Leave Content As-Is (200)

Execute this option if a page…

  • Gets steady traffic from search engines (100 or more a year)
  • Gets quality traffic from search engines (good bounce rate, driving conversions)

If a page is performing well in search and has quality engagement metrics, we want to leave it alone. Why mess with a good thing?


3. Redirect into similar (301)

Execute this option if a page…

  • Gets NO traffic from search engines (100 or less a year)
  • Has inbound links pointing to it
  • 301 redirects pass on 100% of link equity – if a page has links pointing to it, this is always the best option.

If you have URLs that triggered a 301 result, here’s what to do…

  • Find a piece of content on your site that’s similar.
  • Set a 1 to 1, server side 301 redirect from the old content into the new.

If you’ve acquired links over time, a large part of your audit will be redirects. It’s best to build out a URL mapping file in Excel and pass to a developer to ensure this goes off smooth.


4. Delete (404)

Execute this option if a page…

  • Gets NO traffic from search engines (100 or less a year)
  • Has NO inbound links pointing to it

There’s a ton of information in the community claiming 404 pages are bad for SEO. This is only true when the wrong pages are deleted and not properly redirected.

For example, if you’re migrating your website to new URL structures:

  • Old: yoursite.com/blue-shoes/
  • New: yoursite.com/products/blue-shoes/

If you don’t redirect the old into the new, you’ll be left with a 404 page that search engines won’t be able to index and rank.

However, if you deem that old page no longer valid, it gets no traffic and has no inbound links, the best option is to delete the page and remove it from Google’s index. This creates a leaner, more relevant site that is crawler friendly.

If you have URLs that triggered a 404 result, here’s what to do…


If you find the page has value to other areas of your business, i.e. internal traffic, social media, etc, then you may not want to delete it from your site. Instead, you might want to setup a canonical or “noindex” tag. This will be discussed next.


5. Set Noindex or Canonical tag

Execute this option if a page…

  • Gets NO traffic from search engines (100 or less a year)
  • Has NO inbound links pointing to it
  • Has value to your website OUTSIDE of SEO

You may not be comfortable mass deleting or redirecting pages on your site. If that’s you, there’s 2 more options.

“Noindex tag”. This tells search engines NOT to index this page, deleting if from their index. This will help to clean up your site WITHOUT removing the page.
“Canonical tag”. This tag points to another page on your site and tells search engines to use that as the authority reference on your site. Again, this helps to clean up your index without removing pages.

These are both viable options but should be used secondary to 404 or 301 options.

Next steps

Running a content audit is a pivotal part of increasing your website’s organic traffic by improving your existing assets. It’s a lot of work, we’d love to do it for you. Book a free consultation to find out how we can help grow your rankings, completely done for you.

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Comments ( 133 )

  • Steven Chayer Says
    7 years ago

    This is an exceptional article. It presents the information like a great infographic on steroids! It’s refreshing to read in an age of blah blah me too SEO articles! I appreciate being out ahead of this important and growing trend in SEO. I have a big little site in a competitive local Seattle market, and I intend for our school to be the a marketing force there.

  • Ian Harmon Says
    7 years ago

    This is frickin awesome Ryan. Thanks a lot for sharing man. I’m in the process of doing a content audit for an ecommerce store and this will save me a tonne of time.

    One thing I did come across which I’m not sure is a restriction or bug….

    The first analytics account I tried this on, it wouldn’t work and kept giving me lacesout data in supermetrics.

    I then realised I didn’t have full privileges on that analytics account so I tried it on what where I definitely did and it worked ok.

    Not sure if that’s a requirement for it to work or not. Just thought I’d point it out in case anyone else sees the same error.

    Thanks again.

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    7 years ago

    yeah, youre gonna need full access to get the report to its full capacity

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    7 years ago

    thanks steven!

  • Amanda Chiu Says
    7 years ago

    Really a great article! I’m planning to start auditing our blog and will definitely be using this blog post as a reference / refresher 🙂 I think everyone should be auditing their content nowadays, especially with how the authority on things is determined which can also change on the fly.

    How often do you perform audits?

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    7 years ago

    i actually just went back through our site this past week (when writing this post) and deleted a TON of articles that i didnt feel like represented our brand messaging anymore.

  • Dennis Says
    7 years ago

    Talk about timing! I’ve been wanting to content audit the heck of our site for the longest time. Thanks for the template, Ryan!

    P.S. How many times did you redesign your site in a year?

  • Paul Says
    7 years ago

    This is amazing Ryan. 10/10 stuff right here!

    This will save my team weeks of work. Thank you.

  • JJ Phonsot Says
    7 years ago

    Thank you for investing your time into this Ryan. You are leading a trend that is already snowballing…. Keep it going 🙂

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    7 years ago

    like, 8. we believe design is like fashion, its never done, always evolving based on the season.

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    7 years ago

    thanks paul!

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    7 years ago

    your welcome jj

  • Paul Moyer Says
    7 years ago

    This is really a great tool Ryan. I used this on some smaller sites and it worked great.

    I have two clients that have tens of thousands of backlinks and more than two thousands posts on their sites, and it was bogging down in sheets. Can this be exported to excel after I import the analytics and sitemap data?

    That way I could copy and paste the AHREFS data and have it analyze from there.

  • Anurag Pareek Says
    7 years ago

    Thanks for this Ryan, I am actually doing it manually for a client and it was taking a long time to match up all data points, the spreadsheet would make it easier. But, something like this for excel would be great for larger sites. Thanks again.

