How does old content affect SEO, and what should you do about it?

We’ve written in the past about how important it is to keep fresh content on your site if you want to maintain your SEO standings. But if you keep up a steady stream of content, after a while, some of it is likely to be kind of old. It’s unlikely anyone’s still reading your “breaking industry updates” from 2014, but is that content actually holding your site back? And if it’s still generating traffic, what should you do about it?

These are not simple questions, and the answers are not definitive. While Google insists that your old content won’t hold your website back, other sources indicate that cleaning house could be a good thing. Ultimately, I’m on the side of ditching anything that doesn’t reflect well on your business, and polishing up the rest. You can’t retcon all your content into hyper-prescient insight, but you can avoid propagating outdated information and rid yourself of rookie posts that no longer reflect you at your professional best. After all, we talk enough about content being “fresh,” so isn’t it true that some of it will eventually go stale?

So, how do you know when content has reached its expiry date, and what should you do when that happens? Here’s our advice.

1. Your content is crushing it. Leave it be.

First of all, you will want to audit the content on your site to see what’s working for you and what isn’t. When we do this, we often notice that some of our top-performing posts are older ones that have continued to gain steam over the years and still bring in a lot of traffic to our site.

For these ones, you may need to give them a slight dusting (make sure there are no broken links, out-of-date information, or cultural references that have aged poorly), but otherwise you can live and let live. Maybe even re-publish them to your social channels, or use them as an inspiration piece for newer content.

We did this recently for our post on Core Deliverables for Simple Websites. It’s one of our all-time, best-performing content pieces, and our follow-up post, Core Deliverables for Digital Marketing Campaigns, has performed similarly well.

2. Your content is beginning to show its age. Update it.

Now let’s talk about a piece that might have performed well in the past, but is no longer bringing in the traffic it once did. Maybe it no longer matches industry best practices, or it doesn’t adequately answer questions readers are asking based on more recent developments. This kind of content is still mostly there, it just needs some tinkering to work properly.

There are three approaches you can take to updating this type of content, and any one of them will do. You can:

  1. Go through your post and revise the content until it looks good. We recommend this if you like the writing of the piece, and if it’s still about 80% of the way toward being accurate content.
  2. Keep the original piece, but write a “20XX update” at the top of the post. This works well if you want to retain the context of the original work but still want to include new information.
  3. Rewrite entirely and use a 301 redirect to your new material. This is good if you want to keep the title and the basic theme and outline of the piece, but feel like it would be easier to start from scratch.

3. Your content is a bad take on a good idea. Rewrite it.

Rewriting content help revive a piece of content that has strong bones but just needs some extra work. But what if there are deeper, structural flaws with the piece? Or what if you’ve written a number of similar pieces and they’re all competing for the same keyword?

In this case, you definitely want to re-write the piece. If you’re consolidating several blogs, read through them to pull out any ideas that you want to keep. Then 301 redirect them to your new piece, and prepare yourself to write the definitive take on your content idea.

This approach works especially well if you’ve been blogging for a while and some of your early content pieces represent your learning curve in the field. In my case, my early content mostly consisted of short-form pieces of about 300 words. When I transitioned to long-form pieces, many of those early blogs suddenly looked like fragments of one larger idea that were never fully realized. Rewriting and consolidating some of those pieces would lead to more informative blog pieces for our readers.

4. Your content is dead. Delete it.

Finally, there’s just no saving some content. If you have anything on your site that is obviously irrelevant, take an axe to it. We definitely had several pieces like this from when we first launched our blog and used it to share insights into our company culture. But it’s been a few years, and, apart from being ill-conceived to begin with, that content is no longer a reflection of who we are.

Similarly, if you wrote something that was ultra-timely five years ago, it may look strange to still have it on your site. This is especially true for information that is obsolete. You don’t want to confuse your site visitors with bad information. So: into the fire with it.

Your content is a reflection of your business. Put your best foot forward.

You may think that a blog post you write in early 2003 is buried so deep on your site that no one will ever find it. But old content has a way of resurfacing, and you don’t want a zombie article reflecting poorly on your business. So be proactive in reviewing the outdated content on your site, and prune any dead branches.

Just beware of being too zealous in your content overhaul—there’s no need to Marie Kondo your website. Unless content is actually toxic, it’s not going to be harming your business. Neutral content is better than no content, even if that neutral content could be improved upon. So, consider your content wisely, and keep an eye out for opportunities to make it better.

Published 11/19/19 by Laura Lynch