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How Do You Refresh Old Content?

In my previous article, I talked about why you should update old content. Today I'm going to dive into how you should do it. I also covered what to update in more detail. Just to highlight the steps, here's what you do:

  1. Create a blog post inventory by crawling your site using either a spider like Screaming Frog or a sitemap tool. Paste the list into a spreadsheet.
  2. Determine your least productive posts by using Google Search Console. You can export a list and match it up with your spreadsheet. After sorting the list, look at the least productive posts:
    • Delete low-value posts (i.e., the content is stale, meaningless, or no longer fits your practice, audience, or objectives).
    • For high-value posts, check the validity of the keyword(s) the post is ranking for (i.e., good search intent, sufficient search volume, matches content's topic, etc) using a keyword research tool.
    • If the keyword is no longer valid, find a better one. Whether the keyword is valid or not, mark this post for a refresh.
  3. Look for posts ranking for the same keyword, i.e., keyword cannibalization. For each group of posts competing for the same keyword, choose the best one (i.e., most traffic, authority, relevancy, etc). For the others:
    • If they're different but related, consolidate their content into the one you decided to keep. Then delete and redirect to the main one.
    • If they're unrelated but offer some value, rewrite the post by focusing on a different keyword, or better yet, a different topic.
    • If they're unrelated but don't offer any value at all, delete the post entirely and redirect to the main one.
  4. Update underperforming posts and refresh the content.

(By the way, the reason I suggested using a spreadsheet is to track your changes, and to use it for any redirection of canonicalization you might need.)

Now, how you update the content is a little subjective.

You can expand, edit, remove, and/or rewrite where it makes sense. You can either make the content more evergreen and relevant, or modernize the messaging to fit today's trends, context, or your audience's needs.

But if you need ideas, here are some suggestions and best practices.

Technical Updates

If you need to focus on a new keyword, then you need to update the meta-data, schema, on-page assistance tools (like an SEO plugin such as Rank Math, Yoast, etc), and possibly the post's URL to include the new keyword.

(This is assuming you have already optimized these already for a previous keyword. If you haven't, then this is your chance to apply some technical SEO.)

Let's cover these in more detail.

Metadata

Typically, this is your title tag and your description tag (often called “meta tags”). Your SEO plugin will be helpful in this regard.

Metadata is not a ranking factor, but a refreshed title and description often appear in search engine results and can invite better clickthroughs — if they include the keyword and match the user's search query, the word will be highlighted in the search results, which may provide more eye gravity.

Open Graph

Open graph protocol data (or “OG meta tags“) is the content that appears when sharing your article on third-party platforms, such as social media.

If you don't have OG tags already written and set, then the platform may arbitrarily pull excerpts and images from your content that may or may not be optimized and/or appropriate. Better not leave it to chance. (Similarly, SEO plugins can help here, too.)

As with other metadata, OG data won't directly affect your rankings but it may help increase your clickthrough rates (or CTRs). And higher CTRs have been long speculated to contribute positively to higher rankings.

Structured Data

Often called “schema markup,” structured data tells search engines about the type of content. For example, it lets them know if the post is an article, a product, an event, a place (i.e., a local business), a recipe, and so forth.

Again, most SEO plugins do this for you. But there are also other schema-only plugins as well as tools to help you create and add code.

Permalink or URL

Rewriting your post URL or “permalink slug” isn't always necessary. There's also a lot of debate among SEO experts as to how much weight URLs provide if any.

But including your main keyword in the URL can let Google know what your content is about and also provide eye gravity in search results.

If you have updated the slug, don't forget to 301-redirect the old URL to let Google know of the post's new location so it won't lose any rankings. I use my SEO plugin's redirection feature, but there are several others, too.

Sidenote About Slugs

One common SEO tip is to use shorter URLs and removing stop words (stop words are articles, prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, etc).

  • For example: /how-do-I-refresh-old-content-for-seo/
  • Can be become /how-refresh-old-content-seo/
  • Or just /refresh-content-seo/.

(Some plugins like Yoast automatically remove stop words for you.)

