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How to Update and Optimize Old Content for SEO

How to Update and Optimize Old Content for SEO

Regardless of the niche, you’re in there are a few key articles that bring most of the traffic to your website. Over time the search ranking for that content changes. It generally gets worse.

You probably don’t notice the change. Chances are that unless you get penalized by Google that line analytics is mostly going up. Yet every day you’re missing out on thousands of potential visitors.

The problem is your best content is getting old. Update and re-publish your old posts though and you can see a big increase in search engine traffic. You can even use this tactic to rank more of your content.

Why Fresh Content Is Important

SEO involves a lot of guesswork. The Google algorithm uses over 200 factors to determine how your content is ranked online for search terms. Yet despite how complex the algorithm is the basics of SEO are easy to understand.

Google is a search engine.

To get people to use its product Google needs to show the most relevant information in the least amount of time to users. If it fails to provide relevant answers then the hundreds of millions of people who use the search engine every day will go somewhere else. Like Bing… Ok, probably not Bing.

The other thing to keep in mind is that engineers run the company. Everything and it means everything, about the search engine, down to the shade of the link color, is tested to optimize revenue and usability.

Which brings us to the user interface.

This screenshot tells us the publication date is important.

Most SEO experts would agree that there’s a link between search engine ranking on Google and when the content was last updated. You can find articles on the Google blog from 2011 stating as much.

It makes sense. If you are traveling and looking for “things to do in a city” you want up to date information. The same principle of fresh content probably applies to your niche.

You’ll find plenty of case studies on the topic from people who know a thing or two about SEO. For example, Tim Soulo, who works for Ahrefs, shared a case study on the blog. The screenshot below shows the jump in traffic that happened after an update was made to the article.

Now that’s covered, on to the meat of the article…

Creating a System to Update Old Content

I’m a big believer in creating systems to manage a business. Systemising your business helps you scale and easily outsource work at a later date. The system I use to track updates on old content and see if it improves search engine rankings is pretty simple. Feel free to copy it.

First, create a new XL sheet on Google docs with at least the following three columns:

  • URL: The URL of your article
  • Title: Article Headline
  • Last Updated: When the article was last updated

I actually use six columns.

The additional columns I use are for the keywords I want to target, the current search engine rankings for that keyword and the amount of traffic the article receives over a week. These extra columns help me track changes to the article over time, but they’re not essential.

You could easily automate this by using SEO software to track your SERP results.

As well as the column headings I use a traffic light color system for my posts. This helps me rank the posts so I know which articles I should update and re-publish first (plus it’s nice to be colorful).

Here’s how it works:

  • Green: ‘Top 10’ articles on the site for traffic.
  • Orange: ‘11-25’ articles on the site for traffic.
  • Red: All the other articles.
  • Blue: Articles that I don’t want to update.

When you’ve finished with your excel sheet you should have something that looks like this.

I skipped some posts so you get the full reggae colours 😀

Now you need to improve your content.

7 Ways To Boost Search Results By Updating Old Content

1. Make Sure Your Content Is Still Relevant

The aim of updating your old content is to improve search engine rankings for your site. But forget about the search engine for a moment. Instead, focus on your reader.

If you’re blogging for a business you want the content to be useful and look great (your content is after all the first impression a visitor has when they come to your site). Your content should also answer a question or solve a problem your user has.

This is the basis of a good content marketing strategy.

So… When you update your articles to improve the search engine results, update the content to make sure that it is relevant to the current needs of your audience. For example, if you wrote an article on SEO, make sure the techniques you share are still relevant. If they’re not, then update your content with information that helps your reader.

You should also check out the ranking content for your keyword. If there’s information you missed then consider adding it to your article. Content marketers call this the Skyscraper Technique.

When you’re happy that your updated post rocks it’s time for step two.

2. Update Your Links

When updating your old articles to improve the search engine rankings, check the content that you linked to first. Make sure you’re linking to the best and most relevant content available. There’s a chance that the website you linked to is no longer active for example.

Linking to bad content and/ or sites that are no longer online doesn’t help anyone. This is just common sense. Apart from wasting your readers time, it impacts user engagement.

If you link to new content from your article list the contact details of the company that wrote it. You can then email the company letting them know you linked to their content. This outreach is a chance to get a share on social media or an opportunity for future guest posting. Both these things will help bring more traffic to your site and improve search engine rankings.

You can find a great guide on templates for your content marketing outreach on Ninja Outreach.

Another thing you should do as you update your content is a link to ‘pay me’ pages. This could be your services page, a link to a product you created or an affiliate link. Don’t feel sleazy for doing this. You should be helping your reader by providing links to useful services.

Plus it helps your bank account (we all need an income).

When I reviewed my old content and added ‘pay me’ links on a site I’m involved in the direct income from the site increased by almost $1,500 a month. That’s a decent amount of money for making a few changes to a website.

Before you start updating the links in your content remember…

Most people who visit your site won’t read all of your content. They might read the first three or four paragraphs and then skim read all the way to the bottom if they even get there. Tony Haile, the CEO of Chartbeat, found that 55% of your visitors read your content for 15 seconds or less (that’s 15 seconds actively on your site).

As a person who regularly has 20 tabs open on my browser, I can easily believe this figure.

For this reason, put the most important links at the start of your article, like your affiliate and internal links. And do the same at the end for the people who made it all the way through. You can find some more information about why this is important for SEO and how to monetize your website using inbound marketing in this article on Just Creative.

If you want to go in depth about internal link building Kissmetrics has a good article on website hierarchy. It gets technical so won’t be for everyone.

