Author: Ann Smarty
Businesses of all sizes invest in content creation and optimization these days. But, more often than not, the primary focus is on creating new content and discovering new keyword opportunities.
And yet, your existing content is a goldmine that you can tap into and build upon. Over its lifetime, it may have acquired valuable backlinks or rank for relevant keywords. What’s more, you’ve already invested in creating it.
While adding new content is, of course, important, looking back at your existing content and updating it regularly can help you keep that fire going, instead of simply letting it go out slowly and starting a new one.
In this article, I’ll explain what you need to know to effectively refresh your existing content for renewed value, including:
Why update your old content?
There can be any number of reasons why old content should (or needs to be) updated, and some of those reasons are very niche or industry-specific. Below, I’ll discuss the three most universal reasons why it’s important to refresh old content when it stops performing for your site.
For better user experience
As content gets older, it becomes less useful and, sometimes, even harmful. Even evergreen content is going to eventually have this problem. Consider content within the SEO niche, for example: Outdated SEO advice is commonplace and, in many cases, following that obsolete advice can actually get your site in trouble with Google.
In other niches, especially those in Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) sectors (i.e. sites about topics that can directly impact a person’s happiness, health, safety, or financial stability), providing outdated information or advice can be even more detrimental.
On top of that, old content may also interrupt users’ browsing journeys as they run into broken links, outdated CTAs, and broken web forms.
To revive lost rankings
As you add new content, your existing content starts moving away from the homepage, thus there are fewer and less powerful internal links pointing to it. This can result in a gradual loss of rankings and organic traffic as those pages go deeper into a blog’s archive.
Plus, for certain queries (particularly news or trending topics), Google looks for fresher content, so older articles may be perceived as less relevant and ranked lower, even if they have more backlinks.
To improve click-through rate
When you search Google, you often see publication dates included in search snippets:
Dated search snippets are very common, and users may be more likely to click search results with fresher dates. I am not aware of any click-through study that quantifies the impact dates have on organic CTR, but I personally tend to scan through search results to find something more recent to click on—I am sure a lot of searchers do the same.
How to prioritize content to update
Now that we’ve reviewed the major reasons to update your content, let’s discuss how to strategically approach refreshing your content.
Content that is losing organic traffic
Organic traffic loss is the first signal that your page may be outdated. It is not the only possible cause for declining traffic, but it is a very common one.
Login to your Search Console
Under the Performance section (within the left-hand navigation panel), select Search results
Select the Date filter (as shown below)
Select the Compare tab to designate your desired date range
From there, click Apply, select the Pages tab (in the table below the main chart), and click on Click Difference twice to sort the table by pages with the biggest loss in organic search clicks (as shown below).
You can export the list of URLs, check when each was published, and evaluate whether any of those pages need a refresh.
Clicking any of the individual URLs within the report and then going to the Queries tab will reveal a list of all the search queries that URL ranks for. Similar to what I showed you above, the Clicks Difference column will help you identify the search queries that are sending less traffic than they used to:
Pages with solid ranking potential
Some of your existing pages have a higher potential to generate organic search traffic than others. Just how high that potential is can be determined by:
Current rankings: Pages that currently rank between 6 and 15 have a good chance of ranking higher if content is improved and more internal links pointing to those pages are added.
Backlink profile: Pages that have managed to build a powerful (and natural) backlink profile but do not bring in any traffic are worth a look. In most cases, the problem is that there’s no searchable keyword these pages target, so identifying one (or a few of them) and using them on those pages will likely help them generate organic clicks.
Search Console can help you identify both of these groups of pages. Use the Top linked pages report (accessible in the Links section of the left-hand menu) to see your pages sorted by most backlinks.
Then, proceed to the Performance section to reference the organic traffic of each corresponding page.
It’s a good idea to refer to your rank tracking platform to identify rankings that could be improved. SE Ranking offers a solid solution that also captures daily search engine results pages (SERPs) for all your tracked keywords. It also offers handy filters allowing you to quickly find the top positions that could be improved.
When a new season approaches, you have much higher chances to rank for relevant search queries if you update your existing seasonal content (as opposed to creating new pages for that season).
This is because your existing URLs may have already accumulated external backlinks, so you can tap into that existing link equity by refreshing it and bringing it back on top of your blog’s homepage.
Your competitors’ updates
Keep an eye on when your competitors’ pages get updated, especially for your most valuable keywords. This will help you take quick action and potentially prevent ranking losses because Google may push updated URLs higher in SERPs (even if temporarily), so your page can end up losing organic traffic.
For my most important pages (i.e., those that drive a lot of clicks that convert well), I usually monitor the top three competing pages. I am interested in just about any change that was introduced to those pages, including links, headings, the date on the page, content edits, etc. Any of these changes (even minor ones) can result in their rankings improving, so I need to be aware.
You can use a tool like Visualping to keep an eye on your key competitors and their most important pages. Visualping offers page monitoring tools, and you can create multiple alerts to monitor lots of pages.
Monitoring your competitors’ content refreshing strategy may also help you create yours, so this may present a solid learning path allowing you to uncover new tactics to follow (or avoid).
