Everybody who works in content marketing talks about how to update your old blog posts. It makes a lot of sense: Creating quality content is time-consuming and expensive, but it’s also necessary for attracting new readers and letting Google know that you’re still around. Sure, you can repurpose old content into a slideshow or video. But I’m talking about giving an old post new life by updating it with new information and — here’s the really important part — applying today’s SEO best practices.
How to update your old blog posts with an extreme makeover
Pick the right content
I don’t know anybody who has time to go through their content archives and update every single blog post without knowing if it’s going to be worth it. So start by picking one blog post — a single post that you think will help you decide whether a larger-scale effort is worthwhile.
The criteria, of course, are up to you, but could include things like
- Your most successful post in terms of likes, shares, comments, etc.
- Your most successful post in terms of lead generation
- A post that should be performing better than it is
- A post that is about a topic that is either always relevant or newly relevant
Those are just a few ideas, but there are dozens of things you could do. If a popular executive is retiring, for example, you could update an old blog post that was written when he first joined the company: a retrospective with a few modern updates.
Identify areas that need work
SEO is constantly changing, so the size of the job will depend on how old the content is. If it was written back in the days of keyword stuffing, you’ve got some work to do. That was awful even when it was a best practice.
But if you’re going to update your old blog posts, you could also take an “evolution of SEO” approach with a process similar to this:
- What keywords, if any, were the original post built around? Are those keywords still relevant to your current business model and your current customers? If not, what changed, and what does that mean for your keyword strategy? Do the same keyword research you’d do for a new post, and identify more relevant keywords that you could substitute without having to rewrite the entire post.
- Does the original post contain any longtail keywords? It might, simply because longtail keywords make sense. They’re based on natural language that people use when they’re conducting a search, such as, “How to….”. If you find longtail keywords, try to make them more prominent. This is important to Google’s latest focus on user intent.
- Make sure your most important keyword(s) are in the first paragraph of the post.
- Use your main keyword(s) in at least one of your subheads (preferably H1).
- Come up with a list of synonyms (or longtail keywords that are phrased slightly differently) and work them in throughout the post, so that the language sounds natural and Google doesn’t ding you for keyword stuffing.
There are two kinds of links: Internal and external links.
- External links: If your post has external links, check to make sure that they’re still working and that you’re still willing to give the linked content what amounts to an endorsement by linking to it. If the link either doesn’t work or leads to outdated or incorrect information, replace it with a better one.
- Internal links: Internal links serve a couple of purposes. First, they keep readers on your site by leading them to other relevant content. Second, they help Google index your site. Similar to external links, check your internal links to make sure they still work and lead to good content. But you’ll also want to add links both to and from newer content on your site. So, for the post you’re revamping, add links to some newer posts on your blog. In addition, take a look at newer posts and search for opportunities to link back to the older one.
When I first started freelance writing after 10 years of being a stay-at-home mom, I didn’t know the first thing about metadata. (Heck, I didn’t know the first thing about keywords, since all of my experience was in print media.) I bet if I went back to the beginning of this site and worked my way to the present, at least 50% of the content wouldn’t be optimized for metadata.
If your older posts are the same, you’ve got a huge opportunity to fix that without investing months of effort. Modern blogging platforms and themes make it easy for non-techy content creators to take on a major metadata cleanup. If your theme doesn’t do it, there’s probably an SEO plugin that does.
The point is that, while customers might not notice your metadata, Google does, and it can give your SERPs a big boost. Going back to that trial content you picked, here are some quick fixes:
- Make sure your most important keyword ( or words) are in the title and the URL. (Protip: Remember that, if you change the URL, any existing links to the page will no longer work. If the page is still getting significant traffic, make sure you set up a redirect.)
- Check the alt-tags of all images used in the article. They should contain your keywords. However, to satisfy accessibility requirements, they also need to be descriptive, so you might need to get a little creative (such as “small brown dog reading an article about improving metadata”).
- Include your primary keywords in your meta description, which is a snippet, summary, excerpt, etc., of what your post is about. These are the descriptions that show up under your headline and (hopefully!) featured image in search results.The default is to use the first 55 words. But let’s say you’ve written an introduction that’s a great hook that makes people want to keep reading once they’re on the page. The problem is that it might not do a very good job of describing what the post is about, so some people may never click through.You can fix that by creating a great snippet that will show up in search results and tell people exactly what your post is about. And that snippet should contain your primary keyword.
While SEO is always a primary focus, there are other things to look for, too. These include things like:
- Facts: Check to see if you need to update quotes or statistics.
- Branding: If branding policies — color scheme, use of logos, use of official company name, etc. — have changed, apply those changes to the old post.
- Cultural references: Just a few years ago, nobody could get enough of 50 Shades of Grey. If it came out today, bloggers and talking heads everywhere would be vilifying the trilogy as glorifying rape culture. Remember that popular opinion on controversial topics can flip overnight — and previously ignored issues can become controversial overnight. Keep your eyes open for those issues in your website content.
- Laws and regulations: These, too, change quickly, especially as our economy becomes more globalized. Currently, it seems as if everyone is focused on online privacy. If you operate multinationally, you’re not only bound by U.S. laws; you’re also bound by the laws and regulations of every country where you do business. And sometimes it doesn’t even require a physical presence, such as when the determining factor is a user’s citizenship or place of residence. If you have a customer from the EU, for instance, you’re bound by those regulations even if you don’t have a physical presence there.
What should you do with your revitalized blog post?
It depends on your reasons for doing an extreme makeover to start with. Here are a few options:
- If it was already performing well, leave it alone except for adding a “last updated” date (well, make it part of your social media marketing, but you were doing that anyway, right?) and watch the metrics. You already know readers were finding value in the post, so if you did a good job with your SEO tweaks, you should see a spike in traffic.
- If you think it should have been performing better than it was, repost it and see if the improved SEO makes a difference. Do, however, indicate that it’s a repost and include the date of the original post.
- If you really did an extreme makeover — reworking content as well as SEO — go ahead and publish it as a new post, although you might want to link to the original as your source of inspiration.
A word about dates
Even some of the top experts in the industry disagree on whether or not you should include a publication date on content. Some don’t in the interest of making it seem evergreen. Personally, I rarely link to a post without a date, because I don’t want to be offering my readers advice that’s 10 years old. Even if it seems like good information, I just don’t take the chance. I guess it depends on your industry and strategy, but I have a tough time finding a good reason to not include the publication date.
So should you update your old blog posts? I think that’s a very personal question with lots of different answers. Here’s mine: I know that when I first started, I didn’t know much about SEO. So I’m going to go back and update SEO (especially metadata) on my older content that is still evergreen or otherwise still relevant. I probably won’t do an extreme makeover unless a topic is currently trending or I think that it would be a valuable piece with a fresh face.
And, with the post-holiday slump looming, updating SEO is a good task for those dreary winter afternoons when starting a new piece of content from scratch feels overwhelming. You can just turn to your list updates and make the rest of the day useful instead of spending it staring out the window!