Content is not like wine in that it doesn’t improve with age.
Then again, it is like wine in that performance improves with age.
So what is it?
Old content is often outdated. It needs updating for the 8 reasons I set out below.
The irony is that older content performs best. It takes time for content to climb in Google SERPs and attract links.
And that is one of the most compelling reasons to update and improve old content. It already has some authority and traffic, which is good like aged wine. However, if it becomes outdated, it can start to rot in the SERPs.
I used to loathe the idea of putting time and money into old content. It seemed like a waste of time. However, as I read more about it and discussed results with colleagues, it became clear that I was missing the forest from the trees.
Over the last year, I’m a convert. I now dedicate time and money to improving old content.
I’ve given this topic a lot of thought and have updated a ton of content. Below I show some decent results (not all updated content performs so well) and discuss why I think it’s a good practice.
Related: 29 ways to improve old content
Table of Contents
- Proof (Case Study Screenshots)
- Benefits of Updating and Improving Older Content
- Should you always refresh the date?
- How do you improve old content?
- Should you use technology such as a plugin that automatically updates the post date?
- Is it okay to change the blog post title? SEO title?
- Is it okay to change URL slug?
- Is it okay to change the featured image?
- How long does it take to see benefits?
Proof (Case Study Screenshots)
Here are some traffic boost examples from updating and improving older content. I filtered Google Analytics for Google search traffic only for all screenshots below. The following are fairly big wins. Not all content I’ve updated experienced boosts like this so quickly.
The following screenshots are articles that I changed the URL slug for and redirected the old slug to the new.
Benefits of Updating and Improving Older Content
1. Better user experience
I’ll be a good little website publisher and put user experience as the first benefit.
While rankings is what we really want, they don’t come with a lousy user experience. If every visitor jumps in and out of your site in seconds, rankings won’t last long. Therefore, user experience needs to be a priority.
Obviously, updating content and making it be better is good for users. I know I don’t like going to articles with wrong or outdated info. The same is true for my visitors. Admittedly, not every article on all my sites is up-to-date. That’s a tall order.
This was the “AHA” benefit that motivated me to put updating content into high gear. It finally dawned on me that it’s easier to rank for more keywords with an existing url that has some authority and links than a new article. It’s akin to getting faster results by buying an aged site with natural inbound links.
3. Improves overall site
By site improvement, I’m referring to better site authority as well as a site with better content.
Authority improves via more inbound links over time and hopefully a better time on site.
The bigger improvement is the fact your content is better for your visitors, which is always someting to strive for.
4. Refreshes the published date
Apparently, there’s a freshness factor in the Google search algo. You can read all about it here.
The theory is Google ranks fresher content higher.
Therefore, updating the date of your content makes it fresh and will enjoy a boost in rankings.
The caveat here is to do everything you can to restrain yourself from implementing some auto-update tactic. I’ve read of people doing this – using some plugin that automatically updates the date on posts. While this might give you a boost in the short term, who knows what Google would do if they discovered such a tactic.
In other words, refresh the date when you apply substantial updates/changes to an article. An example is if you merge content together. That would warrant refreshing the date of the new article (don’t forget to 301 redirect the no-longer-used URLs to the new mega article).
Whether an update is substantial or not is up for interpretation. I don’t believe it’s based on how many words are added or changed.
In some cases, changing only a few words or numbers could warrant refreshing the date. If your article revolves around some form of data or statistics and you update 10 numbers, that would warrant refreshing the date even though very few characters were changed.
On the flip side, adding a 300 word conclusion filled with fluff wouldn’t warrant a refreshed date.
Use your judgement. Usually it’s not difficult to know whether it’s a substantial update or not.
5. Enjoy another round of promotion
As your refreshed content hits the top of the blogging loop, you might as well blast it out in an email and/or on social media. In fact, a good litmus test as to whether something is substantially updated is whether it warrants another blast to your email readers. You would naturally want email readers to have the latest information. If it’s truly updated and fresh, you’ll email them. If the changes you make are superficial, you probably wouldn’t email your readers.
Having content to promote is always good. It’s fast, easy and cheap (often free) traffic.
Better content sometimes attracts more links. Not always. Probably not often. But definitely sometimes.
I say “sometimes” because not all content, no matter how good it is, will attract links.
But, you stand a better chance at attracting links with better content.
7. Easy way to go after more long tail keywords
This is a big reason I like updating content. You leverage the URL’s authority to go after more keywords. Perhaps when you first published the article you didn’t do a full keyword analysis. By updating it, you can fill in the gaps and be thorough in all the sub-topics the topic deserves.
Should you always refresh the date?
No. Google says to only refresh the date when you make “substantial changes”. What that means exactly is unknown, but to me it requires adding a decent amount of content to warrant refreshing the date.
For example, if I add one or two images, I won’t refresh the date. However, if I add two sections to an article that expands the article’s body, I will refresh the date.
It also depends on the number of items or sections in an article. If I have a list of 100 things in an article (i.e. long listicle), I won’t refresh the date when I add one or two to the list. However, if the list is 10 long and I add one or two sections to the list, I will refresh.
It’s a judgment call. I think Google’s guideline is there to prevent abuse such as someone adding an image or changing a sentence and then refreshing the date.
How do you improve old content?
This is a lengthy topic. Lucky for you I set out 29 ways to improve old content here.
Should you use technology such as a plugin that automatically updates the post date?
I don’t use such technology. It reeks of trying to game search engines. While it might work for a while or a long time, it could cause problems down the road.
Is it okay to change the blog post title? SEO title?
Yes, it is if you found better keywords to target or want to change the title to reflect the updates. I do this sometimes when it makes sense to do so. Also, with some really old content, I discovered I wasn’t going after the best keywords. In those cases, I edit the titles accordingly.
Is it okay to change URL slug?
I typically avoid changing URLs as much as possible, but sometimes it’s necessary. For example, if you have a URL such as .com/25-best-beaches-in-Hawaii and your update increases the list to 50, you might want to change the slug. I typically never put numbers or figures in slugs for that reason – often the number can change. Same with dollar figures.
Is it okay to change the featured image?
Yes, it’s fine as far as I’m concerned. I do. I’m not sure there are any technical drawbacks for doing so. I don’t think so. I often change up the featured image if I have something better or more relevant.
How long does it take to see benefits?
This is impossible to predict. It usually takes a couple to several months to see positive changes. That’s because I don’t target large keywords so even if I update content, the potential gain is limited. The big gains come from updating many pieces of content which takes time.
If, however, you improve an article targeting a keyword that gets 150,000 monthly searches and move into the second listing in Google from listing 12 (page 2), and that happens in one month, you’ll see big gains quickly.
Generally, when dealing with SEO, expect results to take time… probably longer than you expect.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.