We recently wrote a post that talked about the value of fresh content when it comes to ranking well in Google.
In that post, we discussed how freshness of content is a ranking factor that Google uses to determine how well a piece of content should rank for a particular keyword or set of keywords.
Whilst that post talked mainly about the benefits of publishing fresh content, and republishing old content with significant changes to “freshen it up”, we didn’t talk about how to identify your outdated content and how best to refresh it.
In this post, we are going to take a deeper dive into the different methods you can use to identify outdated content and then talk through some of the best tactics you can deploy to update posts in a way that is most likely to have a positive impact on your rankings.
Why should you update outdated content?
Before we dig into how you should identify your outdated content, it makes sense to talk about why we would want to.
There are actually many reasons why you would want to update your older content. For one, it’s a shame when a great piece of content you created in the past gets relegated to the history books. All that hard work and your post is relegated to the bottom of the pile every time a new post is published.
This often means that your high-quality post struggles to drive traffic, and therefore loses its impact.
Instead, you should be regularly auditing your content to identify outdated posts that have performed well in the past and making significant updates to that content to keep it fresh.
And here’s why.
When it comes to SEO, updating outdated content brings a number of benefits.
- If you are targeting keywords that deserve freshness, then it’s an important ranking factor to keep your content up to date. What typically happens is your piece of content starts strong, however, as newer posts are published on the same topic, it starts to fall away. Unless you keep it up to date. Whilst it is hard to avoid positional drops for popular keywords with lots of competition, you can ensure your own piece of content is more consistent by making regular updates to that content.
- All content you publish should be helpful to the people that consume it. That’s also a ranking factor. Whether it’s entertaining, educational, or informative, all of these things are helpful to people at different times. Updating older content to make it more helpful can only be good for SEO, helping to tick two ranking factor boxes in one simple update.
- With many content-related pieces, especially news and blog posts, showing a date stamp within the search results, updating older content pieces can also help to improve your click-through rate. People are much more likely to click on a recently published piece of content versus something that is a year or older. That means that updating your content can bring CTR improvements, helping to drive more traffic to your website.
Improved user experience
Related to the SEO benefits above, updating older content can also help to improve the overall user experience on your website. There is nothing more frustrating (well, there are some things like slow-loading pages, but this is up there) than clicking through to read a blog or news article from search and getting halfway through it before discovering the content is out of date.
As a user, that immediately makes me want to click back to find something more relevant and up-to-date. That does nothing good for your bounce rate and engagement metrics and will result in that piece of content continuing to lose rankings.
Older pieces often contain broken links if these are not carefully monitored – another big turn-off for users.
The more often you update your top-performing content pieces, the more likely it is that you will satisfy your user’s search query, resulting in a positive interaction with your brand. Win.
How to identify outdated content
Identifying outdated content is easier than you think, and in many cases, you might already be carrying out tasks that will help.
Keyword ranking drops
If you work in SEO, then the chances are that you are already monitoring your keyword rankings. Whilst small drops and increases are fairly common, if you see a keyword dropping consistently or if you have dropped and not bounced back, this can be a sign that your content is no longer the freshest piece of content on the block.
You will need to carry out some manual follow-ups if you spot that a keyword is declining in rankings to discover if newer, fresher content is now outranking your own piece. If that is the case, it might be time for an update.
We use the keyword monitoring tool Stat and we have alerts set up to ping us when a keyword drops in rankings. This usually triggers a set of actions to look into the possible causes of the drops and then we evaluate and create an action plan. Of course, we don’t have a kneejerk reaction to a keyword dropping by one place – SERP volatility can be caused by a number of factors so we will monitor over a period of time to assess and then create an action plan if required.
Of course, if you are not actively tracking a particular keyword (maybe it’s a new keyword or a keyword you had not expressly targeted but you are ranking for anyway), then you can use other tools like SE Ranking or SEMrush to view the history of a particular keyword and look at SERP volatility trends.
Tracking keyword rankings, especially if you manage a content-heavy site or you are an agency managing multiple clients can be tricky. There are always keywords that fall through the cracks.
