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Fresh Content Helps Your SEO, But Stale Content Can Hurt It

Fresh content and content consolidation can increase SEO, improve traffic and ranking. Focusing on creating content that provides quality and a great user experience is key.

A client of mine had five different websites, all of which had separate blogs with articles. Their websites were closely related with many commonalities and overlapping topics. They wanted to improve their SEO, so my advice was to merge everything and bring all the content under one virtual roof.

Consolidating websites is often considered a best practice among SEOs, and the only time it doesn’t make sense is when each site’s intended audience and subject matter are completely distinct.

After the consolidation, it created an exponential effect when combined with fresh content. The increase in traffic from consolidating everything not only equaled the total traffic previously going to all websites but also doubled it.

There are several reasons for this.

Improve SEO By Updating Old Content

First, the main website had more domain authority. It was their first, which had the most indexed pages and keywords. Second, the main website had more content authority. It offered products and services but also had a substantial following and the most backlinks.

My client asked if it is a good strategy to review and fix the hundreds of posts on the newly consolidated website, and delete a bunch of redundant ones. That’s when I recommended doing a content audit on the newly consolidated website.

This is a practice all SEO consultants and specialists should do from time to time. Performing a content audit is the first and most important step in creating a content marketing strategy. It will allow you to know which pages are truly unproductive, and then whether to delete, merge, redirect, or refresh them.

Of course, if you have a page that’s doing well, you don’t have to refresh it by rewriting it completely. All pages should be refreshed at some point as content does get stale after a while. At least from an SEO perspective.

To start, it’s better to focus on the weakest links first.

Weak content can sometimes be seen as being the oldest ones. But some older content may still be quite productive. The weaker ones are those with the least traffic, the least search impressions, or the least number of backlinks. I’ll go over how to do this later. For now, the question I want to answer is, why.

There are plenty of reasons for updating old content. Non-SEO benefits, too. If you’re a busy professional, you have a blog already or existing content, and you don’t have a lot of time writing new stuff. So this might be useful.

Even if you choose to outsource your content writing, getting your writers or staff to refresh old content is an equally wise move.

Updated content provides your audience with fresh, updated information, which may be more useful and relevant to them. Or to borrow a term coined by my friend, the late Jay Conrad Levinson, the father of Guerilla Marketing, it’s providing users with “state-of-the-moment” content.

Benefits of Refreshing Old Content

Refreshing old content has five major benefits:

  1. You increase the content’s quality and length;
  2. You boost the content’s stickiness (i.e., dwell time);
  3. You give users reasons to revisit your content;
  4. You invite newer backlinks and brand mentions; and,
  5. You add or widen what’s called a content “moat.”

Obviously, the main benefit of refreshing old content is that it can improve SEO. It makes the content not only more timely and relevant for users, but also adds to its length, which offers additional signals.

Remember, word count is not a ranking factor. But longer articles do tend to improve SEO ranking because they help other areas, such as making the content more informative, increasing dwell times, lowering bounces, adding keyword variations, increasing keyword density, and so on.

In short, if you were looking at creating long-form content but don’t have the time, expanding on an older piece of content is a viable option.

While content length is not a ranking factor, freshness certainly is.

Google uses different criteria to determine the quality of your content, and recency is one of them. Their QDF algorithm (i.e., “Query Deserves Freshness“) that looks at content freshness is one of their oldest, launched back in 2007, which hasn’t been updated much since. (Oh, the irony.)

With all things being equal between two pieces of similar content, the one that will rank highest will typically be the most recent one.

True Evergreen Content is Impossible

Evergreen content is content that can be useful at any time, usable in many instances, or applicable by your audience at any stage. So to use language that’s appealing to beginners and with less technical jargon that only seasoned audience members would know.

Content becomes stale over time, even when it’s evergreen. No piece of content is truly 100% evergreen. Evergreen content may not need updating often, but they do deserve to be updated and probably more so than regular content.

Furthermore, the date on older content might reduce its stickiness, authority, and what’s often referred to as “engagement velocity” (such as how often it’s shared, talked about, commented on, etc).

Content is almost always outdated after a certain period of time. Situations change — like a worldwide pandemic, for example — that can make evergreen content a little less relevant. Plus, you may still need to update any of the links, anchors, images, case studies, statistics, findings, etc.

More importantly, updated content is also stickier.

