Last week I set out to audit our blog, to get an idea of what content we’ve posted in the past. I wanted to learn which of those items were popular, and figure out why. I was inspired by this article, which outlines a nice, detailed process for performing such an audit. That blog has a lot more content than ours, so I didn’t follow that model exactly and, to be honest, some of the more complicated parts of the process were beyond me. I’m still new to this field, but it was a great learning process, and I figure that some of our readers might be new to content management, SEO, and the like as well, so who better to guide you through the process?
I started out by downloading the Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool and running our blog through it. What this program does is comb through the specified website and collect all kinds of interesting info. Some of those data are easier to use than others, so it’s important to cut the stuff you don’t need. I used the export feature to save the results as a spreadsheet, then put them up on Google Sheets so I could easily share everything with my co-workers. Then I cut down on the information, since there was a decent amount of “under the hood” stuff that wasn’t necessary for this audit.
What I ended up keeping from the spider were the columns for title length, word count, inlinks, outlinks, and external outlinks. These seemed like the most useful. I kept “title length” because I’m interested to see if the length of a post’s title impacts how often people read it it or share it. So far, I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that, unless it’s suitably attention grabbing or funny, longer titles will be less preferable to shorter ones. I haven’t seen any kind of correlations yet, but it’s something I want to keep an eye on. Identifying trends you want to track is an important part of this process, as it allows to you act on some of the information you’ve collected.
Part 2: SharedCount
Before I actually trimmed down this information though, I ran the URLs of our blog posts through SharedCount in order to aggregate the social media information connected to the site. If you click the URL Dashboard link at the top of the screen, you can access the bulk upload feature, which is great if you have more than a handful of pages to upload. I did find, however, that when I uploaded all the URLs, it wouldn’t search them all, so I actually went through and did them in batches of 10 to 20. I also found that Screaming Frog had gathered a bunch of URLs that I wasn’t interested in, like images we’ve used in the blog, or the pages that collect posts by the month they were published in, or by category. These pages aren’t likely to be shared on social media, so I removed them from the spreadsheet and didn’t run them through SharedCount.
As with Screaming Frog, SharedCount gave me more info than I needed, namely it told me how many times somebody shared a page on Digg, or Delicious (which I had never even heard of). I cut it down to the stuff we actually use, like Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress comments. I also kept the information for Google+ and LinkedIn, just to see. Now that I had all this new info, I simply copied and pasted it into the spreadsheet, cleaned it up a little, and set the document to share.
What I found was that there were very few comments on the blog itself, nor were there many Facebook likes or shares, or tweets. What was interesting though, is that our more recent posts, which have been shared on Facebook and Twitter when they get posted to the blog, didn’t generate a lot of activity but generally have more inlinks. What this tells me is that sharing our blog posts on Facebook and Twitter is getting people to visit the blog, which is exactly why we do that! So while it seems like our blog’s audience isn’t passing the information along all that often, they are coming to the site.
So What’s Next?
The point of the audit was to learn more about how the blog is being used, and I got some interesting stuff from it. Moving forward, we obviously need to keep sharing our posts to Facebook and Twitter, which brings traffic back to the blog. Finding a way to get those links shared and retweeted would also be super helpful. Even just a few shares or tweets directed much more traffic to the blog. It’s a modest amount, but through interaction with our Twitter followers or Facebook fans, we could generate even more traffic to the blog. More traffic means more Users posting more orders for Writers, which is what we like to see.
Because I’ve also been handling the Facebook and Twitter stuff related to these posts, I know when somebody on those sites shares, likes, retweets, or favorites something. I also know that people are finding our posts via social media, and not sharing or tweeting them directly from the blog. This tells me that these sites are a good way to reach our intended audience, so we need to put some more effort into social media outreach.
It would be nice if people were going to the blog and then sharing it with their friends and colleagues, but we can work toward that. More content, regularly updated, gives people a reason to return to the site on their own, without having to follow a link from somewhere else. Generating this traffic, and then tracing when it happens most often, could also tell me when we should be posting our content so that it’s seen by the most people. While some readers will certainly go through the archives and read older content, its easier to grab people’s attention with the most recent posts. This is another way in which a regular schedule helps out: people know when to go to your site.
Performing Regular Audits
A final thought on what to do with the audit is to consider making it a living document. What I mean is that, as you add more posts to your blog, you’ll want to keep an eye on how those rate compared to older content. Keeping this in mind, consider how to organize your audit so that you can easily add more URLs to it. I like Google Sheets for this, since it’s easy to update the document, and I’m thinking that, with a little reorganization, I could easily add new posts to the spreadsheet every so often. I don’t think it’s a good idea to add a page as soon as it goes live, I think you should let it exist for at least a little while before you add it.
Another idea is to schedule a regular point at which to do new audits. If you start generating more traffic following the results of your first audit, simply updating your existing information won’t be enough. You’ll want to know how many more inlinks or Facebook shares a given page has gotten since the last time you ran an audit. Maybe do it every six months, or once a year, not so often that it becomes part of your regular work routine, but enough to give you new information. Doing a full audit is a lot of work, of course, but it’s worth it, and it’s also worth it to start fresh. Structure it as much like the previous audits as possible, or take the time to organize it in the same way (I’d suggest organizing your audited pages in the order the were posted, either oldest to newest or vice versa), so that you can easily compare the data. And make sure to keep the old audits! New information is helpful, but if you don’t have previous iterations of that data with which to compare it, you aren’t really learning anything. Keep the old audits in mind while working on new ones, and if you’re writing up a synopsis of your findings, either for a blog post or for internal use, make sure you point out the differences! Analysis of this data is how to improve the performance of your blog, so you need to know what you’re looking for, and what you’re comparing.
How Will you Use Your Audit?
Anyone with a blog, who wants to see more traffic, should probably consider auditing their site like this. Do some research and figure out what kind of information you want to look for, and remember that you can customize the data you get to emphasize this info. Use the audit to help plan out how to use your blog in the future. Consider making a content calendar so you can plan ahead for posts, tweets, or whatever. It took a few days to get everything put together and starting to make sense, but it was definitely a learning experience! It taught me more about metadata and the traffic patterns of the blog, introduced me to several new, useful websites, and I even learned more about spreadsheets and Google documents! What might you learn doing an audit?
Update 10/28/14: I said this was a learning experience, and I meant it! I realized yesterday that our audit didn’t actually include all of our blog posts, and after some thought, I figured out why. If you’re using the free version of Screaming Spider, as I am, then you can only search through 500 URLs. We don’t have nearly 500 posts, but the program also finds all of the images, category pages, and the like which are hosted on the site. However, the program does allow you to filter for certain kinds of content. If you select HTML for example, it will only return HTML pages, if you select images, it will only return those. Setting it to HTML, I find that there are 194 results, some of which, after a brief skim, are pages I’m not worried about, so once I export the information to a spreadsheet and remove those, I’ll be left with something a lot closer to the actual number of posts on our blog (which is 171 posts, counting this one).
Update 10/29/14: I got the chance to rerun Screaming Frog through our blog, and learned a few new things. One, you have to make sure that your URL ends with a slash (/) which demarcates it as a folder that the spider can search through. Otherwise you end up with more stuff. Furthermore, I found out that the HTML filter will not prevent the spider from searching everything, it just only shows HTML results in the main window. Nicely, it does only export them, but the 500 URL limit is still met with lots of other content. However, it turns out that you can got to Mode and switch to List mode, which allows you to import a list of URLs to search, which I did to search just the actual blog posts.