The Ultimate Guide to Updating Old Blog Posts to Improve SEO Ranking
There's a secret to blogging and SEO success that most people don't know.
Blog posts only have an internet shelf life of two years. That's why so many people see traffic dip over time, even on key pages—Google and other search engines will actually stop ranking your pages because they're too old.
Your first instinct may be to pump up your new content volume to combat this. But did you know you can pack a much bigger punch (and save time) by simply updating old blog posts? In fact, 80% of your organic traffic most likely already comes from your older posts.
Optimizing old content was also a key strategy for Gaetano DiNardi, currently Director of Demand Generation at Nextiva, as he grew organic traffic for Sales Hacker 400% in just 18 months! If they can do it, why can't you?
Depending on your site, optimizing older blogs can lead to increases in revenue, customers, subscribers, and all the other good things you want. The best part is how big of an impact you can make with relatively little work!
But before you can get started, you need to:
- Understand the blog post life cycle
- Learn which SEO ranking signals actually matter now and moving forward
- Prioritize which blog posts to update for the most impact
Let’s dive in!
Why is it important to update blog posts?
Relevance is one of the key factors that determines a blog post’s SEO ranking—and relevance is usually determined by a post’s last published date, helpful content, and whether or not it’s up-to-date.
So, if you've got an older post that performed well, you want to make sure you keep it as relevant as possible with published updates, so its traffic and Page Authority stay high.
An updated post that was previously successful on your blog will also typically rank higher in searches than a new post, because you’re building off the authority the successful post has already accumulated.
Updates also tell the Google algorithm that your content is a better resource and can increase a blog post’s traffic by as much as 70%, depending on a few things.
1. Your blog already has a solid Domain Authority.
2. You blog channels a steady amount of traffic.
What counts as “steady” can vary between your industry and how much traffic matters to you. For reference, the average blog receives 130 pageviews a day, or 4,000 pageviews a month. We knew our own blog had hit a steady amount of traffic when we got 400 to 500 views a day from organic search.
3. Your blog has evergreen topics.
Evergreen refers to something that has continuous value and doesn’t rely on timeliness. For example, “How to improve SEO” is an evergreen topic, while “Last month's Google updates" is not.
If your blog struggles to do those three things, you need to focus on reaching those goals before you try updating and republishing your blog posts.
You don’t want one weak post to hurt your entire blog.
Outdated blog posts can significantly hurt your reputation if the information they share is no longer correct. Search engine algorithms, though not perfect, are increasingly getting better at determining what information is accurate. So, the long term best practice is to make sure your pages stay up-to-date.
And besides, you wouldn’t want a visitor’s first impression of your blog to be of a post that has advice that lost its value long ago.
SEO ranking has also changed (and will keep changing).
Mastering SEO can be daunting—especially when you learn that Google updates the algorithm an average of nine times a day. But there are some SEO fundamentals that will always bring in more organic traffic, and a few major updates that you need to consider.
1. 10X content: Since blogging has become so popular (over 70 million posts are published every month), Google now only prioritizes the posts that are the highest quality and valuable to readers. You can’t blog just to blog. Your content has to be better (more helpful and relevant) than anything else created on the topic.
2. Topic clusters: Your content needs to avoid cannibalizing, or having the same exact topic as another post on your site. Otherwise you’ll be competing with yourself for rankings. Instead, create variants of a topic, or topic clusters, to show relevance and establish yourself as an expert on everything related to that subject. Your content needs to address an entire conversation instead of just one keyword
3. Useful headers: Your headers can add more value to your ranking when they successfully provide structure to your post, break up your text, and naturally incorporate keywords. Your headers will be at their best when they set up description and definition paragraphs with multiple lists and bullet points.
4. Featured snippets: And speaking of headers, featured snippets have become a huge part of SEO and CTRs because they get parts of your blog featured at the top of Google searches. You can get your headers pulled for Google’s featured bullet points by including smaller headers beneath your main ones that outline different list items.
