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Four key reasons why you should update old content and a step-by-step guide on how to choose which content to update to get the biggest returns.
You invest a lot of time and resources into creating content so it’s only natural that you want to get the best performance out of it for as long as possible. Unfortunately, you can’t just hit the publish button and expect a piece of content to keep delivering over time. You need to keep it in top condition by optimising on an ongoing basis.
A key part of this is updating your content to keep everything fresh, relevant and compelling. In this article, we’re going to explain why this is so important and show you the most time-effective process for keeping your content constantly up-to-date.
Why is updating old content important?
Before we get into how you can update old content, let’s first look at the key SEO reasons why you want to do this on a regular basis.
1. Users and search engines want the latest information
As with most things in search engine optimisation, you have to think about the impact on the end user as well as search engines. When people turn to Google, they want to know they’re getting accurate information and the “freshness” of content and the information it includes is crucial to this.
Let’s imagine your best-performing page is an in-depth blog post filled with stats, data and useful info – great job. Now, let’s specify that this blog post was first written in 2016 and the stats you’ve included (and linked to) are all previous to the publishing date.
At best, these stats are probably using data from 2015 and now those figures don’t sound so useful, insightful or reliable. Understandably, users want the latest information and search engines want to deliver it, which is why fresh content tends to rank higher (search engines) and achieve better engagement (users).
2. Content quickly becomes irrelevant
We’ve already seen how quickly stats can become irrelevant but this problem isn’t exclusive to data. Industry trends, user demands, audience expectations, technology, competitor performance, regulations and a seemingly endless list of factors evolve over time – things that need to be reflected in your content.
For example, there’s not much point in one of our blog posts talking about mobile optimisation like it’s a new requirement. Or, even worse, suggesting a marketing tip or strategy that flouts GDPR regulations.
In the latter case, outdated content can be quite dangerous.
3. Relevance matters a lot in 2020
Relevance has always been important in SEO but Google has increased the role it plays in recent years. In July 2018, Google updated its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines which heavily featured the acronym E-A-T, standing for expertise, authority and trustworthiness. Then, the following year, a series of core algorithm updates began to increase the weighting of these factors in the SERPs.
4. Performance declines with age
As content naturally becomes less relevant/accurate, performance gradually declines over time. This results in fewer clicks, fewer links, less time spent on pages, fewer return visits and just about every performance metric that matters. Thankfully, this is relatively simple to remedy if you spend the necessary time it takes to update your content, keep it relevant and maintain performance.
How to update your old content
Updating old content is important but you need a process that’s both time and cost-effective. You’re not going to work through every page, updating them one by one. You want to start with the pages that are going to make the most positive impact by being updated and, in some cases, delete content that isn’t worth updating or keeping.
Step #1: Run a content audit
The first thing you need to do is run a content audit to evaluate the performance of each page and categorise your content into three lists:
High-impact content: Your best-performing pages that need to maintain this performance or improve.
Low-impact content: Pages not making any significant impact one way or the other.
Negative impact content: Pages that could be hurting your marketing strategy, which need updating or removing altogether.
High-impact and negative impact pages are your priorities when it comes to updating content. Start by updating or removing negative impact content as soon as possible and devise a schedule for regularly updating your high-impact content (every quarter or year, for example).
You can work on updating low-impact content into high-impact content later.
Step #2: Run audits on the pages that matter most
Once you’ve identified your high-impact and negative impact content, you need to assess the quality of each page. First, you’ll want to run a basic technical audit to make sure the essentials are all in place:
Title: Is it accurate, descriptive and compelling?
URL: Is it descriptive and readable?
Author: Who published this content and do they have the necessary expertise/experience to cover this topic?
Publication date: Was this page published/updated in the past 12 months?
Page views: Has the number of page views declined over time?
Word count: Could the content be improved by providing more in-depth information?.
Number of links: How many inbound and internal links do you have?
Page structure: Are you using h2 ad h3 heading correctly, short paragraphs and bullet points, etc?
Image alt-text: Do all of your images have descriptive alt-text?
Luckily, you can automate reports for all of the above so you don’t need to manually evaluate the headings of each article. However, assessing the more subjective aspects of content quality will take a little more time.
