NRC Research Press approached us because they wanted to ensure that their new website would meet their audience’s needs.

To do this, they first needed to know if the content on their current site was falling short or working effectively. Outlining how their content can be improved to meet their audience’s needs and understanding how people use their current site was the focus of this project.

About NRC Research Press

NRC Research Press is a division of Canadian Science Publishing. Their journals cover a broad range of scientific disciplines such as arctic science, botany, genomics, chemistry, and more. Their current website launched in 2011, and both the company (and the internet!) have changed a lot since then.

Client Goals

When your current website doesn’t serve your audience, it can be expensive to fix — understanding your audience and their needs is important before you create and launch a new website. NRC’s goal for their new website (launching in 2019) is to get it right the first time! That’s why they approached us to complete a full scale audit of their site. They knew that a beautiful new website would be nothing if their content didn’t serve their audience — so that’s where we started.

The Content Audit

This content audit was no small feat — the NRC website has over 900,000 pages and suffered from index bloat. Determining which pages were useful and which weren’t was a major part of the audit.

Index bloat happens when Google indexes pages that should not be indexed on your website. As a result, content you don’t need or want users to see ends up in search results.

We audited the content from a variety of lenses:

  • SEO: Can a search engine understand the content on this page? Is it likely to rank? Why or why not?
    User experience: Is this content organized into a logical visual hierarchy? Is the text easy to read? Are there any distracting visual elements? Are calls to action easy to understand and use?
  • Personas: Who is this content for? Does it answer the questions this group is likely to have? Is the brand voice used effectively? Is the right tone used on this page?

The content audit included two main deliverables — an audit spreadsheet and a document with our audit insights. The spreadsheet was useful for the technical pieces, while the document allowed us to write in-depth about how their content needed to be improved.

We used DeepCrawl to identify problems with their content and pages. The data from DeepCrawl informed our audit spreadsheet which outlined thin pages, duplicate pages, pages with missing H1s, pages with duplicate titles, and more. We focused on these areas as they are important from an SEO standpoint — if Google doesn’t understand your content, chances are it’s not written clearly or structured for easy scanning.

Of course, simply using a tool to crawl a site doesn’t mean you’ve conducted a content audit. The second part of the content audit was a comprehensive document which included our insights. We outlined what pages to keep/edit/add/remove in their website redesign and answered questions such as:

  • What information is missing that could help your audience?
  • What content should be moved elsewhere?
  • What internal links should be included on each page?
  • Are the calls-to-action (CTAs) effective?

Since their website serves so many audiences, it’s a large and complex site. To make the best use of their budget and have the greatest impact, we identified the main sections of their site that needed the most help and outlined issues and recommendations for these key pages. All recommendations were made with their audience (researchers and librarians) in mind. We audited all of their content against their persona list, to ensure that they were speaking effectively to their audience.

Below is an example of how our content audit recognized weak content on their site and how they could improve it:

Issue: “Due to formatting and presentation choices, the tone of the page does not match the content of the page. You should be enticing prospective authors to contribute — by using several bulleted lists there is no sense of excitement when discussing the benefits.”

Recommendation: “Include an introductory paragraph that discusses who you are and how you work with authors to get them published. For example, mention how many authors you’ve worked with to show your credibility before diving into your benefits. You want researchers (authors) to trust you. Your tone for this piece should be conversational. Explain how you help support authors.”

Evaluating content with their audience in mind was the main focus of this content audit — redesigning a website without knowing how well your current site is performing often leads to money wasted. NRC’s content needed to satisfy their audience’s needs, whether it is a researcher looking to submit a paper to a journal, a PhD student looking for academic articles, or a librarian deciding if they should subscribe.

Results

NRC found the audit to be very enlightening. They knew that they needed a new website, but they didn’t know what content improvements needed to be made in order to effectively speak to their audience. The audit identified content gaps that their new website should address, and they now have a solid understanding of what needs to be changed when designing their new site, including which pages to add, remove, and edit.

The new NRC Research Press website hasn’t released yet — they’re currently going through the redesign process and are incorporating our recommendations as a part of their process.

Limitations

The NRC website is large! With so many pages, it didn’t make sense to look at each individual page and provide recommendations for each, especially because many pages were similar to one another. We chose which pages and sections of their website were most important in order to give them actionable and effective recommendations that would benefit their audience, all while staying within budget.

Reflections

Design and content are inextricably intertwined. We tried to keep our recommendations focused on the content of their site, but we found ourselves referencing the design of the site often in our content audit. Design is an important part of showcasing content and communicating with your audience — you can have great content, but if it’s designed poorly, your audience won’t read what you have to say. We believe that content audits should include design recommendations — ignoring design is ignoring how your audience will interact with your content.