Google’s number one goal in adding these updates is to provide the most relevant and helpful results to those searching. Updating your old blog posts is the best way you can address all these fundamental and recent changes to the algorithm.
What’s the actual lifespan of a blog post?
Stage 1: Shout
The Shout stage is first seven to ten days after the blog post’s initial release when there's a sharp increase in impressions, most likely because the post is being shared on social media and in newsletters for the first time. This stage usually accounts for 50% of the post’s impressions.
Stage 2: Echo
The Echo stage is the next 30 days after the blog post’s initial release when impressions begin to steadily drop overtime as the post is shared less and less frequently. This stage accounts for 72% of a blog post’s impressions.
Stage 3: Reverberate
The Reverberate stage is the remaining 700 days of the blog post’s two-year lifespan when the post’s long-tail value is most important. This stage accounts for 28% of a blog post’s impressions, is the least researched of the stages, and allows for the most room for growth (this is where updating can come in).
What does all this mean?
The key takeaway is the huge potential within the final 700 days of the blog post’s life where your updates can come in.
But until then, 72% of your blog post’s total impressions are most likely going to come from its first month of life (the Shout and Echo stages). Which means during that time you’ll want to capitalize on things, like:
- Sharing your post on social media
- Hunting for back-links
- Announcing the new post in your email newsletter
- Sending your article to other writers in your network
While there isn’t enough data to prove if a post gets 72% of its impressions because it’s being shared, or if the post does well regardless—91% of the top blogs share their posts on social media, so it doesn’t hurt to follow that practice.
You also need some on-page engagement data (time on page, click-throughs, etc.) before search engines know how high to rank the page in search results. Sharing on social media and in your newsletters can help get this data faster, so you can take advantage of organic search faster, too.
Always use these tactics first, before you move on to republishing the blog post at the end of its two-year lifespan.
Why do blog posts click-through rates drop?
Searches keep going up, but click-through rates (CTR) keep dropping. If your own blog is seeing a drop in CTR, it’s most likely because:
- People are choosing to read other posts that were published more recently
- The information in your posts is outdated
- People’s questions are already answered in the search results without having to click your link
- Your posts aren’t optimized for mobile phones and tablets
- Your post shows up on the first page, but people don’t scroll far enough to see it
Note that some of these things will happen even if your impressions stay the same, and some of these things will happen as a result of your impressions dropping.
When strategizing how to increase your blog’s CTR, think of it as screen real estate—there are some locations that are just going to be clicked more by visitors. For example, if you’re searching for something on your phone, you'll most likely have to scroll past a featured snippet and four ads before any organic listing shows up.
Updating your blog posts can help you reach those spots.
At the end of the day, Google is always showing more ads, taking away more screen real estate, and making it easier for searchers to get answers without clicking. That’s why your goal is to make sure you're following the right SEO steps and showing up in the top 1-3 spots—which updating your blog can help you achieve.
8 Ways to Update Older Blog Posts for Improved SEO Ranking
1. Focus on the posts that are already performing well or need the most help.
When you pick a blog post to republish, the goal is to take something that is already doing awesome (or was once great) and help it become even better. Some indicators that a post is a good fit for republishing are:
- The post is more than two years old
- The post is already on the 2nd or 3rd page of Google
- The post was shared multiple times on social media
- The post is directly related to the product or service you sell
- The time people spend on the page is above average
On the opposite end of that spectrum, you’ll also want to update (or even delete) posts with information that’s been disproven or incorrect.
Whether you’re starting with your strongest or weakest posts, you can use Google Search Console and Google Analytics to locate the ones that need attention. The key is to compare your impressions and CTR.
Your blog posts with the highest amount of impressions and CTR are most likely the ones you’ll want to consider republishing, while the ones with the lowest impressions and CTR are the ones you’ll want to double check to make sure they aren’t missing any of the SEO fundamentals we talked about earlier.
Be sure to also note if there are posts that are getting impressions but not click throughs, and vice versa. Are these posts showing up in Google’s search engine, but not getting traffic, or not showing up at all? And how do these posts perform for the keywords you actually care about? Consider these questions and choose which blog posts to update from there.
