Historical Optimization: How To Update and Republish Old Content and Why You Absolutely Need To Blog Feature
Sereena Schneider

By: Sereena Schneider
November 23rd, 2018

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Historical Optimization: How To Update and Republish Old Content and Why You Absolutely Need To

Search Engine Optimization | Content Marketing

CONTENT. IS. STILL. KING.

Yes, we meant to yell that. It's old news now. You already know you need content to drive traffic. 

However...

Like everything in the digital marketing space, it's ever-evolving. And what used to work in content marketing isn't working near as well anymore. While content is still the fuel for your inbound machine, the strategy behind content marketing is changing.

According to Forrester's 2014 report on building the case for content marketing, a major problem is that the supply of content online is growing, but the demand for it is relatively static. More and more content on the same topics is being produced, and the environment is getting far more competitive. 

For marketers who've been blogging for years and are tasked with scaling up their blogs to increase website traffic, the answer can't be to just pump out more content. The focus must change. To rise above the rest, your content must be the best source of information for the searcher's query. 

You must emphasize quality.

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Remember keyword stuffing? Anyone who knows anything about SEO would never dream of using that strategy anymore. 

In order to be successful in marketing (and SEO) you must adapt with the times. This is actually one of our favourite things about inbound marketing. As search engines get smarter, tactics and best practices adjust to work within the new guidelines. 

Which brings us back to the main focus of today's post - content.

Have you noticed lately that you're reading an article and there's a disclaimer (usually at the bottom) that says something like "Posted on day-month-year, updated on day-month-year"?

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This comes from a new tactic in content marketing that's drastically increasing organic search traffic and lead generation known as historical optimization (AKA a revamp, AKA a refresh, AKA an update, AKA insert-adjective-that-matches-here). HubSpot talked about this blogging tactic back in March of 2018, and SEO-demigod Brian Dean discussed it (he calls it a content relaunch) as well. 

The basic concept is simple: take an old piece of content and yep, update it! HubSpot saw double the monthly leads generated and increased the monthly organic search of posts they've applied this tactic to by an average of 106%. The article Brian Dean tried it on saw the search engine traffic go up by 260%.

So yeah, it works. Like a hot damn.

The benefits are numerous. As you read above, just your SEO ranking on updated pieces should be enough to jump on this train. In addition to SEO benefits, you also have the opportunity to get more mileage out of your content, which is a favourite strategy of DigitalMarketer. They love taking a blog post and creating a wide variety of different types of content from it.

The details on the execution though... that's where people get tripped up.

The Basics

Let's face it. The average lifespan of a blog post is about two-three weeks. And that's with additional promotion. Then you're back at it, creating another piece of content to run through the grind. 

And those posts from last month, last quarter, last year? Lying dead in a content graveyard, buried under pages of tabs and newer pieces. Some of those pieces were really good, too! A lot of traffic, engagement, conversions - you name it! Don't let it go to waste. 

Rather than starting at square one with every - single - piece of content you (or your team) produces, you can build on what's already worked and fix what maybe didn't go over so well.

By taking one of those high-performing pieces and updating it (we'll explain what that entails in a bit), and then republishing it, you reap some major benefits:

  1. increase your readership even further
  2. capitalize on SEO already in place 
  3. helps your content team be more consistent (with your message and with their output)

Let's take each of these benefits and break them down.

Historical Optimization: How To Update and Republish Old Content and Why You Absolutely Need To Readership ImageBuilding Your Readership

These pieces you've decided to rework - as mentioned, they were good in their time. Plenty of engagement and shares - popular posts, you might say. The view count - high. The submission rate on your CTA - good. All the qualities you hope for when you create a piece of content and put it out there.

But those posts are old. Some of them dating back years. No one is scrolling that far back in your blog content. The topic, however, is still relevant. It's evergreen.

By taking one of these pieces and giving it a refresh, you're getting another chance to expose it to a new audience. You also have the opportunity to update the content. New stats, better images, a variety of media types (embedding a video, for example) - today's online audience likes these things. 

As do search engines. But we'll get into that as we dive deeper into the SEO tactics of repurposing content ;)

Back to readership! When you produce this updated piece of content (with the new publish date), it shoots to the top of your blog listings, giving it a better chance to reach the eyes of your new site visitors. You also give that piece another shot to earn more links and shares - thus increasing exposure to even more people.

Did you notice we mentioned the publishing date? Yes, that is important. Look at it like this: you type in your search and up pops the results. The first three are dated within the last 6 months, but the fourth one has a date of two-and-a-half years ago. Which one are you clicking?

Yeah, that's what we thought. When you relaunch a previously-posted article, make sure you update the publishing date!

