Now that spring is here, thoughts turn towards throwing out the old and welcoming the new. And with company websites becoming ever more sophisticated and complex, the need for digital decluttering and refinement is ongoing.
As the bedrock of a company’s digital ecosystem, the website is where customers, investors, employees and others make crucial interactions with an organization and it has the potential to engage or lose prospects. Irrelevant content, inconsistent messaging, broken links and all need to be weeded out and replaced with effective and streamlined content. And the best place to start is with a website audit.
Less is more
While websites unchecked can become large and unwieldy, an audit reasserts the principle that less is more. Less content means more clarity for users, and less to manage, less to read, less to update. A well-run audit can be a precursor to a big purge that makes way for new, hardworking content that supports new business strategy. Each element needs to pass muster against a set of performance criteria in order to show that it supports a key business objective or user need.
In order to get the most out of your website audit, it needs to be framed it in the context of overall business goals, and how you want the site to support these. From a UX point of view, content needs to be easily accessible and helpful in completing tasks; marketing is more concerned with the communication of brand messages; while sales seek to drive conversions. It’s important to understand user needs and popular user journeys before you get started. A set of clear user personas with mapped journeys are invaluable in that you can relate content back to these to get a picture of how it’s working for your defined audiences.
What to measure
In order to achieve to achieve top level goals, you’ll need to hone objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. To do this, we use the SMART framework from smartinsights.com. Start by thinking about what you want to learn (and why), and also what you need to prove (and to whom). Some examples of website audit objectives include:
- Evaluating the success of defined user journeys
- Evaluating how specific pages are performing
- Identifying navigational issues and bottle necks
- Evaluating content for consistent messaging
- Getting rid of redundant, outdated, or trivial content
- Supporting more effective editorial planning
- Determining SEO effectiveness.
- Comparing content quality to a standard and also to competitors
- Figuring out how to better organize content for findability
- Discovering whether metadata, such as tags and categories, has been used as intended
Assembling the data
Start by creating a content inventory that shows what you have, where it lives and a few other basic stats. Common pieces of data recorded include: ID, title/ topics, URL format (eg. text, video, PDF), source, metadata, traffic / usage statistics, last update and language.
Once you have your inventory, Google Analytics data can then be overlayed. We usually look at number and percentage of page views, average time on page to give an indication of how much traffic is actually reaching a page and an indication of engagement levels. We assess performance versus user journeys and identify what is working and what is not from a site structure and navigational point of view. This will help show where navigation and calls to action need to be stronger, and highlights what pages are working well, and what needs to be improved or removed.
Next, it’s time to analyse the quality and effectiveness of the content. Is it useful, usable, enjoyable and persuasive – or what do you need to do to make it so? It will need to be evaluated based on defined characteristics. You can make judgements against the performance and also best practice, or for a more advanced, strategic assessment, you can use A/B testing to identify what works and what doesn’t. In order to review performance, rather than just provide a snapshot of what’s there, the audit will need to report on changes through time.
Some useful tools
- Smaply tool that helps manage personas and define user journeys.
- A website crawler such as Screaming Frog SEO Spider can be used to extract data in order to start an audit matrix,as well as provide insight into common SEO issues.
- Similar Web’s free trial allows you to monitor key metric of website performance vs a select competitor set.
- CrazyEgg is great for simple visual analytics showing heatmaps of browser movements and interactions and can be used for A/B testing.
- Hot Jar also shows visual heatmaps and can provide recordings of actual user journeys – it's also really easy to configure survey and polls should you want to get feedback from your site visitors.
- Google Analytics Behaviour Flow is a great tool for measuring user journeys and of course Google Analytics Events and Conversions can add a layer of deeper insight
When to audit
Spring cleaning can be as good a reason as any to undertake a website audit. Too many organisations start auditing only when there’s an upcoming CMS migration or a rebrand. But there’s a case for undertaking regular website audits, not least legal best practice, and once you have the software tools set-up you can dip in and out and review at any time. The Content Marketing Institute recommends condensed content audits to supplement comprehensive yearly audits. They suggest picking three metrics and 30 or 40 URLS to audit. And if these mini-audits are not being run, a comprehensive audit is even more crucial for the ongoing efficacy of your website.
Spreading the word
How your audit is presented internally within your organisation can make a huge difference to its usefulness. If certain parties understand the reasons for changes that are being made, they are more likely to happen. Recommendations can guide future strategy, and provide justification for throwing out the old and bringing in new, hard-working content and initiatives that will reap rewards in the future.
If you’d like to discuss auditing your website, get in touch at email@example.com.