If you’ve been publishing content to your blog for a while, you likely have old posts that are no longer accurate, are lacking links to posts you’ve published more recently, are out of sync with your current content guidelines, are not up to your quality standards… the list goes on.
Most likely, those old blog posts are declining in search rankings, driving less traffic to your site than they used to, and generating fewer conversions for whatever it is you’re marketing.
Learning how to refresh old blog posts — and using that information to update and optimize your outdated content — fixes all of those issues.
It lets you not only bring old blog posts up to your current quality standards and tie them into what you’re producing now via internal links, but it also resuscitates those old blog posts so that they climb up the search rankings, earn more backlinks, and generate more traffic and conversions.
For example, the chart below shows a post I updated for Help Scout that saw a 940% year-over-year increase in traffic:
Updating old content is also a nice quick-win strategy: you get results very quickly. Below is a screenshot that Databox’s John Bonini posted to LinkedIn shortly after I updated one of Databox’s old blog posts. The day after the post was updated, traffic started to spike.
But even beyond these benefits, updating your old content makes your life easier as a writer, editor, or content marketer. Constantly coming up with new ideas for posts, researching those posts, and writing them from scratch is incredibly time-consuming.
When you update old blog posts, a lot of that work is already done for you. And even if updating an old post requires a complete rewrite (and sometimes it will), at least it’s one less idea that you had to come up with.
When you leave your old blog posts to languish and decay, you’re essentially wasting the time and money you invested in getting those posts published.
Instead, you should spend a few hours updating those old posts to make those investments continue to earn money for your business.
How to refresh old blog posts for SEO
I’ve covered how to identify blog posts that are in need of an update already, so if you’re not sure which pieces of content you should be updating, read that post first, then come back here when you have a specific post identified.
Here is the 10-step process I use to refresh old blog posts.
1. Find the keywords the post is already ranking for
The very first thing you want to do is identify the keywords that the post is already ranking for. Start by looking for keywords that are ranking on page one or two of the SERPs (generally positions 1-20).
There are a couple of ways to find the keywords your post is already ranking for.
Use Google Search Console
If you have access to Google Search Console, you can pull keyword, volume, and position data from there. Open Google Search Console and navigate to the “Performance” tab. Make sure “Average position” is selected.
Next, scroll down to the table and click the “PAGES” tab.
Scroll through the list to find the URL of the blog post you’re getting ready to update, and click the URL. Or — if you have thousands of URLs — open the filter, select “Page,” type in some portion of the URL of the blog post you’re updating, and then click the URL.
Finally, click the “QUERIES” tab. This will show you all of the keywords that the blog post you’re updating ranks for. Next, click the arrow next to “Position” a couple of times to sort the data in that column in ascending order (from lowest to highest).
Write down the keywords, positions, and volumes for any keyword that ranks in positions 1-20.
Use an SEO Tool
Another option for finding out what keywords your blog post ranks for is to use an SEO tool that provides keywords and ranking information for individual site pages. Personally, I use Ahrefs for this task, but any SEO tool with this feature will suffice.
Honestly, even when I have access to Google Search Console, I turn to Ahrefs for this step. I’ve found that position data in Google Search Console is often way off. For example, it will say that a keyword ranks in the number-one spot, but when I search for that keyword in Google, I can’t find that post in the top 100 results.
Another issue is that Search Console will often show you all kinds of weird, random, unrelated keywords that have little-to-no search volumes. Because Ahrefs doesn’t track every keyword anyone has ever typed into Google Search, it’s better at showing only the keywords with reasonable search volumes — and that are more likely to be relevant to the content.
To find out what keywords your post is ranking for in Ahrefs, paste the blog post’s URL into Ahrefs, perform the search, and click “Organic Keywords” to get a list of keywords that the post ranks for currently, along with volume and position data.
Write down the keywords, positions, and volumes for any keyword that ranks in positions 1-20.
2. Pick a keyword to target when updating your post
When updating and optimizing an old blog post, you’re going to want to select both a target (main) keyword and, potentially, one or more secondary keywords.
I wish there was a way to tell you exactly how to identify what your target keyword should be every single time, but the reality is that there are a lot of different things to consider.
There’s only one thing that’s true 100% of the time: The target keyword you select must match search intent for that keyword. When considering a target keyword, search for that keyword in Google and make sure that the page-one results are similar to your existing post’s content — or the content of the updates you’re planning to make.
After that, there are a variety of things to consider.
- Is the post currently ranking in the top five results for any keywords? If so, do those keywords have adequate search volumes? If you can find a keyword with decent volume that’s currently ranking in the top five positions, it’s highly likely that your update could earn you the number-one ranking or a featured snippet.
