One of the principles of entropy is that all things fall into disorder over time, including the content you publish. Web pages and articles that are useful and accurate when first published lose relevance as time passes.
To counteract this, you can revise and refresh old content to keep it useful, accurate and worthy of high rankings in Google search results.
Here are some things we discovered doing just that:
- Updating old content with fresh, high-quality content has a measurable impact on search engine rankings.
- Mature pages and posts have a ranking advantage compared to new pages and posts thanks to page authority.
- Visitors are more likely to stick around on a website and engage with a brand when they discover content that is up to date.
- It’s easier to update and republish an old post than it is to write a new post on a similar or overlapping topic.
- Updating old content can be as simple as updating a few stats and changing the publishing date – you don’t always need to add 500 words to revive old rankings.
The bottom line – Google loves seeing old content get a refresh and feeding the machine makes sense to make the most of what you already have.
We are a content writing agency and one of our services is scouring Search Console to identity content opportunities for clients.
We’ll explain in detail how you can update your old content to boost Google rankings below. But in a nutshell, the process looks like this:
- Identify high traffic posts that have fizzled out over time in Search Console. Then update them with:
- Additional insight.
- SEO content.
- Revised/new stats.
- New external links.
- New internal links.
- Keyword-rich headings.
- Keyword-rich metadata.
- The last step is republishing the article with a recent date and letting Google know.
Read on for my more detailed guide.
Editor’s note: There’s a great scene in Anchorman (2004) where Brian Fantana turns to Ron Burgundy with a bottle of Sex Panther cologne and says, “60% of the time, it works every time”. He could just as well have been talking about updating content to boost rankings. This isn’t a magic cure for bad SEO practices or a lack of new content published on your website, but it is a fantastic way to gently get your foot back in the door.
How to find old pages worth updating
If you haven’t already so, let’s find pages worth updating so you aren’t wasting your time chasing rankings that don’t matter.
Using Search Console to find pages to update
- Login to Search Console.
- Navigate to the Search Results report.
- Select the ‘Average Position’ checkbox. You will now see an orange line graph below the total clicks and total impressions.
- Select the three bar icon to set a Queries filter for ‘Position’. Select ‘Greater than’ 6 to filter keywords ranking position 6 and higher.
- Filter the results by position to find keywords on the cusp of ranking in the top 5 results.
- Look for pages with extremely high impressions and a lacklustre search position / low clicks.
- Click any page to see a snapshot of its average position over time. Has it gone down? If yes, it’s an update candidate.
- For each promising page you identify, search for the keyword in Google to find out what types of content Google likes to rank at the very top. You can use this as your inspiration to create even better content.
Here’s an image of the type of report you will see:
And here’s a screenshot of a page report with the average position:
In the above image, we see a page with an average position of 13.6. This is a fantastic candidate for a content refresh.
Using Google Analytics to find pages to update
Google Analytics doesn’t track the same things as Search Console – you get no clicks, impressions, or position data. Instead, Google Analytics tracks visitor behaviour, which you can use this to discover pages and posts in need of freshening up.
- Login to Google Analytics.
- Click the ‘Home’ tab to open up your snapshot.
- Look for a ‘Views by Page title and screen’ section. Click it.
- Set a last 12 months day date range.
- Review your most popular content.
- If there are any posts that once accounted for a good portion of your traffic but have fizzled out over time, these are candidates for updating.
Your report will look something like this:
How far back should you look for content to update?
You can honestly look back 10 years or more if some of your articles are evergreen. Updating foundational articles that cover high-value topics in your niche can have the biggest payoff even if they are very old.
Content that is 6-12 months old is also ripe for updates. Look through content from the past year that is underperforming, but still fundamentally useful in your niche.
Pieces that have good baseline metrics but room for optimisation are low hanging fruit. With some tweaks, you may be able to significantly boost rankings.
How to update old content for better rankings
The easiest way to update old content is to change the publishing date to today and hit update without doing anything else. At least this will make your blog look like it’s updated more frequently than it is. The downside is that Google is unlikely to reward you for doing so little work.
To really boost your search engine rankings, you need to update your old content with added value – that is, fresh information that improves what was already there.
Here are the best ways to do that:
1. Add 200-500 words of fresh insight
One of the best ways to update existing content is to add 200-500 words of fresh insight. This could include an interview, expert opinions, studies or other relevant information that builds on the original piece.
Aim to make the new writing mesh seamlessly with the old so it reads like one cohesive article. Expand on key points, address new developments in your industry, or go more in-depth on topics that were only briefly covered.
Fresh insight shows search engines that the content is being actively updated and gives readers added value.
When adding new writing, be sure it is high quality and enhances the user experience. Don’t just tack on fluff or regurgitated content.
2. Update stats and add new ones
Along with adding general insight, take time to update any statistics or facts. Numbers related to market size, industry data, demographic information, and more can quickly become outdated.
Replace outdated stats with the newest versions available from the most reputable sources. Look at industry reports, company financials, census data, and research journals.
For example, you can include emerging trends in your niche, growth metrics or new consumer survey findings.
Audiences and search engines appreciate factual information backed by solid numbers. Just be sure to cite all sources and ensure any new data aligns with the focus of your original content.
3. Add bullet point lists to summarise
Bullet point lists are an SEO-friendly way to structure your updated content. These provide visual breaks while allowing you to highlight important ideas.
For instance, you could create a bulleted list of:
- Key industry trends in 2023.
- New expert predictions.
- Reasons to care about this issue.
- A synopsis of the points you just covered.
Lists help break up dense blocks of text and make skimming easier for readers short on time. They also aid SEO, as search engines can quickly scan bulleted content.
