It’s easy to get hung up on creating new content. But what about all those articles you wrote years ago? Shouldn’t they get some love, too? 

A lot of those pieces could probably do with some attention. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do with those old pieces of content to bring them back to life.

Why You Need to Update Content

Like many things in the content marketing world, you need to update old content, in part, to appease Google. It’s not because Google’s come out and said publication date is a ranking factor (although it could be). It’s because the search engine typically shows the publication date in its search results. You’re not going to get many users clicking on a link that’s five years old. 

Updating content can help you rank better, too, suggests blogger Pete McPherson. He has a nice strategy that blog owners can deploy to move old articles sitting on the second page of Google to the first page. 

Research by Botify has even found a correlation among the amount of content changed, Google’s crawl frequency and the average ranking of content. That being said, there have been several instances in which a piece of content’s ranking decreased after it was updated, writes Google engineer Kyle Blanchette. But consider your audience, too, he says. It’s worth updating your content so they are served the most useful information you can provide. 

This is a great point. Updating old content is a great way for brands to connect with readers and show them that they are serious about delivering the best experience — and that their content isn’t just there to please Google. 

Finally, updating content creates easy wins. In moments of economic crisis, when marketing budgets are tight, refreshing old content is a way to boost your campaigns with minimal investments.

update content, clean up your site and bring old articles back to life

4 Ways to Update Your Content

There are four things you can do with old content: you can rewrite it, repurpose it, republish it or delete it. No strategy is inherently better than the others, so we recommend taking things on a case-by-case basis. 

1. Rewrite It

The most common fix we see is for someone to rewrite some or all of the existing content. Sometimes, you’ll only need to change a paragraph or two. Other times, you’ll need to rewrite the whole piece. The important thing to note is that you are keeping the old post’s URL intact.

If you’ve tried to game Google with your writing in the past, updating your content now may be particularly worthwhile. Google’s algorithm has become substantially more advanced since the days of keyword stuffing, points out OptinMonster’s Jacinda Santora. Articles that are over-optimized for keywords don’t cut it in today’s SERPs.

Start the rewriting process by acting like an editor, recommends writer Jessica Greene. This means checking spelling and grammar, fixing broken links, updating images, and noting where the content needs to be improved. When it comes to rewriting the content itself, Greene advises using newly researched keywords where possible. Don’t fudge it, though. If you start to sound like a robot, leave that copy out. 

Don’t be surprised if you hit a few snags during the rewrite process. As blogger Lisa Koivu points out, sometimes your own URLs may prevent you from giving your content a full refresh. This issue is particularly common with WordPress websites, where the publication date is part of the article’s URL. Change the URL, and you lose the links that pointed to the content and all of the SEO traffic that went to it. 

2. Republish It

If the ideas in your old content are still relevant and useful, consider republishing it as a brand new article. This may require a bit more effort on your part, but it means you won’t be constrained by the topic or outline of your existing content.  

This is the approach Kristen Poborsky has taken with a piece of content on her blog. Rather than rewrite the existing piece, she decided to create a brand new guide that goes well beyond the scope of the original. If you’re following her approach, she recommends avoiding the use of dates and any other information that may cause the article to age quickly. Doing so will make it easier to update the article in the future.

If your website does add dates to URLs, a republish is the best solution for updating content. It’s even possible to republish an article without updating it much, writes Content Marketing Institute’s Kim Moutsos. Her team has done this several times, but they always make sure to update any links and details to ensure the piece is still accurate. An editor’s note is also added to explain why it has been republished.

If that old article still earns SEO traffic, you should add an editorial note at the top of the original article with a link that points users to the new article. This will help both readers and Google know which article is the most relevant.

3. Repurpose It

Rather than updating or republishing old content, you can give it a new life by turning the information into multiple different formats. One old blog post can easily become an infographic, a tweet and a YouTube video. 

It’s a great way to quickly create huge amounts of fresh content, writes Venngage’s Jeilan Devanesan. It can also help you reach a wider audience, too. When you convert written words into videos, podcasts and images, you increase the ways people can hear your message. Site traffic should increase, too, as you’ll be acquiring users from sites like YouTube and Pinterest, rather than just Google. 

Repurposing content neatly avoids the duplicate content issues you need to be careful of when rewriting and republishing content, adds Hatchbuck’s Natalie Slyman. You can’t get a duplicate-content penalty from Google if you are using multiple formats to get your ideas out. 

4. Delete It

Sometimes, the best thing to do with an old article is to delete it. Seriously, if it no longer serves your audience, it’s doing your brand a disservice to keep it around. That’s true even if it’s bringing in website traffic. What are those visitors going to think about your brand if your content is stale and outdated? 

House cleaning is essential if you’ve been creating content for a long time, writes Yoast’s Marieke van de Rakt. You can only have a couple of articles ranking for each keyword in Google. So, if you have more than three very similar articles, you’re just competing with yourself. 

Some decisions will be easy. That new feature release article you wrote five years about a feature that no longer exists? That can definitely go. A press release about that conference you attended last year? That can probably go, too.

Don’t get carried away, though. Plenty of old content can be rewritten, republished or repurposed. A lot of it probably should be used again. 

Use these questions from Search Engine Journal’s Danny Goodwin to decide what’s for the chop and what’s not:

  • Does it get traffic?
  • Has the page earned links?
  • Does it rank highly?
  • Will readers miss it?

Think twice about deleting content if you answer “Yes” to any of these questions.

If you’re still happy to delete your content, there’s one last thing you need to do. Make sure you redirect the URL, social media marketer Louise Myers writes. You don’t want users to land on missing pages and get a 404 error. They won’t like it, and neither will Google. 

update content, clean up your site and bring old articles back to life

The Beauty of Evergreen Content 

Updating content is something you’re always going to have to do if you want to keep your website in order. Advice will change, your brand will change, and global crises will come and go. A good blog will maintain its relevance during and after.

One way to keep your refresh work to a minimum is to create evergreen content where possible. This is content that is always relevant, as Ahref’s Si Quan Ong explains. When you have an evergreen topic to cover, you can create one great piece of content and keep adding to it — and repromoting it — over time. 

No piece of content is going to stay relevant forever. But if you pick topics that people are always interested in, avoid the use of dates, and make sure your language or angle doesn’t unnecessarily age the piece, you’ll have a lot less work to do in the future.

At Epic Presence, we don’t just specialize in helping you create fresh content. We can also help you breathe life into your old content. If you have an archive of content that’s yet to find the audience it deserves, we can help by implementing the strategies above, then performing influencer outreach to make sure your content gets seen.

Images by: Corinne Kutz, Thought Catalog, Austin Distel

Casey Meehan