Stickiness is helpful, not just for engaging users but also for SEO as it improves dwell time. When a searcher lands on a page that is obviously outdated (or one they’ve seen before), they will pogostick back to the SERPs, which tells Google your content is not what they are looking for.

Refreshed content gives users something that may be more relevant to their search. It also gives existing users a new reason to visit. It’s a lot like wanting to buy a book that’s updated or expanded, even though you have already read it.

Freshness is a Ranking Factor

When it comes to performance, updated content is also proven to be more productive. When a refreshed page appears in Google’s search results, or when it’s shared on social media, they invite higher clickthroughs. Some do this by appending a date to the headlines, such as:

“Top 10 Project Management Software For SMBs (2021)”

The new headline and content that appear in search results will be more inviting and relevant. But also, the updated timestamp communicates to searchers that your content has been updated.

Content that’s more recent tends to be ranked higher. But that’s with all things being equal, and you and I know that nothing is ever equal. Some older pages may rank higher if it’s more relevant to the search. But other pages that are newer may attract more clicks.

People looking for the most recent results on a certain topic will scan the dates in the SERPs. Take Google’s QDF I mentioned earlier. The top results were 2018 and 2019. But I chose one in 2020. How did I find it? I Googled “Query Deserves Freshness” and I clicked on the third result:

Fresh Content Helps Your SEO, But Stale Content Can Hurt It 1 | fresh content
Google results for Query Deserves Freshness, November, 2020.

The last but not the least of all the benefits of refreshing content is that it creates something called a content “moat.”

Freshness Also Creates a “Content Moat”

Just like a defensive moat around a castle that’s supposed to dissuade attackers who are looking to infiltrate it, refreshing your old content and particularly regularly updating it makes it hard for others to copy you.

Of course, you should focus on providing unique, difficult-to-replicate content — content that’s new, different, and offers unique insights (for example, it contains original research, case studies, success stories, specialized expertise, etc). This makes it hard for others to steal your original stuff.

But if they do, they’ll only remind others of you.

Moreover, if your content is original, any duplicate content penalties will be given to the culprit. There are no “penalties” per se, but Google will attribute the highest authority to the original author or creator. Google’s software is sophisticated enough to determine who’s the original author of a work.

Now, let’s say a competitor takes bits and pieces of your content, and perhaps rewords them enough to make them appear unique. Even though it’s still similar to yours, regularly refreshing old content keeps you a step ahead of them.

Content, in itself, is easy to imitate. From copying and pasting text to stealing ideas. But content is always unique makes it harder to imitate.

So build a moat around your content by updating it.

Ultimately, by refreshing old content you will not only improve SEO but also stay a step ahead of the competition. The question is, how do you know which content to refresh? If you have hundreds or thousands of pieces, which ones deserve your “freshness” attention?

How to Conduct an SEO Content Audit

Refreshing content is key, but doing so within a defined content strategy will give you the proper action plan on what to update, how to update, and why.

Updating means adding, consolidating, even deleting unproductive pages. It can result in a massive improvement. If you’ve been posting content for a while, chances are many pages are outdated and diluting SEO signals, and some may create more of a distraction than a positive user experience.

But you need to be strategic and plan this carefully as to not lose the momentum you’ve gained from consolidating your websites. For example, you don’t want to accidentally delete a high-ranking page or one that may seem to rank low only because it’s competing with other blog posts.

So before you begin, I recommend following these four key steps.

1. Create an Inventory of All Your Pages

Take an inventory of all your posts and place them in a spreadsheet. This is so you can properly track things and create a plan for them when combining posts, deleting some, and redirecting them.

You can do this by crawling your site with tools like Screaming Frog. I typically copy and paste from the post-sitemap file. This will be the basis for your content audit and the master document you will refer back to.

Next, cross-compare this inventory with pages found on Google and the level of visibility each one possesses. Visit Google Search Console for your website where you will be able to verify the performance of those pages in Google.

(If you haven’t claimed your website on GSC yet, do so. In the case of my client, we did a site migration of multiple websites into one. So it might take some time before Google processes the “change of address” and consolidates all the pages. That’s why it would have been wiser to do the audit before the move.)

In GSC, go to “Performance” or “Search Results” in the sidebar, filter based on the last 12 months, and export using the “export” button in the top-right corner.