- How likely is it that your post will be competitive for that keyword? Use MozBar or Ahrefs to see if your Domain Authority, Page Authority, or Keyword Difficulty scores are comparable to those of the results that are currently outranking your post.
- Is there a lower-ranked keyword that would be better to target? Your post might be ranking highly for a keyword that has little-to-no search volume. It might be ranking for something that doesn’t really match the information in your blog post. In these cases, it can be good to pick a target keyword you’re not already ranking for.
But be careful when choosing a target keyword your post isn’t already ranking for. If the post you’re updating is already ranking really well for specific keywords — and you rewrite the post and optimize it for different keywords simply because those keywords have higher search volumes — you can actually lose traffic and rankings after your update.
Ideally, you want to take advantage of the equity you’ve already earned from search engines. So if your post is ranked #2 for the keyword “digital marketing software,” don’t try to switch things up and get it to rank for “digital marketing tools” because that phrase has more search volume. Just try to get it to #1 for “digital marketing software.”
3. See if there are secondary keywords you should target
Whether I’m writing a blog post from scratch or updating a blog post someone else has already written, my goal is to make that post comprehensive. Keyword research is an incredibly useful process for identifying other topics to cover in a blog post in order to expand on the topic.
After you’ve identified your target keyword, do a little more keyword research to identify any other potential keywords/topics you should make sure are covered in the updated post.
Start by searching for your target keyword in Google.
I like to use a guest instance of Google to do all of my keyword research searches. If you use Chrome, you can open a guest window by clicking your account icon or picture in the top-right corner of Chrome and selecting “Open Guest Window.”
In your guest window, search for your target keyword. Then, look for a “People Also Ask” box. See if there are any questions listed that it makes sense to cover in your blog post. You can also expand one or more of the questions to get Google to populate more questions.
You can also scroll to the bottom of the search results to find a “Searches related to” box. See if there are any related keywords or questions there that may be worth covering. Write all prospective keywords/topics down alongside your target keyword.
Finally, I like to use a keyword research tool to get additional questions I might want to answer that are related to my target keyword. In Ahrefs, search for your target keyword, and then click “Questions” to see a list of questions related to that keyword.
Add any question keywords to your keyword list. Now, you should have a long list of additional topics you might want to cover (and secondary keywords to target) in your updated post.
4. Check your content library for related content
If you’ve been blogging for a while or are working for a company that has had multiple writers and content marketers working on your blog over the years, there’s a chance that you might have multiple blog posts about the same topic.
One really easy way to update your content and get a rankings boost is to just combine similar content into a single post.
First, pop all of the URLs for your related content into Ahrefs or Google Search Console to find out which post ranks highest for the keyword you’re planning to target. Whichever one is currently ranking highest is the URL you should use for your consolidation because it has the most existing equity for that term with Google.
After you’ve combined the posts, delete the posts with the content that you added to the post you’re updating, and create 301 redirects from those URLs to your new post. This will ensure that any backlinks pointing to those old URLs are passed on to your updated post to boost its rankings.
5. Look at the page-one results for your target keyword
When someone types a query into a search engine, he/she has an intent. Google’s goal is to interpret that intent and surface the content that best satisfies it.
For this reason, there’s no better source for determining what your post needs to include than Google’s search results. Essentially, Google’s search results tell you exactly what people are looking for when they type any query into its search engine.
Look at any features on page one of the search results. Are there video/news/Twitter carousels? Are there image blocks? Are there shopping results? Is there a local map pack?
Each of these features provides some insight into what people are looking for when they search for that keyword.
For example, if there’s a video carousel, a video featured snippet, or organic results with video rich snippets, it suggests that people might prefer to watch videos to learn more about your topic. Consider creating a video and embedding it into your post.
Look at the titles of the page-one-ranked results. Are they all lists (e.g. the 10 best [whatever])? If so, people probably prefer to read list posts for that query.
See if there’s a featured snippet for your target keyword. Do you own the featured snippet? If not, make a note of the type of featured snippet that displays (paragraph, list, table, video, etc.). You’ll want to format your updated post to try and capture the featured snippet.
Finally, open each result on page one and read through the content. What topics do these posts cover that might be worth covering in your post? What don’t they cover that they probably should (and that you definitely should)? How long are the top results: are they 500 words long or 4,000+?
Use all of this information to create a plan for what your updated post needs to be, do, and include.
6. Search for any secondary keywords you’re planning to target
A single post can capture more than one featured snippet. For this reason, I like to search for not only my target keyword but my secondary keywords as well. If any of my secondary keywords has its own unique featured snippet, I make a note of the type of featured snippet and add that detail to my content plan.