Ways to refresh existing content
One of the most common mistakes is simply republishing content with a new date (to push it back to the top of the blog homepage) without actually updating the content itself. Google unambiguously frowns upon this tactic:
If an article has been substantially changed, it can make sense to give it a fresh date and time. However, it’s against our guidelines to artificially freshen a story when the publisher didn’t add significant information… It’s also against our guidelines to create a very slightly updated story from a previously published one, then delete the old story and redirect to the new one. — Google
So what is a “substantial” change that would warrant a fresh date? There’s no clear percentage of content that needs to be changed, but here’s what you can do:
01. Analyze competing URLs
Since your content has been losing organic traffic and positions, there are other (potentially fresher) pages that have replaced yours in Google SERPs. So, the first step is identifying why they’ve been gaining rankings that you have been losing.
Analyze what’s currently ranking higher and see where your content is missing. This free SEO comparison tool lets you easily compare two (or more) pages’:
Most common keywords used within the content
HTML subheadings (H2 and H3 tags that structure content)
Overall word count
Just grab a few URLs that are currently ranking for your target keyword and run them through this tool alongside your page:
This is a good tool to help you quickly identify whether your content needs to be expanded (or narrowed down to focus more on the target topic) and how to better optimize it.
02. Identify new rich snippet opportunities
Your content may be losing organic traffic without any significant rankings loss. This can happen when Google adds more SERP features (like image and video carousels) that push organic listings further down the page. Another reason for diminished organic clicks may be lower click-through rate because your competitors have rich snippets.
Look for rich snippet opportunities that didn't exist before (e.g., add an FAQ section and FAQ schema to generate FAQ rich snippets).
03. Find new, relevant keywords to expand content
Keyword research is not just about targeting new ranking opportunities—it is also about finding inspiration. Discovering related keywords will help you uncover new topics that can make your content refresh more effective.
This process involves identifying related concepts, entities, and questions to cover in your article.
Text Optimizer is a great tool to analyze your old content and discover ways to make it more focused on the target topic. Simply run your URL through the tool and it will suggest related topics or concepts that may be missing from your content.
If you want to learn a bit more about refining your keyword strategy using your existing content, you can check out this article from Kia Ora Digital.
Google’s “People also ask” boxes can be another great source of content that should be added to your existing pages. Simply search Google for your target keyword and you may find a few ideas for which questions to answer in your old article:
04. Update or add new screenshots and videos
It is generally a good idea to refresh the important visual assets embedded on your page. Images and videos are often dated (in their URLs, for example). Video publication date may also be a signal of content freshness. In fact, video rich snippets include the date when the video was uploaded:
So, both images and videos may be sending signals to users and Google that your content may be outdated.
To that end, you can create new videos and images to add to your old content. This benefit here is not limited to SEO: You can use the same visual assets to promote your updated article across multiple social media media channels to build brand recognition (which, in turn, improves on-page engagement and conversions).
05. Update old, time-sensitive data (stats, dates, etc.)
This is self-explanatory but I’d still like to include this step as it is often overlooked. Update your links to more recent studies, find fresher stats, link to more recent official statements. It is a good idea to refresh links to resources as well, as those may have become outdated, too.
One way to do this is to use Google’s search tools to filter search results based on how recently they were published and finding more recent studies on your topic. In some niches (especially health and wellness), it is also useful to limit your search to .gov resources because these sites publish official and trusted data.
Here’s an example of a search that limits results to those published within a year on official .gov sites:
06. Update your forms and CTAs
To ensure visitors aren’t dropping off at various points of your customer journey, test your CTAs and buttons to ensure they are all working. Consider adding more ways for users to convert when reading your refreshed article (within reason, of course—an overemphasis on CTAs can make you seem too salesy). In other words, align your old article to your new conversion and lead generation tactics.
HubSpot does a great job crafting contextual CTAs that fit every article:
07. Republish with a new date to highlight your refreshed article
Once your article is adequately updated, you can go ahead and change the date on it to push it back to the top of your blog archive and signal freshness to potential visitors.
Some platforms allow site owners to update the date without pushing an article to the blog’s homepage, so in some cases, that may be an appropriate option as well.
How often should you refresh your content?
There’s no single answer here as it depends on many factors, including:
How old your site is and how much old content it has
How frequently you publish (how much new content you add)
How quickly your niche changes
Generally, the 25% rule is good to follow (e.g., if you add four new articles a month, one of them could be an update of existing content). This is a good rule to keep yourself organized.
Refreshing isn’t about old content, it’s about new value
Refreshing content is one of the smartest (and potentially most effective) marketing tactics that leverages assets you’ve already invested in, which may make it budget-friendly as well.
By updating your content on a regular basis, you can improve your on-site experience for your users, keep competitors from encroaching on your rankings and traffic, and also optimize your site more efficiently by making the most of ranking signals that you’ve already earned. Good luck!
Ann Smarty is an SEO analyst at Internet Marketing Ninjas and founder of Viral Content Bee. Ann's SEO career began in 2010. She is the former editor-in-chief of Search Engine Journal and a writer for prominent blogs, including Moz and Mashable. Twitter | Linkedin