Your spreadsheet will contain several sheets or tabs. Choose the “Pages” tab where you will be able to see the list of pages from your website with the number of impressions and clicks they received.

Note that some pages that are recently deleted and redirected might still show up. You might want to merge these numbers together with the current page. Also note that you should exclude posts younger than six months to a year as they may not have gained enough traction.

2. Determine Your Least Productive Pages

In this next step, you want to determine your least productive content — you might want to ignore key pages like contact or legal pages. By using the GSC performance report, you will be able to filter your posts based on impressions (i.e., visibility), and then sort the list from the least visible pages to the most.

Next, you will need to know the total traffic each page received as well as any backlinks it has. The reason is to determine how productive your pages are. Productive pages or posts are those with:

  1. Traffic (pageviews)
  2. Visibility (impressions)
  3. Authority (backlinks)

Or any combination of the above.

Some posts may not have any rankings, but they may get a lot of internal traffic, traffic from other websites, or direct traffic. Some may have no traffic at all but a lot of backlinks. If they’re high-quality links, you don’t want to lose those.

Speaking of which, while you’re in GSC, scroll down and click on “links” in the left sidebar. These are links from and to your website. Then visit the “external” links page, where you will be able to export once again.

Next, you need to export your pageviews from your analytics (if you use Google Analytics, simply go to “Behavior” in the sidebar, “Site Content,” and then “All Pages”). You can export it to a spreadsheet and cross-compare the results to your early search performance spreadsheet.

Be aware that if you have a lot of content, so you may want to limit to the last 12 months and 5,000 pages at most.

The final step is to bring it all together. Unless you know how to do VLOOKUPs, create a separate spreadsheet where you will list all your pages, a column for total impressions, another for total pageviews, and another for total backlinks.

3. Score The Productivity Level of Each Page

Add another column, which will be your score. Your score will be the recommended action for this page. I simply score each of the three KPIs (i.e., pageviews, impressions, and backlinks) on a scale of low to high. Use the the pages with the highest and lowest numbers for each to guide you.

Each page will have a combination of scores that will determine the course of action. Your spreadsheet will look something like this:

Page (URL)ImpressionsPageviewsBacklinksAction
/blog/url-1/HighHighHighRemain
/blog/url-2/HighHighLowRemain
/blog/url-3/HighLowLowRefresh
/blog/url-4/LowLowLowRemove
/blog/url-5/LowLowHighRedirect
/blog/url-6/LowHighHighReview
/blog/url-7/LowHighLowReview
/blog/url-8/HighLowHighRefresh

Looking at all three scores will tell you to do one of five things:

  1. Keep the page as is (let the content remain);
  2. Delete it completely (remove it, it’s deadweight);
  3. Delete it but redirect it to another page;
  4. Refresh it (update or consolidate it with another);
  5. Or review it to see if the content offers value to users:
    • If the content doesn’t provide value, delete and redirect.
    • If the content offers value, refresh, merge, or redirect.

If the content gets a lot of traffic but doesn’t rank well, see if it’s a case of two or more pages competing with each other. Pages ranking for the same search terms may split the SEO signals between them. This is keyword cannibalization, which devalues the authority of your most relevant page.

It’s perfectly fine to have multiple pages ranking for the same keywords, as long as a primary page (i.e., pillar page or parent topic page) has all the authority and relevance, and other pages are generating more traffic with other keywords for which they are more relevant.

But if two or more pages are ranking for the same keywords and focus on the same topic, then you may be competing with yourself. One is stealing half the visibility from another. So, you have one of three choices:

  • If the other pages are very similar and cover the same topic, delete and redirect them to the one you’re keeping using 301 redirects.
  • If they’re different but closely related (such as related topics or subtopics), merge them into a longer page, preferably into the main page you decided to keep. Then delete and redirect the old one to the newly consolidated page. You might need to edit them to make them fit.
  • If they’re different and completely unrelated, refresh them with the goal of switching the competing keyword or topic to a different one.

4. Update Underperforming Pages Accordingly

Once you’re done with the above, you can start updating your old content. Delete the those slated for deletion, redirect those deleted ones whose backlinks you want to preserve, and update the content where indicated.

You refresh your content by editing it or adding to it. You can make it more timely with updated data, new sources, and relevant information. Add new images and supporting visuals. Above all, pay attention to the structure and update the headings, particularly the main headline (H1).

