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A Guide On Best Practices to Refresh Old Content and Prevent Content Decay

Juliet John

June 2, 2022

If you search your website's blog, you’ll likely find high-quality content accumulating dust deep down in your archive.


Some of them were former high-performing pieces whose traffic took a downward spiral. 

Others are excellent blogs that never even had the opportunity to perform because you've been focused on publishing new content instead of promoting them. 


I get it. As a content marketer, it's your job to educate and inform your audience. So, it's easy to get lost in the cycle of ideating, generating, and rolling out new content, consequently forgetting older, well-performing pieces that also need some love. 


The truth is every piece of content that grows via organic traffic will experience decay over time. When this happens, you have two options:

  1. Continue the perpetual cycle of content production to cover up the decay. 
  2. Take a break and refresh your old content. 


What exactly is content decay?


Content decay, also known as content rot, content drift, or link rot, is a continuous decline in organic traffic over time. It is a phase in the content lifecycle where traffic takes a downturn, and a content or web page loses its relevance and ranking on the SERPs. 


According to content marketing company Animalz, a typical blog post goes through five phases: 

  • The spike phase – a surge in traffic after the blog post is first published.
  • The trough phase – the traffic drops off and the growth stagnates.
  • The growth phase – traffic picks up again and page views increase over time.
  • The plateau phase – the growth evens out. 
  • The decay phase – traffic begins to drop off. 

Image source: Animalz


There are several reasons why content decay occurs:


  • Your are focused on producing and promoting new pieces of content and ignoring the old ones.
  • Your content has lost its freshness, is no longer relevant, and does not meet users' needs anymore.
  • New competitors have improved on your content and usurped your rankings.
  • Technical issues like indexing, site speed, structure, etc., are decreasing your website's performance and impacting your traffic.


Adding content refresh to your marketing strategy will help you keep an eye on how every piece of content progresses through each stage. This way, you can keep more content pieces in the plateau stage longer and reduce the amount of content decaying on your website. 

This will result in maintaining a steady flow of existing traffic, preserving your ranking, and saving content production cost, time, and effort. 


In this case study, Animalz monitored the weekly traffic from a post over 66 weeks to show how much difference a content refresh within the first year of publishing can make. The first spike indicates the initial launch of the blog post, while the second is the result of the content refresh. 


Image source: Animalz 


How does content refresh affect SEO? 

Apart from preventing and combating content decay, refreshing your content will improve your SEO by offering more value to your audience. Because both Google and your readers appreciate fresh content, keeping your site up to date increases your website's authority and boosts audience engagement. 


With this understanding, let us now look at the best practices for refreshing old content. 


1. Find content that needs refreshing: Truth be told, not all old content needs refreshing. If you have a big website with a lot of old content, you're not going to be able to refresh every single post. So, the first thing you must do is identify what content to focus on.

A simple way to do this is to perform a content audit to identify underperforming content with potential to succeed if refreshed. Ideally, it would be best if you looked out for previously popular articles that have lost significant traffic since they were published. You can also identify content pieces worth refreshing by looking at their relevance and keywords. For example, articles that target evergreen keywords with a high volume are always great candidates for a content refresh. 

Alternatively, you can use tools like Revive and Evergreen Report to discover old, promising, and relevant pieces of content that need refreshing. 

As you put your list together, keep consistency in style and tone in mind to ensure a unified brand voice across your website. 

2. Refresh old content around site and user intent: Ask yourself these two questions: 

  • What is the purpose of my website? 
  • What is a searcher trying to achieve, or what information are they trying to find when they on my website?

Your answers will guide you in refreshing and optimizing your old content to satisfy different types of user intent

Use Google analytics to get quick insights into what your users are looking for by noting the pages they visit on your site. More visits to information pages are an indication that users are looking for answers or solutions. Content refresh SEO can help you provide better answers to their questions and improve your ranking in organic searches. 

Tools like Screaming Frog will help you understand your site's intent in order to align your content accordingly. 

3. Update old content to be more relevant to your target audience: As you use data to understand the intent of your target audience, consider how this intent might have changed since you  published the first piece of content. 

Also, consider how and why your audience uses your website in the first place. What queries do they use to find your content? Check to see that the old content is still relevant to the particular keyword it targets, including those in your metadata.  

Taking the time to improve the relevance of your old content will drive higher SEO ROI to your website. Do your research. Rewrite sections of the old content or the entire piece if necessary. Look at the headlines and subheadings and improve them if needed. Analyze your keywords to see if they also need a refresh. 