  • Andrew M. Warner Says
    7 years ago

    Completely awesome post here, Ryan.

    This is something I’ll be doing because you always want to make sure your best content is up to date.

    Will be using this and referring people to it as well.

    Great stuff.

    – Andrew

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    7 years ago

    awesome, thanks for stopping by andrew

  • Mary Says
    7 years ago

    I am new to ecommerce. This seems like it would hell but – Does this need to come after the site has been up and busy for a while? Or after google adwords has been used? Or is it better to clear up before? Thanks!

  • Mary Says
    7 years ago

    HELP! Not a comment on your work! Oy!

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    7 years ago

    this generally applies to older websites that have produced a lot of content over time

  • Afsar Says
    7 years ago

    Thanks for the detailed write up. Much appreciated.

  • Mario Says
    7 years ago

    This is Definitely amazing Ryan. A+++ stuff right here!

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    7 years ago

    youre welcome 🙂

    7 years ago

    Superb, this is the stuff that really makes the difference to us. The only big site I look after is my own and I have been avoiding the “big clean up” for a while now. Gonna get cracking!

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    7 years ago

    hope you enjoy it john!

  • John Carr Says
    7 years ago

    Been following you for about a year now. Based on your insights and your level of knowledge, I have no doubt you will become one of the top online marketers on the planet.

    Having said that, I am simply an amateur trying to earn a living in a totally different industry. My take regarding the ‘content’ issue is twofold; first, unless one can afford to hire someone to create all this content, it is simply not doable if you are also running a business.

    Secondly, because of the unrelenting and astronomically fast rate of information dissemination, our attention span is shrinking at an alarming rate. There is simply too much information, good and bad, available.

    This brings me to the last point. Most of us no longer read. We simply scan. Therefore, even If I could afford to hire a great content creator, what good would it do when so few of us have the luxury of reading?

    I will be creating more and more videos for my business. Video can inform, educate and entertain in a fraction of the time it would take to read even a short article. My penny’s worth.

  • Alasdair Walker Says
    7 years ago

    Hey Ryan, Love this article, and your kick ass approach to SEO, definitely buying your course in the new year.

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    7 years ago

    thanks john, much appreciated!!

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    7 years ago

    thanks alasdair!!

  • greg Says
    6 years ago

    Wow, as an ex agency staffer- this is hold for accuracy & saving time! Thanks

  • Greg Says
    6 years ago

    Ooops, that’s gold, not hold!

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    6 years ago

    Thank you Greg!

  • John Susko Says
    6 years ago

    Ryan – you are light-years ahead of any of the other so-called SEO experts and trainers. Thank you for putting this together and sharing it. Simply amazing. I am modeling my agency after your example. All of your corporate consulting experience shines through everything you do. Much appreciation for you sir.

  • John Susko Says
    6 years ago

    Just left a review – what is happening?

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    6 years ago

    Thank you John!

  • Tim Livian Says
    5 years ago

    Great spreadsheet, but found an error when referring to the Ahrefs data, you’re referencing column H on the “Ahrefs Export” sheet (“External Links Count”), but that’s actually counting how many external links the linking page has (aka total backlinks from the linking page to any other pages on the web), instead you should be referencing “Total Backlinks” (column B from the Ahrefs export).

    If you used this data for determining how strong a page is because of backlinks you probably made decisions on wrong data.

    Otherwise love the spreadsheet!

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    5 years ago

    Thanks Tim!

  • Chris Says
    5 years ago

    Hey Ryan,
    This is an amazing tool – nice work!

    I’m happy to post a link to this from my own blog.

    I’m having trouble in the final step of the process though – The Next Steps tab does populate get any of the ahrefs or GA data. The metrics columns all show “0” for each page and so all pages are marked with a “QR”.

    I do see all the ahrefs and GA data in the other tabs however. There’s both lots of organic traffic and inbound links. Here’s a screenshot of the first tab, showing the summary:


    And a shot of the Next Steps tab: https://www.screencast.com/t/cJ1a2ZKIq

    Thanks for the help.


  • Ryan Stewart Says
    5 years ago

    Hey Chris – we sunset the tool unfortunately, as we’re getting ready to relaunch a new and improved version of it.

  • lucia Says
    5 years ago

    im having this error message while trying to pull supermetrics tab

    Query failed: Can’t place data to SupermetricsQueries sheet

  • Ana Bittencourt Says
    4 years ago

    Amazing, thanks David and Ryan.

  • Zodia Says
    4 years ago

    can i get a copy of the template as well? thanks

  • Martin G Says
    3 years ago

    Hi Look forward to see the template

  • Towkir Says
    2 years ago

    Completely awesome post here, Ryan.

  • Michael Harris Says
    2 years ago

    Thanks for the spreadsheet!

  • Barcaboy Says
    2 years ago

    Great article.

  • Hector Carmenate Says
    2 years ago

    In a lot of place they talk about how to improve a content but with generic explanations, this explanation really goes to the point.
    Thank you

  • Ryan Stewart Says
    2 years ago

    you are welcome

  • Rory Says
    2 years ago

    I’ve been trying to get this template to work for over a month with no luck. I’ve even tried similar templates from CIFL and Blueprint.

    Each templates gives me “Query Failed” when using Supermetrics. I’ve tried decreasing the date range and rows. Not sure how to get this to work. Would love to use this template.

  • M'Kai Says
    1 year ago

    this is amazing~


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