7. Update your blog post
Using all of the information you gathered in the steps above, update your blog post.
Refresh the existing content. Be an editor for the existing post. Make sure all of the links still work. Make sure all of the content is still accurate and relevant. Update outdated screenshots. Add new screenshots. Fix any grammar/spelling/formatting errors.
Add additional content. Some of the additional content you’re adding might be things you identified in the steps above that should be included. Some of it might be filling gaps in the existing content. Some of it might be examples/anecdotes from your own knowledge/research.
Optimize for your target keyword. If it’s possible to do without sounding like a robot, I try to include my target keyword in three places: the blog post’s main title, once in the introduction, and once in one subheader. But I don’t force it. If it feels awkward to use my target keyword in any of those places, I don’t do it.
Format your content for featured snippets. If you’re targeting a list featured snippet, include a list in your content. If you’re targeting a paragraph featured snippet, write a couple of succinct sentences that describe the concept you’re explaining. Make sure that you’re using headers correctly, and consider adding a table of contents with anchor links.
Add internal links. It’s almost a guarantee that you’ve written new, related content since the original post was published that you can link to when updating your blog post.
Write alt text for any included images. Make sure any images you’re using in the post — old or new — have relevant and descriptive alt text.
Make sure your SEO title isn’t getting truncated in search results. If you’re using a plugin like Yoast SEO for WordPress, it often appends your website’s name and other details to the end of your SEO title, which can result in your title getting truncated.
If you’re not changing the title of the post you’re updating, make sure it displays fully in the search results. If you are changing the title, see how many characters display for the existing results and try to stay within that character count.
Finally, do not update the URL unless you absolutely have to. For the best results, leave the URL as-is. If you absolutely must update the URL, make sure to 301 redirect the old URL to the new one.
Side note: it’s in your best interest to never use dates in your URLs. If your keyword is “best marketing tools 2019,” just make your URL “best-marketing-tools” and leave the “2019” off. The future you who has to update that post next year will thank you.
8. Run your updated post through a natural language processing tool
To be honest, I was skeptical of natural language processing (NLP) tools for a long time. Adding words into a post because a machine tells me to just feels like reverting back to the old days of keyword stuffing. But I’m curious and always looking for ways to improve rankings, so I gave these tools a chance. They work.
My tool of choice for this is Clearscope. Clearscope is great because it tells you not only what words Google expects to see in your post, but also what words should appear as headings in your post. This can help you find gaps in your content that you can fill before you publish.
For example, if you’re updating a tool roundup post covering the best marketing automation tools, Clearscope might tell you that it recommends adding HubSpot as a header, which means Google expects to see HubSpot included in a list like yours.
I’ve seen ranking increases for posts that were previously stuck simply by adding a couple of additional tools to them that Clearscope recommended, so now I run all new content and updates through Clearscope before publishing.
9. Document your existing rankings before publishing the update
Most of the time, I see positive results after updating a post. But occasionally, a post I’ve updated — particularly if it was ranking really well for certain keywords to begin with — will lose rankings after an update.
When that happens, you can go back in, make a few changes, and recover, but in order to do so, you need a way to see the impact your changes had on rankings.
And even if the changes are positive, you’ll probably want a way to see those positive changes (and possibly show them to your boss or a client).
There are many ways to track pre- and post-update rankings. A low-tech option is to just search for your target keyword and each secondary keyword and make a note of their pre-update positions in your project management tool.
Then, a week or two after publishing your update, you can search for those keywords again to see if your rankings improved or declined.
To use these tools, simply add the keywords(s) you’re trying to rank for to the tool. It searches for those keywords every day and shows you increases and decreases in ranking positions, which makes tracking the performance of my updates much less time-consuming.
10. Publish your updated blog post and ask Google to reindex it
Once everything is updated, make the changes in your content management system and republish the post.
After publishing, I like to ask Google to reindex the post. While Google will notice your updates and reindex them even if you don’t request reindexing, I like to expedite the process by submitting an indexing request in Google Search Console.
To ask Google to reindex your page:
- Open Google Search Console.
- Paste the URL of your updated post into the search bar.
- Click “Request Indexing.”
Get started refreshing your old blog posts
Over the years, I’ve implemented a lot of different on-page, off-page, and technical SEO strategies, but no other strategy I’ve implemented had as large and as quick of an impact as updating existing content. It takes very little time and delivers results almost instantly.
So use this guide to drive your own incredible results, or if you feel like you need more guidance, please get in touch. I’ll be happy to help you make the most of your existing content.