Instead, you can look at Analytics to monitor whether there are significant traffic drops to your content pages.
We use Google Analytics for this, and it is fairly straightforward. Simply limit your acquisition channel to “organic” and click on the “Landing Pages” tab under Behaviour>Site Content. From here, you can compare the two date periods from the date switcher at the top right and this allows you to see how landing page traffic to those pages differs across those periods.
Make sure you compare like for like time periods (e.g. include the same number of weekends/weekdays in the comparison) as traffic can differ for many sites on a weekend compared to weekdays.
Google Search Console is another place you can go to work out whether a page or a keyword is receiving fewer clicks than previously.
Search console lets you compare data up to 16 months ago and you can then sort the results by the pages (or keywords) that have lost the most clicks. This is a strong indication that you have seen a ranking drop and further inspection can then be carried out to find out why.
A good tool I discovered recently is called Visual Ping. This allows you to set up alerts on competitors’ content to see when they make changes. If you are working in a small niche, this can be particularly helpful as you can see when they make an update and potentially update your own content at the same time if it is relevant. There is a free version of the tool that allows up to five pages per day, however, the paid packages start from just $10 a month so they can be well worth the investment to keep on top of your fresh content in competitive sectors.
How to update outdated content
Now you know how to identify outdated content, how do you go about updating it? Well, again, there are a few things you can do to refresh old content.
Simply hit the update button with a new date
The easiest way to update a piece of content is simply to change the publish date and hit “Update”.
But don’t do this.
Whilst it does work, it goes against Google’s guidelines when it comes to updating old content and at some point, they are probably going to start cracking down on the practice.
It can be frustrating when you see competitors simply updating the publish date for old pieces of content and receiving a rankings boost, however, try and take the moral high ground and make actual changes to your post that add value to the end user.
Make “significant” updates to your content
When Google tells people off for simply updating the publish date, they state that “significant information” must be added to a content piece when the publish date is updated. In typical Google fashion, they don’t tell us what they mean by significant.
The way we update posts changes depending on the client and the type of post. Here are a few things you can do that could contribute towards a significant update:
- Update stats and data.
- Update sources (especially if the links are broken). If you are updating your own content, you should ensure that anything you are linking to is also current and up to date.
- Update images, screenshots and videos.
- Add new internal links to new pages. A good way to do this is to link to new blog posts you have written (that are relevant) that you have published since you initially published the post you are updating.
- Add a new CTA. Again, you may have a new product to link to or you might have an event taking place that you want people to sign up for.
- Add new keywords into the content that are relevant to the piece. We use SEMrush’s SEO Content Template to help us to identify relevant keywords that we might not have included in our original piece. SEMrush analyses the top ten pages ranking for the keywords we are targeting and provides us with a score out of 10 for how well optimised our own content piece is compared to those ranking in the top ten. This always presents new opportunities and is a great way to add value to your users.
Redirect to a new page
Typically as an SEO agency, we stick away from recommending redirects, however, there is a time and a place, especially when it comes to older content that is no longer performing as well.
If you have an old page that has fallen away in terms of rankings, you may find that it is easier (and better for users) to create a new, more in-depth post that pools together a number of older, underperforming posts. You can then redirect any old, relevant posts to this new super-post, helping to create a much stronger resource and pulling some of the equity from those redirecting pages.
Another reason to redirect an older post is if you either a) included the date in the URL or b) included a listed number in the URL e.g. 7 of the best things to do in Auckland and you have since added more things to that list.
Redirecting would be a last resort and something to avoid if you can, however, there are situations where it can be beneficial.
Content updates need to become part of your routine and they are an important part of your content planning process.
When you are putting together a content calendar, add in a specific time (day, week, month) that is dedicated to updating older content. This might be one post a week or it might be a session where you sit down for 3-4 hours and update multiple posts.
Treat all updated content as new content. If you have followed the guidelines above and added significant information to your older content, then it really is a new piece of content and something that should add value to your customers and prospects.
Promote the updated piece on social media and any other relevant channels and let people know about the changes to your content (new facts/data/insights etc).
We have seen so much success updating older content and continue to see a strong ROI on this tactic.