If your blog shows publication dates and a post is slightly modified, it’s good practice to show the last-modified date on the front-end instead of the date it was first published. But if the post has been significantly altered, update the publication date to when you made the change (like today, for example).

This will put the post back at the top of your blog as if it was newly published. Not only does it drive more attention, but it also signals to search engines that the post was updated, forces a recrawl, and above all, updates the date that appears in search results, which boosts clickthroughs.

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.

Apply On-Page (HTML) Updates

If you need to focus on a new topic or keyword, then you need to update the meta-data, schema, on-page assistance tools (like an SEO plugin such as Rank Math or Yoast), 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 (Titles and Descriptions)

Typically, this is your title tag and your description tag (often called “meta tags”). Your SEO plugin will be helpful. Metadata is not a ranking factor, but a refreshed title and description often appear in search engine results and can invite better clickthroughs.

Open Graph (OG) Data

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 written OG tags, then the platform may arbitrarily pull excerpts and images from your content that may be wrong or inappropriate.

Better not leave it to chance. 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 (Schema Markup)

Often called “schema markup,” structured data tells search engines about the type of content (such as an article, a product, an event, a place, a recipe, and so forth). Again, most SEO plugins do this for you. But there are other schema-only plugins and tools to help you create and add code.

Rewriting your post URL or “permalink slug” isn’t always necessary. There’s also a lot of debate among blog SEO experts regarding 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.

One common SEO tip is to use shorter URLs and removing stop words (e.g., articles, prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, etc). While shorter URLs are still important, stop words can help. Reason is, the natural language processing software that determines intent relies on some stop words for context.

Update and Refresh The Content Itself

Obviously, you can add more up-to-date information, rewrite it to fit a more modern context, and choose to make it more timely or evergreen. For example, some of my decade-old posts discuss websites that are now defunct or have moved, or practices that have fallen out of common use. (Google+ anyone?)

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

Rewrite Headline (H1)

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 true if I have a new keyword, too, which I want to include in the headline. If the content is timely, I may want to add the date or the word “updated” in the headline.

Update or Add Headings

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

Keywords and Topics

Optimize your content around the keyword or topic, particularly if you have chosen a new one. The goal is not to stuff your content with keywords but to focus on the topic, the relevance, and above all, the user. Add content around subtopics, related topics, or semantically related keywords where appropriate.

Statistics and Data

Statistics change regularly. There are always new regulations, studies, research findings, etc. So if you have statistics or research data in your content, is it still relevant? Are there newer, fresher, better ones? If you don’t have any, consider adding supporting data, research, or statistics to your content.

Sources and 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 changed, or the links might be broken or redirecting to a newer version.

New Research Findings

Adding your own research is just as important as adding external references, if not more so. Google looks for original research in content with their quality guidelines. So if you’ve done previous research but have new findings or need to update your conclusions, now’s the opportunity to refresh them.

Quotes From Other Sources

Add quotes that support your content or argument. Quotes give your content 1) confirmation, 2) credibility, and 3) commentary. They support your arguments while adding additional content. If another expert supports you, quote them. It adds recognition and emphasizes your authority.

Use Cases and Case Studies

Social proof is the most impactful form of substantiation. Don’t be afraid to add them. Testimonials and results are great, but case studies are the most believable, even when they’re anonymous. The reason is, they provide context and are more measurable, quantifiable, realistic, and time-bound.

Supporting Visuals

Adding visuals help SEO, whether they’re graphics, images, screenshots, portable media, or multimedia. They create anchors that stop scanners. They improve dwell times and CTRs. Above all, they require readable data (called “alternate” or “alt” text), which can include relevant content and keywords.

Calls-to-Action (CTAs)

Of course, keeping your readers means you also need to be engaging them — and not just educating them. 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

Internal links are critical for your SEO. Since the time you’ve originally published the older content, you may have posted new topically related 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 that you might need to update. I use a broken link checker to identify broken links. There are WordPress plugins and a few free tools online.

Ultimately, 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 it raises your authority, keeps you relevant, and strengthens your content “moat.”

Avatar of Michel Fortin

By Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin is an SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor. For the better part of 30 years, he helped hundreds of thousands of professionals and businesses increase their online visibility. He is the Director of Search at seoplus+, an award-winning digital marketing agency in Ottawa, Canada. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.