Publishing regular new content is a hallmark of on-site SEO campaigns, but a joined-up strategy should not ignore the benefits of updating old content for SEO as well.
Old content has several advantages when it comes to optimising your search engine performance:
- It’s there – there’s no need to create it from scratch.
- You can make relatively small tweaks and achieve positive gain.
- You can AB test different versions of the page to see what works best.
The insights you gain from updating old content for SEO purposes not only help you to tweak your other existing content, but can also shape your new content SEO strategy for the future.
Ultimately, the new pages you publish will often be better as a consequence of improving your old pages, making this a win-win technique.
What if the page was right first time?
OK, so you have a page that was well written, included relevant SEO keywords and phrases in all the right places, and ranked well within days of being published.
Unfortunately, these ‘right first time’ pages don’t always hold their first-page rank forever. The internet is a fluid place, search engine algorithms change every day, and rival websites publish new and better content all the time.
By taking a page that once performed well and improving it even further, you can often regain a first-page ranking or get your content back into Google’s Knowledge Graph, putting it back in front of a potentially massive and relevant audience.
How to update old content for SEO
Updating old content for SEO uses many of the same techniques as creating new SEO content from scratch, except that you have some material to use as your starting point.
First of all, identify the content you want to update. This might be a page that has performed well in the past, but has not ranked so highly more recently. Or it could be a page that you had high hopes for, but which never appeared on the first page at all.
Your website analytics can help here, so chart the performance of your website’s pages over time and look for a drop in visitor numbers or search rankings – or just sort your data in reverse order and see which pages perform worst.
We’ll look in more detail below at how to update existing content for SEO improvements, as well as some tips for republishing existing content without it getting flagged by Google for any reason.
Content you should not update
Some of your content should not be touched, at least not right now. This is useful to know, as it can quickly narrow down your list of candidate pages to update.
It’s usually best NOT to update:
- Pages that already rank highly or perform well in other ways.
- Pages that have only recently been published.
- Pages that were not created for SEO purposes.
The first point should be obvious, as you don’t want to risk harming the performance of a successful page. But bear in mind that SEO and search rankings are not the only way to measure performance – so don’t risk damaging a page that already does well with human visitors, or in terms of eCommerce basket size and conversion rates.
Recent pages need time to find their rightful place in the search index. Even if your page has been crawled and indexed, its ranking might improve as more third-party websites and social media users link to it. Give content time to ‘bed in’ before you try to tweak it.
How to refresh old content for SEO
Once you’ve chosen a page to refresh, understand that SEO is more of a technical process than a creative process. There is a science to optimising page content, so make sure you apply the appropriate techniques.
- Check the current best practice for optimising old content for current algorithms.
- Understand your audience – what they search for and the type of page they want.
- First, do no harm – make changes that will improve your rank, not damage it.
Website content falls into several main categories, such as product/service landing pages, eCommerce product descriptions, how-to guides (both general and specific e.g. assembly instructions and recipes) and news/blog posts.
Check the current top results for your target keyword. If they’re all how-to guides, you’re unlikely to get a salesy landing page to rank well, and people might be unlikely to click through to it even if it appears in their results.
Decide how best to refresh your old content. That could just mean a small edit to keyword inclusion, density and position on the page. It might mean rewriting the page if it has spelling and grammar mistakes or formatting errors due to CSS changes.
You might even take inspiration from an old page to create something completely new that better serves the search audience: a more intermediate or advanced how-to guide rather than a beginners’ introduction, or separate pages for all the accessories that go with a popular eCommerce product.
Check what parts are performing well
A poor or falling search rank does not mean the content on a page is bad. You might just need to expand on it, or different parts of the page might need more attention than others.
One way to check this is to analyse the backlinks to a page from elsewhere on the internet. Your website analytics should compile this information. If a third-party page sends you good amounts of traffic, check their page to see exactly why they link to you.
If one part of your page attracts a lot of inbound links, or performs well in some other way (e.g. a relatively good number of visitor engagements), it’s probably best to leave that section as it is, and just update or expand elsewhere on the page.
Take inspiration from the top results
If rival websites are outranking you, take a look at their pages and see what they’re doing well. There might be something obvious that you’ve missed on your own page, which could be an excellent starting point when expanding your content.
Keyword analysis tools can be helpful too, as you might find people are searching for complete phrases – especially questions – that would work well as subheadings on your updated page.
Remember, HTML heading tags are a good place to include SEO keywords so they will get picked up by the search engine robots, so don’t be afraid to add new sections with keyword-based headings, as longer pages have also become important for better rankings in recent years.
Try not to just copy the top-ranked pages, but add value so that your page is clearly the best. Of course there’s an element of back-and-forth if your rivals are doing this too, but an ongoing strategy to refresh old content for SEO benefits is a good way to stay out in front over time.
Publishing updated content for SEO benefit
Publishing your updated content can be as simple as opening the page in your Content Management System (e.g. WordPress or Magento) and pasting the refreshed content over the old version.
This should keep the old page URL, and your search ranking should improve the next time your page is crawled and indexed. Generally speaking, if you’re just updating the content on a page, it’s best practice to keep the URL unchanged.
An alternative is to publish the updated content as a new page. This might be a good idea if, for example, you have updated an obsolete how-to guide or blog post, and you want it to appear with today’s date.
If you do this, decide how best to deal with the old page. If the content is quite different because you made substantial edits, you could choose to leave it in place. However, if the content on the two pages is broadly similar, it might be best to use canonical tags or even a 301 redirect code to point the search engine robots to your new page as the definitive version.
Get it indexed
Last but not least, make sure the search engines update their crawled version of your page. This will help its ranking improve, and make sure any ‘snippets’ shown in the search results are from the new version of your content.
Google Search Console offers a way to do this – just paste the page URL (you can copy this from the address bar of your browser to avoid any errors) into the URL Inspection Tool and click on ‘Request reindexing’.
This should help your updated pages to deliver SEO benefits even faster, and you can use the same method to get newly published pages crawled and indexed sooner too, so that your joined-up SEO strategy fires on all cylinders.