Step #3: Assess the content quality of priority pages
To assess the quality of quality on individual pages, it helps to break the criteria into two sections. First, you have the basic essentials that aren’t going to win you any content awards but can hurt your performance if not done correctly. Then, you have the more advanced aspects that really make the difference between good and great content.
For the basic essentials, you’re looking at:
Accuracy: Is the information accurate and backed up by trusted sources?
Recency: How old is the data/information presented in this content?
Readability: Spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence length, etc.
Originality: As a basic essential, this means you’ve created the content yourself instead of pinching/copying it from elsewhere.
Accessibility: Is your content accessible to all users?
UX: Is your content mobile-friendly, uninterrupted by popups, etc?
Visual content: Does each article have relevant images, videos and other visual content to reinforce the points being made?
With those basic essentials covered, it’s time to ask some difficult questions about your content – especially for pages that are having a low or negative impact.
Value: What benefit are users actually getting from your content?
Originality: What does this content offer that every other piece covering the same topic can’t?
Engagement: Are users actually engaging with your content?
Shareability: Are users sharing your content with others?
Actionability: How actionable is the advice given in your content?
Influence: What action are users taking after they engage with your content (conversions).
Look at the content produced by your competitors and compare it to your own to get some perspective. You might find the majority of their content has nothing new to offer in terms of value or originality – nothing users can’t get from elsewhere. This is actually far more difficult to do on an ongoing basis than the technical aspects of creating “quality” content.
Step #4: Update your content
When we update our content here at Vertical Leap, we follow a step-by-step process that ensures we cover all of the bases quickly:
Check keyword performance and related search terms.
Update data sources, stats, figures, etc.
Update time references (the current year, last year, events that happened X years ago, etc.)
Check the key points of your content are still relevant.
Check links are still working.
Update any old images where necessary.
Add new sections covering recent developments, trends, etc.
Add new sections targeting valuable related keywords (going back to step 1).
Link to newer content published that’s relevant (both internal and external).
Update the meta description.
Update publish date.
Re point 9 above, when linking out to external content such as research, make sure you cite the original research and that all facts have a relevant outbound link for corroboration, especially if you are a medical or YMYL site.
Now, for certain pieces of content we might decide additional things are needed. For example, we might find an article that could better serve as an in-depth guide and extend it to 3,000+ words or repurpose another piece as an FAQ-style article but the process above covers the bulk of our content updates.
Step #5: Optimise for E-A-T
We mentioned E-A-T in an earlier section and this is the perfect time to optimise for Google’s new take on expertise, authority and trustworthiness. Make this a key aspect of your content updating strategy – especially for pages that have a history of performing well and may have struggled following recent updates.
Expertise: Ensure your content is published by someone with demonstratable expertise and create author bios linking to websites, social accounts and other verifiable sources.
Authority: This is where getting published on relevant external sites, quality backlinks and citations become crucial, as well as a whole host of on-site authority factors such as industry body logos and a really good ‘about us’ page.
Trust: Only link to trusted sources, ensure your content is accurate, provide links to privacy policies and T&Cs, build a profile of positive reviews on platforms like Google and Trustpilot, ease user concerns wherever possible.
E-A-T is not a single fix for SEO or content quality (although it’s easy to get this impression from the way it’s written about). However, it is an important factor in Google’s search algorithm and optimising for this will improve the quality of your content – both for search engines and users.
Step #6: Update your content regularly
The more often you update your content, the easier it is to do. Instead of drastically rewriting pages of content, you just want to be making minor tweaks that maintain performance and add anything that could give it a healthy boost. For your most important pages, you want to be updating content every 12 months, at least. In some cases, you’ll want to update on a quarterly basis and it all comes down to how quickly the information you provide needs refreshing.
Updating old content might not be the most exciting task for SEOs and content marketers but it’s crucial for maximising the ROI from every page on your website. Aside from keeping your content fresh, constant auditing will help you weed out any technical issues and even remove problematic pages altogether, if necessary.
You work hard to get your pages ranking well in search and a good system of updating content will help you stay there.