3. Make Your Article SEO Friendly

Now that you’ve updated your old content you want to make small edits to make it SEO friendly. This way Google can reward you for all your hard work and more people get to see your awesome content.

The starting point for writing Google friendly articles is keyword research. I’m going to assume you know the basics of keyword research already. After all, this article is only relevant if you have an established site with content you need to update.

What I will cover instead though is finding alternative keywords you could rank for (this is the easiest way to increase search engine traffic to your website).

Again think about your reader.

Write a list of the kind of questions your article answers. These are the terms people are likely to search for, and which you might well be ranking for. You should end up with a list of five or six phrases that are relevant to your article.

Once you’ve done this head over to Google Keywords.

Google Keywords will provide you with a list of alternative search terms you could target to increase search engine traffic to your site. Note down any relevant phrases relevant to your article. Focus on the terms with at least 1k search queries. You can then search for these terms and see what appears on Google.

If the search results for the term you looked up are dominated by major sites you’re going to struggle to rank for those terms on Google. So delete the search term from your list…

If the content that appears in the first few places is pretty rubbish, or from non-authority sites, there’s a decent chance of ranking for these terms. These are the terms you want to focus on.

When you’ve got a list of 10 or so search engine terms insert these phrases into your article. Don’t stuff your article with keywords. Instead, insert these phrases into your content where it’s relevant.

Remember you’re writing for your audience first so your content has to make sense. Making your content SEO friendly by inserting keywords is just a way of letting Google know what your content is about so more people can find it.

If you’re lucky this research might highlight a few phrases that your content answers, but is not optimized for. Optimising your article for alternate keywords is a great way to increase your search engine traffic.

Feel intimidated by SEO?

There are plenty of good articles online about writing SEO friendly content. These two articles on ranking for long tail search terms and how to write for Google are newbie friendly and worth a read.

4. Improve Your Headline

I’m an ok copywriter, but I struggle with headlines.

I wish that wasn’t the case. Headlines are important. A good headline makes you want to read the content. A bad headline, well you just skip the article.

Peter Koechley, the Co-Founder of Upworthy, found a good headline can make a difference of up to 500% in the clickthrough rate for an article. That’s, pretty mega!

If like me you struggle to write a good headline I suggest you do what Hemingway did and drink lots of alcohol, at least you’ll have fun adapt a headline you like (or at least their formula). The Internet is full of articles with “1001 Proven Headline Formulas.” Here’s a good example.

When I’m struggling for inspiration I just use the software. You can find a list of the best headline generation software here.

Even though your headline is less than 100 characters, spend some time on it when revising your old content. If you write a good headline that generates high click-through rates your article will get more search engine traffic.

5: Include “Last Updated”

This final tip before republishing your old content is more of a hack.

Glen Alsop, who runs Viper Chill, found websites adding “last updated on DATE,” at the beginning of the first paragraph getting instantaneously higher search results.

While I don’t think this method would fool Google for long, providing a last updated date can be useful for your audience. It shows you are making sure your content is always relevant.

You’ll find a lot of examples of authority websites using this tactic. Personally, I don’t, but if you want to add “Last Updated + Date” every time you refresh your old content, well it’s pretty simple to do…

6. Submit Your Content to Google

Immediately after republishing your old content I suggest Index your content with Google. This is where you jump up and down like an excited puppy telling Google ‘hey I’m here and I’ve done something amazing.’

Once you’ve submitted your content Google releases their spiders. They will crawl your website, recognize you’ve updated your old content, and gives you an electronic tummy rub to say well done.

The SEO impacts of indexing your content are small, but it’s simple to do and only takes two minutes so why the hell not.

There’s a helpful guide on how to get Google to recrawl and index your URL here.

7. Promote the Content On Social Media

The final thing you should do after updating your old content is sharing it on social media. There are some obvious reasons you should do this.

  • You’ve just updated some awesome content and your audience needs to know about it.
  • There are too many pictures of cats being shared on the Internet and it’s time we adjusted the balance.
  • A lot of your audience has never seen the content you just updated (especially if you’re running a site a couple of years old).
  • There’s a chance your content will go viral or at least generate some decent shares.
  • It can increase traffic to your website.

That second point is especially important.

When I shared an old article that I updated on Pinterest with some nice graphics it went viral. While I can’t prove those 13k+ shares helped the content rank on Google, I’m pretty sure it did 😉

You’ve probably got your preferred social media channel. For most niches, I’d recommend hitting up Pinterest. It’s a great source of free traffic for bloggers. Here’s a good guide for growing your visitor numbers with Pinterest.

Twitter is generally good for tech and business, that and LinkedIn. And despite the fact that Facebook is always changing its algorithm you shouldn’t ignore it. It is the biggest social media channel and can send you thousands of visitors a month.

How Often Should You Update Old Content

Now you have a system to update your old content make sure that you set aside a bit of time each week to do it. Try to update and re-publish any content that is more than one-year-old. It’s worth the effort and I guarantee you’ll see a jump in your search engine traffic.


Updating old content is one of the easiest ways to increase search engine traffic to your website. More importantly, these updates give value to your readers. When people visit your site they come across a place providing useful content.

The first time I updated my old content the site I was working on had 300+ articles already published. The first 50 or so articles were awful There was a lot of great content that needed to be updated and refreshed.

When you review your old articles you’ll probably find ways to improve the quality of your content. And when you make those changes I’m sure you’ll see an increase in your search engine traffic.

Bio: Nico Prins is the founder of Launch Space. He arranges ‘no-brainer’ software deals for people working online. Check out the site and sign up to the email list to get access to upcoming offers.

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