The Value of Performing Annual SEO Content Audits in Higher Education
Has your college or university ever performed a website content audit? If so, when was the last time? And if not, you should get on it—and stay on it! Website content audits should be at least an annual affair, and now may be the perfect time to perform one. Summer is often a good time to audit the content on a higher education website, as programs are being revamped for the fall—requiring information to be updated. Let’s explore the content audit process and discuss the importance of conducting them again and again...and again.
What is a content audit, anyway?
A content audit is the process of inventorizing, organizing, and analyzing your website’s content. It allows your college or university to assess the quality and performance of your website’s current content and develop your future content marketing strategy. Regular content audits can help you boost Search Engine Optimization (SEO), improve the overall user experience (UX) on your website, and amplify your content marketing approach.
Don’t worry if low-level technical vernacular sounds like gibberish to you—today, our focus is on the content of your website, not the tech. Of course, technical audits are important too, but there is a distinction between technical audits and content audits. Technical audits often deal with back-end website issues that affect your search engine visibility but that users don’t necessarily see or notice when looking at a page on your website. A content audit is usually concerned with front-end content that prospective students read and interact with on your site.
There’s no all-encompassing software to buy or magic button to click when it comes to a content audit—ultimately, you and your team know your content best. Therefore, a content audit is very much a DIY endeavor.
Why are content audits important?
Simply put, content audits help your organization identify gaps in your website’s content. By doing so, your team can decipher what new content should be added and evaluate what content should be left as is, updated, or deleted. Performing content audits also reveals issues regarding basic SEO and UX components of your website to make sure users can not only find your site but can find their way around it too.
It may seem like a daunting task to pick apart every page on your website, but it’s very beneficial to do so! Content audits provide invaluable information that empowers your organization to take steps toward a stronger marketing strategy and a remarkable website.
Who at your institution should perform a content audit?
Every college and university is different, but a content audit should ideally be undertaken by a marketing team in conjunction with help from the web team. Why both? Because while the marketing team is concerned with what messages are being pushed out to prospects and ensuring that content across the whole website is consistent and cohesive, the web team may need to be pulled in to edit different elements of content in the back end of the website.
Content audits can be performed on a large, institution-wide scale or on smaller college or department scales, depending on how your school’s website is set up. For example, if each college within a larger university has its own separate microsite and its own separate marketing team, then individual colleges may undertake content audits on their own. However, if all of the colleges or departments within a larger university live under one domain, then a content audit should be performed institution-wide.
How do you perform a content audit?
First and foremost, take inventory of all your website’s content using a crawl tool. The reason why you want to crawl all your website’s pages and not just approach a content audit ad-hoc is that oftentimes, colleges and universities have pages of content on their site that they don’t even realize exist. These may be old pages that you assumed were taken down but never were, or even pages that others have put up over the years that you were unaware of.
If a crawl tool isn’t in your budget, then you can gather indexable content from your XML sitemaps. You can also take inventory of top-performing content in Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Search Console. Funnel all your website’s indexable URLs into an Excel spreadsheet.
After taking inventory of your content, decide what metrics to prioritize. Do you want to focus on optimizing the content for search engine–friendliness? Or is updating outdated content your priority? Focus on a handful of data points at a time so the process is streamlined (and no one feels overwhelmed under a mountain of metrics).
Optionally, devise a ranking or scoring system to determine which pages need the most attention. For example, using a 1-5 priority scale, a “5”-scoring page might have content that was implemented last month, includes working internal and external links, and has all metadata and headings in place. A page of thin (fewer than 300 words) content with no header tags or meta description would be scored as a 1. Add a column in your spreadsheet for each consideration, the page’s score, and what action to take—delete, improve, or leave as is. Once you’re feeling organized and motivated, get to work!
What will we discover in our content audit—and what should be prioritized?
Performing a content audit involves analyzing various elements of your website’s pages that are either working for or against your institution’s goals. Consider the following when inspecting each piece of content on your site:
- Word count: Are there at least 300 words on each page? (500+ words is optimal!)
- Content uniqueness: Is the content original?
- Accuracy and relevancy: Is the content correct and related to the page’s topic?
- Calls to action: Are there appropriate CTAs on each page?
SEO is the process of fine-tuning your website to make it visible to search engines (and therefore discoverable for users).
- Metadata: Does each page have a unique title tag and meta description?
- Keywords: Are top keywords woven throughout the content?
- Headings: Does each page have an H1, H2s, and other applicable headings allocated? Do they include your top keywords?
- Links: Are all internal and external links relevant? Do they work?
- Images: Do they include alt attributes and text?
If your college or university is not yet on Google Analytics, we cannot stress the usefulness of the tool when it comes to analyzing your site’s traffic. Analytics is a data-driven powerhouse—it tracks how many visitors your site has, where they’re coming from, how long they stay, what actions they take, and even who they are. The following are just some of the important insights that Analytics can offer for your content audit:
- Page visits: Are people finding and coming to each page?
- Bounce rate/time spent on pages: Are people spending time ingesting the content and exploring other content on your site?
- Conversions: Are people taking desired actions on each page?
As stated above, your institution may choose to tackle only a handful of these elements at a time. By segmenting them, it will decrease the amount of time spent marking up a page for every little thing and instead focus on what’s most important first and foremost.
So...what is the most important? Here are a few top-choice data points for higher education marketers:
- Are all curriculum pages up to date? Are there any courses that are no longer offered that are still highlighted on program pages?
- Does each page have the top keyword included in the title tag, meta description, and headings without getting too “stuffy”? (Learn about the importance of keywords in higher ed marketing.)
- Does the page include a call to action such as a request for information (RFI)?
- Are prospective students requesting more information or taking other desired actions on the page?
Again, you and your team know your content—and your institution's needs—best. What programs need seats filled? What department wants to highlight its facilities? What’s new and exciting around campus? Use these happenings to guide your content audit (and ultimately your content marketing strategy).
Stay ahead of the curve with annual (or semi-annual) content audits!
So, why perform website content audits regularly? Think about what happens to content after it gets posted. Typically, it just sits—unkempt, unrefreshed. It eventually grows stale—a relic of the time it was posted. In the world of higher education, pages about programs, curricula, events, and other time-sensitive materials comprise the majority of a college or university’s website. This content should be updated on a regular basis to reflect changes in course schedules, department faculty, etc.
All in all, content audits hand you the tools to enhance the quality of your website’s content and optimize it for peak organic search performance. Improving the quality of your content builds trust. Building trust keeps visitors coming back. Improving your SEO leads to increased audience engagement, which drives improved conversion rates.
If you take anything away from this, let it be this: it is imperative to revisit your college or university’s website content—in its entirety—again and again to make sure it’s performing as well as it possibly can. So the question now becomes: what are you waiting for?
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