Improve SEO By Refreshing Old Content

This is going to be the first of a two-part series because there’s a lot of ground that want to cover. It’s about refreshing old content to improve SEO. The next part will dive into the “how.” But right now, I want to dive into the “why.”

I’ve talked about updating your content marketing strategy before, which is by analyzing, deleting, or merging unproductive pages. But pages don’t have to be unproductive to be refreshed.

Of course, if you have a page that’s doing well, you don’t have to refresh it. It’s not that you shouldn’t fix “what isn’t broken.” All pages should be refreshed, which I’ll explain later. But it’s better to focus on the weakest links first.

Weak content can be the oldest ones, the ones with the least traffic, or the ones getting the least traction in terms of search impressions and clicks. I’ll go over this when I cover the “how” in the next installment.

For now, the question I want to answer is, why.

There are plenty of reasons for updating old content. Secondary 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, 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 and father of Guerilla Marketing, it’s providing users with “state-of-the-moment” content.

But doing so has five major secondary 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 that indirectly impact its rankings.

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.

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).

Also, 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.

What’s evergreen content?

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.

Non-evergreen content is almost always outdated after a certain period of time. This is particularly true if it mentions any trends, fads, fashions, news items, pop culture references, books, or websites that have since been updated themselves. If it does, then you need to update your content, too.

You can either make them more current (modernizing any references, for example) or make them more evergreen. The latter is best, as evergreen content tends to get more traction.

Updated content is also stickier.

Stickiness is helpful, not just for engaging users, but also for SEO as it improves dwell time, which is also considered to be a ranking factor.

When a user conducts a search and 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.

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 or news feeds, they invite higher clickthroughs.

Some professionals do this by appending a date, situation, or notice to the headlines of his updated content. Such as:

“Top 7 Accounting Software For SMBs (Updated for 2020)”

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.

Earlier I said that content that’s more recent tends to be ranked higher, with all things being equal. But you and I know that nothing is ever equal. Some older pages may rank higher than more recent ones. However, they don’t always get the greatest clicks.

Personally, I prefer and click on the most recent ones.

I often scan the first few results on Google, looking for the one that has the most recent date. I do this because I’m specifically looking for anything recent or any changes on a certain topic, as changes in the SEO and digital marketing industries can change rapidly.

Take Google’s QDF I mentioned earlier. I wanted to link to another site for context. 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:

Improve SEO By Refreshing Old Content 1 | improve seo
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.”

What is 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) that makes it hard for others to steal.

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. Google’s software is sophisticated enough to determine who’s the original author of a work.

But 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.

About The Author

Avatar of Michel Fortin
Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.

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