SEO

A Complete Guide to Updating Content for Maximum SEO Value

The process of content creation never stops.

Whether you’ve just published a piece of content that jumped instantly to page one in the SERPs or you have aging content on your domain that has been sitting unvisited for years, there is always room to review and make changes.

In this article, you’ll learn about this process of revision and why it’s important for every domain.

Plus, we’ll provide you with a checklist that will make your content revisions quicker and more consistent.

Why You Should Revise Your Content

Different content demands revisions for different reasons. Here are a few of the most common that I’ve encountered.

1. Your Competitors Haven’t Stopped Working on Their Content

Search is not a single-player game. Even after you have put the pen down and published your content, your competitors are still working.

Whether I’m creating new content or revising old content, I always look at what’s doing well in the SERPs right now. Almost every time, there is something that a competitor’s content is doing to provide more value to users.

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If your competitors are savvy, this is exactly what they’re doing to your content when it’s performing well.

In order to stay ahead of the competition, you must always innovate and find new ways to improve your content. The secrets of creating great content are out in the open for everyone to see, so today’s featured snippet is tomorrow’s page-three relic.

2. Searcher Behavior Changes

Writing content that ranks well is all about responding to searcher intent. You find out what searchers want when they enter their query and give them exactly that.

The thing is, searcher behavior changes over time.

Picture someone who is searching for [coronavirus] at three different points in time.

Before 2019, this person is probably a student or someone with an academic interest in the technicalities of virology. An article that serves this reader should keep that in mind, giving them the technical information necessary to understand this piece of jargon from that field.

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the search volume for [coronavirus] has dramatically increased and the audience has changed, as well.

This audience is made up of laypeople. Their intent is better served by content that gives a basic education on the nature of the virus and gives actionable advice about how to avoid catching or spreading the disease.

Beyond the pandemic, good content for [coronavirus] might blend the two audiences from above.

It could provide some actionable advice for anyone who thinks they might be infected, but might also provide information about the historical response to the pandemic.

This is an especially dramatic example, but the point applies across the board – searcher intent changes over time as language and our experience with different concepts changes.

Your content that responded perfectly to searcher intent three years ago may not serve today’s searchers quite as well.

3. Your Information Isn’t Up to Date

One of the best things you can do to make your content authoritative is to include relevant facts and statistics from expert sources.

The thing is, this information can change. Either the underlying facts can change (for example, there are more pandas in the wild today than there were in 2016) or newer, more accurate research has become available.

No matter the cause, if your competitors are citing the newer research and you’re stuck on the old numbers, then your content is automatically out of date.

How to Select Pages for Revision

In time, it’s ideal to take a pass over every piece of content on your domain to look for opportunities for revision. However, some pages should be prioritized over others.

In particular, as you’re looking for pages to update, watch out for:

Pages that used to rank well, but have fallen off.

If you have a page that used to draw a lot of traffic but has fallen down quite a ways in the SERPs, that’s a huge clue it’s ready for revision.

It’s very likely your page is being beaten out by newer content from your competitors that has taken everything you did right with that page and added to it.

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Pages you had high hopes for, but they never performed.

Any time you find that content with a solid strategy and good execution doesn’t rank, you should ask yourself why.

This kind of content is a great candidate for revision because you can find out what went wrong (or what isn’t fully optimized), fix it, and develop your understanding of best practices.

Your top-performing pages.

That’s right, even your pages that are on page one could use some revision.

It’s best to update these pages before their rankings start to drop. By anticipating challenges and updating your content to match, you can stay on page one instead of riding the rankings rollercoaster.

5 Things to Do When You Update Your Old Content

It’s time to revise your content. This process does not have to involve eyeballing your content to see what could be changed or creating a brand new page from the ground up.

Here are five things you can scan for to make your content the best it can be:

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1. Facts

Earlier, we talked about how including up-to-date facts and figures is essential to keeping your content fresh. This is one of the easiest things to check and update in your old content.

Look through your content for citations and take these important steps:

Check that the original source is still active. 

Whenever we’re adding outbound links to our content, we need to be aware that other domains don’t operate with our permission. They sometimes take content down, change URLs, or change information without asking.

The first thing you should do when checking any citation in an older piece of content is to make sure that your external links are still doing what you want them to do.