If you do locate a post that looks unsalvageable (most likely because its topic is now completely irrelevant or become distasteful), it’s probably best to delete it and use a 410 redirect.
2. Remove outdated information or references.
Now that you’ve picked the blog posts you want to update, there are some immediate things you can begin trimming to improve them.
- References to businesses and organizations that have closed or become problematic
- Memes or pop culture references that keep your content from being evergreen
- Any mentions of time like, “It’s been one year since”
- Statistics that are outdated
- Outdated or irrelevant links (which we’ll talk more about later)
Your ultimate goal is to omit anything that keeps the post from being evergreen.
3. Add and update media.
Images and videos will always keep people on a page longer. As you add more media to a post you’re updating, a good rule of thumb is to include an image or video for every 350 words in the post.
You’ll also want to optimize any old images for SEO by making sure they have properly formatted alt text and file names with keywords. These keywords should appear naturally (like they’re being used in a conversation or title) and not feel like they’re being stuffed in on purpose.
And finally, double check that everything is relevant to your topic and linked back to its original source.
PC: Neil Patel
4. Remove broken links, and add new ones to current sources or your own posts.
Broken links hurt SEO and will definitely drop your page lower in Google searches. Luckily, fixing links can be easy if you use tools like Broken Link Checker or the Check My Links Chrome extension to locate links on your website that no longer work.
From there, you can delete the link and find a replacement. It also doesn’t hurt to check and see if the other links on the post are outdated and in need of more recent sources as you update broken links.
Your own topic related blog posts can also make great replacements for broken links.
If you don’t already regularly link to your own posts, you need to consider creating topic clusters, which are posts with topics that build off each other. Topic clusters keep people on your blog when they click the continuous related links.
Never link to a page with a low Domain Authority (if you can help it), or a page that isn’t completely relevant to the topic you’re talking about. If your blog post is about viral content, you need to link to content about creating viral content—and not just examples of viral content.
5. Optimize your URL.
Your post’s URL will need to be updated for better SEO ranking, if:
- It includes dates
- It’s too long or stuffed full of unnecessary words
- It’s completely unstructured and incoherent
- It doesn’t contain keywords
Always do a 301 redirect if you change a URL, or any back links to the post will break.
6. Make sure your page speed is fast.
Speed is everything in SEO ranking, which is why you need to check yours with tools like PageSpeed Insights.
A three second page load time is perfectly average—but anything below one second is ultimately what you should shoot for. And if your site takes more than three seconds to load, you need to hustle to increase its speed.
40% of consumers will abandon a page that takes more than three seconds to load.
You increase your posts’ load times by compressing your image files and making sure your website’s theme is optimized for mobile and tablets.
You’ll also want to cache files that don’t typically change (like your logo and header), and add expire headers that signal to a browser whether or not to request what’s been cached.
7. Increase the post’s word count.
Long form blog content content always ranks better, but every word you add needs to bring value to the reader.
In depth details, steps, and case studies are all great additions to your post that are normally helpful to readers.
Adding quotes from experts has also become a popular way to bulk up blog posts. Quotes break up text, give you more opportunities to link back to sources with high Domain Authorities, and help you directly back up your claims.
“Use a quote that is relevant to your blog post. Your readers should be able to recognize the author of your quote so it’s best to use an influencer in your niche.” - Neil Patel
8. Resubmit your page in Google Search Console.
After you’ve made all your updates, the final thing you need to do is resubmit your new page in Google Search Console. This will make a direct request for Google to crawl, or visit your website for tracking purposes, and your blog post will be reindexed ASAP.
Keep Your Content Consistently Great and Watch Your Rankings Soar
Remember that the best blog will always have a balance between good SEO and solid content.
The success of your blog also depends on a balance between creating new posts and updating old ones. Afterall, you have to actually create content if you’re going to have something exceptional to update and re-publish in two years.