Check if the sites you're currently linking to are still relevant to your article. If not, change them. Feel free to expand the content if necessary to add more value. Your goal is to make your new piece more comprehensive and helpful to your audience. 

And if you're not sure how or where to improve your old content, you can start by analyzing your top-ranking competitors on the SERPs. Identify gaps in similar content they have, then find ways to close those gaps in yours. 


4. Strengthen content credibility to increase click-throughs: When you go to the grocery store, will you pass up freshly baked bread for a loaf that is a week old? Probably not.

The same goes for your audience and search engines. Google will always serve fresh content first, and users will click through to the latest, most recent search result. So, if your content is time-sensitive, you should update it regularly. For example, an article on "Top 10 eCommerce trends in 2021" or "Top 10 movies of the year" has an expiration date. Updating this kind of content will strengthen your credibility and drive more clicks to your website. 

Posts that target recent events or hot topics, regularly recurring events, and frequent updates require constant refreshing. The refresh can be anything from a minor touchup to a total rewrite. Just make sure you're adding new information that wasn't available in the old content. Use industry jargon and acronyms where necessary to show your expertise. Also, include visuals like videos, infographics, images, etc., to better educate your audience. 

As you update the old content, always remember to also update the post date so that the last modified date is always visible on search. This will also help to increase CTR. 

 

5. Optimize metadata to support user experience: Metadata is the data that helps the search engine determine what your website is about. Every page of your website has metadata which consists of the page title and meta description. The page title and meta description are HTML elements that provide a summary and preview of your page content to users and search engines. 

When a user makes a search query, your meta description and title can either encourage them to click through to your website or scroll to your competitors. That is what makes optimizing your website's metadata a critical part of content refresh SEO. If a particular piece of content has checked all the boxes for quality and relevance but still underperforms, it could be that your metadata is not optimized to support the user's experience. 

Optimized metadata is unique, compelling, and includes: 

  • Your main keyword
  • A description of your business in a natural, active voice
  • A call to action
  • No more than 160 characters 

As you refresh old content for SEO, optimizing your metadata to meet these criteria will help drive more clicks to your pages and improve content engagement.

Need help optimizing your metadata? Try our free blog title generator to create catchy, SEO optimized blog post titles in seconds.


6. Improve the readability and accessibility of old content: Content that is difficult to read and access will not perform well on Google. So, format your old pieces to ensure they follow a simple, clear writing style. Remove fluff and unnecessary industry jargon. Using headings and subheadings, break up large walls of text into smaller paragraphs and sections to make the content scannable. 

Sprinkle bullet points, numbered lists, and white spaces throughout the content to create a smooth, natural flow. Where necessary, include relevant visuals to help break up text and increase content engagement. 

Lastly, don't forget to optimize for mobile devices so that your content will display properly across all screen sizes. 



7. Link old content to new content: You've probably published a lot of related content since you launched your website. So, it's time to link them together where it makes sense. 

When done correctly, internal links can help supercharge underperforming pages, increase site dwell time, and give your readers a better experience. Now, keeping the user's journey at the top of your mind, strategically link relevant pages together using descriptive anchor texts. Ensure that every page you link to delivers additional value to the reader. Avoid sending your visitors to  multiple irrelevant pages or they might bounce.


8. Check old content for broken links and error pages: Imagine if a new visitor clicks through to your website and lands on a page like this:


Image source: 123 Reg Blog

They’ll likely get frustrated and head back to the search results to look for another website. You just lost a potential client. 

That's what broken links do to your website. A broken link is a dead link, a link that cannot be found or accessed. And aside from frustrating your visitors and delivering a poor user experience, old broken links affect your SEO ranking. They do not pass the link juice that Google uses to interpret page rank and anchor texts, and they detract from your site’s authority.. 


Content refresh SEO is an excellent opportunity to fish out broken links and fix them to ensure your website gets all the link juice and offers visitors a memorable experience. You can use Screaming Frog to automate the process of finding and fixing broken links. 


Takeaway

As SEO and content are all about delivering value, regularly refreshing content is vital to your website’s success. Content refresh SEO can be a quick way to boost your site's engagement, improve conversion, and drive more traffic to different pages on your website. Instead of constantly reinventing the content wheel, you can quickly refresh outdated but relevant content to meet the present needs of your audience and achieve your content marketing goals. 

While content decay is the gradual and continuous decline in ranking over time, content refresh and update is how you breathe life back into decaying content so that it delivers tremendous results for your marketing strategy.

Want to read more? Learn about SEO content marketing!

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