Next to publishing new articles on important topics frequently, revisiting and enhancing previously published articles on your site to keep them “fresh” is one of the best SEO techniques you can do. You may not realize how easy—and beneficial—it is to refresh old content and keep it relevant beyond its original publishing date.
Google’s search algorithms listen for freshness signals on indexed content. It tends to reward indicators of freshness. It’s looking for content that’s been updated recently, and how it’s been updated.
In between writing new articles, go back and improve older pages throughout your site on a regular basis. This will improve the overall quality of content sitewide, building trust with your target audience and refining your SEO performance.
Freshness, Maturity, Decay, and What Happens When you Refresh Old Content
Whenever you write a new article and post it on your site, thus begins its lifecycle. It’s “born” on that day and “lives” as long as you decide to keep it published.
Like any lifecycle, you start from a state of absolute freshness. Over time, a process of decay occurs, naturally. But also, a process of maturation can and should happen. That’s up to you.
When you maintain your content over time—keeping it relevant, important, updated, and connected—you’re signaling to the search engines that the maturation process is more prevalent than the decay process. You’re broadcasting loud and clear that this is actively maintained, still important content. You’re telling Google to watch this space!
Notice how the concept of maturity lines up with what Google prioritizes most: Expertise, Authority and Trust (EAT). A publisher who strives for accuracy over time by maintaining and pruning their content, shows themself to be an authoritative, trustworthy, expert.
Let’s keep it simple when it comes to freshness and content:
- Fresh is best. Publish often to make your site abundant with fresh, topic-relevant articles.
- Maturity is good. Your old content has unique value, especially if you keep it updated.
- Decay is bad. An old, outdated article signals that you’re not very trustworthy on your topic. Update it substantially to make it relevant, or consider unpublishing it.
Now let’s look at several ways you can refresh old content on your site.
It’s Easier Than You Think to Refresh Old Content Like New Again
Maintaining older content takes a little active management, but it’s well worth the effort. Think of it as extending the ROI of that content that you spent good time on creating in the first place. Most of this is common sense. Remember that you have a content management system…use it for what it’s for!
Provide a Meaningful Update That Digs a Little Deeper Into Your Topic
If you change only one sentence of an old article from 2017, you can expect Google won’t assign much importance to that change. Incidental and insignificant updates don’t mean as much. But if you change an entire section (or more) of the article, you’re telling Google: “Hey this isn’t forgotten content, this is still something that matters and is worth updating. Pay attention to me!”
Put yourself in the reader’s shoes finding this information just today. Is the message still relevant? Make sure that it still satisfies their thirst for accurate information. Don’t be afraid to substantively refresh old content to match up with present day concerns.
If the topic of your original article isn’t frozen in time (e.g. a history of the Roman republic), insert an update paragraph about what has changed since you originally published it. For example, you might see where you can:
- Add some new stats or a better pull quote
- Explain some of the terminology in more detail
- Add links to some additional resources
- Review your original links to make sure they still bring value
- Provide an image, chart, graphic, or video
- Insert a mini case study or other proof/illustration of why your topic is still valid and current
Also: study your analytics and/or keyword research related to your topic. Is there an opportunity to make your article more informational and/or more aligned with how people are currently searching for that term?
Update the Main Body Content Itself
It also matters where you are making the content changes. Updates to the main body content are what you’re after. You can update tags, menu items, meta information, etc, but that won’t likely move your freshness score.
In other words, focus on the meat and potatoes of the article, not the table setting.
Refresh Old Content on a Regular Basis
Imagine you are Google’s search bot and the page that you indexed three months ago got updated by 25% since the last time. And then three months later, it finds it updated again by another 25%. That’s telling Google that this page is important enough to you that you’re coming back to it again and again. You’re not letting the content grow stale, and Google sees it as ‘fresher’ than a page that hasn’t been updated in years. That’s why it’s so important to make a habit to always refresh old content on your site. The more you do it, the more you benefit.
Word of Caution: Don’t Overdo It.
If you’re introducing so much change that the original topic has little to do with the current topic of the content: stop and reassess. You’re better off just creating a new page for that new topic.
Pruning Content That’s Beyond Repair
Over time, you’re going to accumulate some old content that isn’t helping anybody anymore. We call that content “old and in the way”.
When content becomes low-performing because it’s totally obsolete, you have to ask yourself: can it be salvaged? Is it possible to refresh old content that’s focused on something time-specific, like an event or a sale promotion?
If the answer is no, then maybe you can get rid of it, or repurpose it. Maybe you can take the one part of it that still works and layer it into another page, thus solving two problems at once: removing the dead weight page, and improving the quality of a page worth keeping around.
The benefits of content pruning are much the same as when you refresh old content. Carrying extra baggage that’s not useful to your site users tends to work against you in two important ways:
- It gets in the way of your customer’s journey to conversion
- It weighs down your ability to climb up in the SERP rankings.
On the other hand, removing your dead weight has at least three major benefits.
Improving the quality of your content overall.
You don’t want someone coming to your site, being initially impressed by your messaging and knowledge, and then gradually losing faith in you as they dig deeper into your library. Content that no longer serves a purpose, or that might embarrass you with how dated it’s become, is a detriment to your purposes.
By forming a habit of pruning your old content, you’ll have no reason to not be proud of every corner of your website.
Improving User Experience
Getting visitors to your website takes a lot of work, and/or luck. That’s the part that is not really under your control. But you can control what happens next. Can they immediately find the best information you have? Are you smoothing out any friction present in your system impeding their journey.
‘Old and in the way’ content puts roadblocks in their path to accomplishing their goals. You can have too much noise and not enough signal. There’s no penalty for having fewer posts of higher quality. The likelihood of users finding exactly what they need improves when you weed out what they don’t need.
Optimizing Your Crawl Budget
Pruning your content makes it easier for Google bots to crawl your website.
While Google says crawl budget matters more often for large sites with lots of URLs, it’s still worth understanding how you can make your site easier to index, and help Google find your best stuff.
According to our analysis, having many low-value-add URLs can negatively affect a site’s crawling and indexing. [….] Wasting server resources on pages like these will drain crawl activity from pages that do actually have value, which may cause a significant delay in discovering great content on a site.
Why It’s So Important to Refresh Old Content As a Habit
Wouldn’t it be nice if Google just came out and told us exactly what matters for SEO? Well, they kinda do, if you zoom out from the minutia of how they work, and comprehend what they are working towards.
It’s all about:
From Google’s “How Search algorithms work“:
Content on the web and the broader information ecosystem is constantly changing, and we continuously measure and assess the quality of our systems to ensure that we’re achieving the right balance of information relevance and authoritativeness to maintain your trust in the results you see.
Just like Google constantly works on their systems to improve search results, you should constantly work on your content to improve its usefulness to your target audience. Google’s looking to reward you for helping them deliver quality search results.
Pruning content that’s no longer important, and finding ways to refresh old content throughout your site are two necessary habits to get into, if you want to start climbing up the search rankings.