Look for more recent information on the same subject.

A quick search on your topic should be able to tell you if there is newer data available. If there is, replace these facts and figures – and the sources you link to – in your copy to reflect the most up-to-date research.

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You can also review competitor content to see if they’re pulling data that is fresher than yours.

Check up on any “common sense” information in your article. 

Even common knowledge can change.

Language like “the current President of the United States, Donald Trump,” can immediately date your content, even if it was well-known at the time of writing.

2. Function

Ask yourself: how can I change this piece of content to better match searcher intent?

This doesn’t only apply to topics where searcher intent has changed over time. We don’t always get things right on our first pass and revising old content gives us a chance to do better.

Here are a few tips when it comes to making sure that your content satisfies searcher intent as well as possible.

First, put yourself in the searcher’s shoes.

When we write content, we often write as experts. We’re not coming at these topics as searchers, who are often searching because they don’t know as much as they’d like.

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When you’re revising your content, make sure that it’s as direct and readable as possible. It should answer searcher questions quickly and without fuss.

Second, ask yourself: Is there a widget I can add to make things easier for the user?

Here’s a commonly searched term: [compound interest formula].

The searcher intent here is obvious – in almost every case, the searcher wants to calculate compound interest.

A good page here can provide them with the formula, but a great page can also include a calculator that lets them punch in their numbers and spits out compound interest.

This kind of user interaction that goes above and beyond just text on a page can make the difference between content that’s merely acceptable and content that is truly excellent.

3. Keywords

If you didn’t do keyword research when you first wrote this content, now is the time.

Once you have an idea about the keywords that you’d like your content to rank for, you can evaluate your page’s title, title tag, and subheadings. These elements should reflect searcher language, either by using exact matches, near matches, or by answering a question that the searcher is posing.

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While meta elements can sometimes meander and fail to address keywords, the body text of an article often does the opposite.

It’s tempting, especially for writers who are just learning the ropes of SEO, to repeat a given keyword over and over again. If this is true of your content, now is the time to rewrite old language.

Write as you would speak – let your keyword usage come naturally, rather than trying to force it and coming across as spammy.

4. Links and Anchor Text

There are two things to check up on when it comes to links and anchor text in older content.

The first is to make sure that you’re following best practices when it comes to linking internally.

Make sure your links come up naturally in the text of your article and the anchor text you’re using provides reliable clues about the page on the other side of that link.

The second is to find opportunities to link to new content that didn’t exist when you first published this article.

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Finding these opportunities to retroactively add links to newer content is incredibly important when it comes to supporting your new content.

In some cases, it’s okay to add these links as you’re reviewing and revising old content.

In other cases – for example, launching a critical new product page – it’s worth it to go back through some of your old content explicitly for the purpose of adding relevant internal links to your new page.

Old pages have had a lot more time to accrue backlinks. By adding internal links to new pages during revisions, you can ensure your newer content is getting its fair share of the ranking authority that your older content has earned.

5. Mobile Compatibility

Mobile-first indexing is probably one of the biggest changes to come to search in recent years. It’s also a relatively new part of Google’s search algorithm, since it was enabled for all websites in September 2020.

If pages on your domain are not optimized to provide the same experience on mobile as they do for desktop users, then now is the time for a domain-level revision process to bring your site up to date.

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Even if you have already made domain-level changes to improve your site experience on mobile, some of your old content may not appear on mobile as well as it does on a desktop browser.

When you revise a piece of content, that’s the perfect time to double-check the page experience on mobile.

Revising Content vs. Writing New Content

For content that is especially old or is not ranking well at all, there is a question that lurks over your revisions process: When should I scrap this piece of content and start from scratch?

In my view, you should never create brand new content to rank for a keyword phrase that some existing content is already targeting. However, that doesn’t mean you should keep all or any of the existing content on your page.

My recommendation is to revise however much you need to.

If you need to rewrite every sentence, restructure your subheadings entirely, and completely rebuild your internal linking network from the ground up, then do it.

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However, keep all of these changes under the same URL. Remember that this URL has had time to accrue ranking authority and backlinks. You can keep those things while tossing out everything that isn’t up to snuff.

If you’d like to keep the old content, then move it to a new URL on your domain.

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