When constructing lists, use concise yet descriptive phrases for each bullet point. And avoid overusing lists, which can look spammy if overly repetitive.
4. Edit content for a keyword density of 0.5-1%
To help boost rankings, aim for a keyword density between 0.5-1% when editing and updating existing copy (this is the density we have best results with).
Don’t just cram in keywords artificially, which can read unnaturally. Work them in organically where appropriate and use keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner and Twinword to identify the best keyword variations.
Our favourite way to add keywords is with H3, H4, and H5 tags – these help you prioritise search terms and break up your content.
5. Check internal and external links for 404s
While updating posts, check that all internal and external links are still active. Links that lead to 404 errors negatively impact user experience and SEO.
- Internal links to other pages or posts on your site still work.
- Outbound links to external resources load correctly and do not break.
If you find any 404 errors, replace broken links with working ones pointing to similar or related resources. This ensures readers can access valuable additional content.
Pro tip: Install a broken link checker like the Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool to find and fix 404s at scale across your site efficiently.
6. Link to newer posts in your updated content
In addition to checking for broken internal links, look for opportunities to add new internal links pointing to relevant recent articles or posts.
This helps readers discover more of your content. Plus, search engines view internal links as an endorsement, which can boost the pages you link to.
Aim to naturally work new internal links into the copy where it fits the context. For example: “For more on how to analyse competitor backlinks, see our recent post on backlink audits [link].”
7. Look at People Also Asked in Google to find relevant questions to answer
One tactic for updating existing posts is looking at the People Also Asked module in Google search results. This surfaces common related questions people are searching for around your topic.
Answering these directly in your refreshed content can give readers and search engines what they want. Try using tools like Also Asked or Answer The Public to compile Also Asked questions around your target keyword(s).
Then, work 2-3 of these questions and thorough answers into your content update, formatted as either an FAQ or by working them in contextually as you touch on each sub-topic.
Just put your spin on the answers rather than copying others outright. Providing this extra value can boost your content’s usefulness.
8. Update images and optimise them
In addition to updating text, look for ways to refresh your content’s images during the refresh process.
Consider replacing or adding images if:
- They are low-quality/resolution.
- The colouring looks dated.
- They are no longer relevant or on-topic.
- There is an opportunity to use more infographics or data visualisations.
When inserting new images, ensure you optimise them for SEO best practices:
- Compress file size.
- Use targeted alt text.
- Fill out image titles and captions.
- Add metadata.
Remember – images can show up in Google Images, giving you even more traffic!
9. Create fresh metadata to incite clicks
To complement adding new text and optimising images, also update your SEO metadata.
An impactful page title and meta description that aligns with the refreshed content can improve click-through rates (CTRs).
Follow these tips for optimising metadata:
- Make the title tag 60 characters max, including your target keyword
- Craft a compelling meta description 155-160 characters long that sells the value proposition
- Don’t just copy and paste the old metadata – make it fresh
New page titles and meta descriptions that align with optimised H1 and H2 headings in the content can help boost rankings and traffic.
10. Integrate structured markup
Adding structured data markup to your refreshed content can enhance its search visibility and provide a rich snippet in some cases.
Relevant schema markup options include:
- Fact check – for claims or statistics
- Article – for blog posts and articles
- FAQ – for questions and answers
- How-to – for tutorials and guides
Each has specific item properties to integrate. Some plugins can auto-generate structured data markup.
Just avoid keyword stuffing in markup fields. When done right, semantic HTML can aid with crawling and SERP features.
11. Change the publish date
A simple yet crucial step that many overlook when updating old posts or pages is changing the publish date. It may seem minor, but resetting the date can make a significant difference for both users and search engines.
When you update content but leave the old published date, it appears stale and outdated to visitors. Readers will question why a supposed recent post contains old information and statistics from years prior. This dings credibility.
Changing the publish date to the current date flags that the content has been refreshed. It signals that the information is timely and up-to-date when users see a current date, building trust.
From an SEO standpoint, changing the publish date prompts search engines to re-crawl and re-index the page faster. Google wants to serve fresh, relevant content to searchers. So when it detects a new date on an existing page, it will take a looksie.
Now you may be wondering—how often should you change dates when refreshing content? There are a few schools of thought:
- Some update the date with each round of edits, which could be every few months or annually.
- Others only change the date when publishing significant updates, not minor tweaks.
12. Let Google know all about it
The last step is asking Google to re-crawl your pages in Search Console, a manual task that works a charm (although Google can take a few days getting around to it).
An easier option is to let every major search engine know about your updated content with the IndexNow WordPress plugin, which automatically notifies search engines whenever your website content is created, updated, or deleted.
Index Now taps into IndexNow, Google API, Bing API, and Yandex API protocols, automating the manual task of pinging search engines. It works a treat and we use it on all of our websites to make life easier.
13. Track the results
The final crucial step after updating old content is tracking your results in Google Search Console to see precisely how your search rankings and traffic metrics change over time after the refresh.
Here are the key things to monitor in Search Console:
- Average ranking position for target keywords – This shows if your content is climbing for relevant search terms. Look for upward trend lines.
- Total clicks and impressions – Higher click volume and impressions indicate the content is getting more visibility.
- Click-through-rate (CTR) – Improved CTRs suggest your new title tags and meta descriptions are enticing more clicks.
- Links to your page – Backlinks gained mean your content is being discovered by other webmasters.
I recommend checking Search Console weekly after updating content. It takes time for search engines to recrawl, reindex, and re-rank pages. But over several weeks, you should see positive movement if your updates hit the mark.