While shorter URLs are still important, stop words are under a little less scrutiny. Reason is, Google's BERT, the natural language processing software that determines intent, now relies on some stop words for context.

So while you should remove some redundant stop words, be careful not to remove them all. They do help your SEO — not so much as a ranking factor but more as a way to match search intent.

For example, say you have a post called “My French Fries.”

  • Your URL may be /my-french-fries/ and
  • Removing “my” becomes just /french-fries/.

Google will probably still understand intent. You can try searching for “french fries” and add a few stop words, and you might see that it doesn't matter.

However, let's say your post is about the French and their fries, like:

  • /how-the-french-make-fries/ or
  • /what-do-the-french-call-fries/

You can see how stop words are important in this case.

Content Updates

Now, let's talk about refreshing the content itself.

Obviously, you can update the tone and style to fit a more modern context, and choose to make it more timely or evergreen. For example, some of my old posts (many are over a decade old) discuss websites that are now defunct or practices that have fallen out of common use. (Google+, anyone?)

But if you need some ideas or inspiration, here are a few.

Headline

I typically do this only after I updated my content. I may have a better headline in mind, or I may have slightly changed the content's angle. This is particularly true if I have a new keyword, too, which I want to include in the headline.

Headings

Breaking your content up and adding headings throughout your content provides three great benefits: 1) it makes the content more readable and easier to pull in scanners; 2) it adds SEO potential by including keywords; 3) and it gives both search engines and users an idea of the content that follows.

Keywords

If you have chosen a new keyword for your article, then you want to optimize your content around it. The goal is not to stuff your content with the same keyword. You don't need to. That's “so 2005.”

It doesn't matter if it's black hat or white hat, keyword stuffing will make your content unreadable — and you, stupid. Remember, Google is smart enough to know. So, speak plainly and use variations, synonyms, or topical phrases.

Statistics

In every profession I've encountered, statistics change regularly. There are new laws, regulations, changes, research, etc. Today, professionals in every industry are affected by changes, either directly or indirectly as a result of technology.

So add numbers and statistics to your content to support your arguments. If you already do, are there any updated numbers or better ones you can use?

References

Add any helpful references to support your content. Always cite your sources, obviously. If you used references previously, it might be wise to update your references and sources, too. They may have moved or been replaced.

Findings

Adding your own research is just as important as adding external references if not more so. If you've done previous research but have new findings or modified your conclusions, now's the opportunity to refresh them.

Quotes

Add quotes that support your content or argument. Quotes give your content confirmation, credibility, and commentary. If another expert supports you, quote them. It adds recognition and emphasizes your authority.

Case studies

Social proof is the most impactful form of substantiation. Don't be afraid to add them. From numbers and statistics, to testimonials and results. Case studies are the most believable, even when they're anonymous.

Visuals

Sometimes, you can refresh content quite significantly by adding supporting visuals, either graphics, images, screenshots, or multimedia. They create anchors to help stop scanners from scanning.

They even provide SEO benefits. For one, they improve dwell times and CTRs. But also, visuals require non-visual data (called “alternate text” or “alt tags”), which can include relevant content and your keyword.

Calls to action

Of course, a good landing page is a productive one. Keeping your readers means you also need to be engaging them — and not just educating them.

While you might have CTAs around your content (such as newsletter optin forms), if your content alludes to products, services, or subscriptions you offer, or suggests other content on your website, then directly or indirectly ask your audience to take action.

Links

Internal and external links are critical for your SEO for a number of reasons. There are four kinds. Add some if you don't have any already.

Since the time you've originally published the older content, you may have posted new content that may make sense to link to. For link suggestions, some plugins and SEO research tools can show you linking opportunities.

Or you may have external links that are outdated, broken, or redirected on the other end, which need to be updated. I use a broken link checker to identify broken links. There are WordPress plugins and a few free tools online.

So there you have it.

Refreshing old content may not only breathe new life into them but also have a few major side benefits, such as increasing the content's SEO that may even end up surpassing its previous performance.

But more importantly, it raises your authority, keeps you relevant, and strengthens your content “moat.”

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