SEO Advantages

Earlier, we mentioned capitalizing on SEO you already have in place. Focus on pieces you've posted a long time ago that have had the chance to be crawled by search engines, and have some established rankings. Refreshing and updating that content gives it a ranking boost, all on its own. Google likes fresh content, so even if you don't get a massive boost, you're still providing value and benefits.

Something else you should know about search engines is that they're always testing. When you first put that piece out, Google tests how it does:

  • Did it perform well?
  • Was engagement high?
  • Did searchers click on the link and NOT bounce back right away?

If your content answers "yes" to all these questions, then Google can say "hm, this is a good piece. We should keep it at the top of the SERPs". Which is what you want. But if the first time you published, your piece wasn't able to say "yes' to all of them, now you have another shot to get it right.

Because it's not "brand-new" content, you've already got a head start on getting indexed by Google. And back in 2011, as part of the Caffeine Update, Google also rolled out a freshness update. This means Google will give precedence to content that is relevant and recent.

That's pretty important, so we're going to say it one more time.

Recent.

That post from 2013 isn't recent, is it?

Historical Optimization: How To Update and Republish Old Content and Why You Absolutely Need To SEO ImageSEO Tactics

The idea behind refreshing a piece has been around for a while, but there's this idea that people get stuck on. Content has to be new.

Wanna know a secret?

Refreshing an older piece makes it new! Think back to the '50's with that announcer on TV screaming "NEW AND IMPROVED!". 

Same idea here.

A solid SEO tactic that's been around for a long time, and still holding strong, is creating authority. However, this too has adapted to the changing times. It's become new and improved. You may have heard the term "topical authority". Now, it goes by a different name.

Topic clusters.

But the key elements? Well, those are still there. The idea is to find these clusters, and focus on them, becoming the authority in that niche. So before, you had keyword terms, and now you're turning those terms into topics. 

But you've already written so much content on those terms, right? 

Exactly. 

So take the seven posts from the last five years you did on mortgages and put them together into one, cohesive, inclusive pillar page. Then, take those other topics you've researched, the ones that support your pillar page and write/update content for that. 

Ta-da! You now have a completed topic cluster. 

 

Historical Optimization: How To Update and Republish Old Content and Why You Absolutely Need To Cluster Image

To go along with that, as you publish these pieces that all work together, you're building up your topic clusters and your authority on that particular topic. These pieces give your site more opportunities to earn links, amplification, those coveted shares on social media, in addition to more engagement and better/more ranking signals.

So with these updated pieces, in a structured format, you have more chances to reach your target audience. To get those wonderful backlinks. To get all that stuff right that you may have missed the first time. 

By posting multiple times on one specific topic, you're building that authority. Google looks at your site and says "Hm. Check that out. This website offers a lot of fresh and informative content, AND they post on a regular, consistent basis, especially related to (insert your keyword term here). We need to start showing this site more often in searches."

Wow! Some great stuff, right?

Remember how we said it was the execution that tripped people up?

How about we make sure that doesn't happen for you?

The How-to Details

The following is a breakdown of exactly how to do a content update. HubSpot wrote a complete guide to updating blog content and we've condensed it for you.

First, you need to identify your top-performing posts. Take into account the following things:

  • inbound links
  • traffic
  • social shares
  • keywords
  • content relevancy and trending topics

From there, create your list of the posts you want to update. Record the stats for each one, so you can do a before/after comparison (this part is pretty important!).

The whole idea here is to modify the original article. Use the same post and keep the URL the same. 

If you do change the title, keep the keywords! Keep any changes as minimal as possible and do your absolute best to keep your keywords in it.

Add an editor’s note for transparency. This is important, as it lets your visitors know the background behind your content. Add a note at the bottom of your content.

Historical Optimization: How To Update and Republish Old Content and Why You Absolutely Need To Editor's Note Image

Evaluate and update the content for accuracy. Figure out what needs to be modified/added/deleted. This includes things like removing content that is no longer relevant, updating anything that is outdated like screenshots and stats, checking the links, and taking a good look at your call-to-action.

Beef it up. You want to add more content and media to your post. This is one of the key players in an update. More images, embed a video, add more content. The idea here? If you can double the size of your content (without filling it with fluff) then you're solid.

Optimize for Google's Featured Snippet. A featured snippet is when Google attempts to answer the query right on the search results page. Often referred to as "Position 0", these take the top spot (above ads) on the page most of the time. You want that spot! To get it, you need to ensure you've written content for that spot. That content should Include the search term you're focusing on within the text (ideally with an <h2> tag) and keep it short. Google likes it if the snippet is under 50 words, or, if you're going with a list format, seven items or more. One more thing: keep the code clean.

HubSpot ran a few experiments and did testing on this. If you'd like to read more about it, you can check out their research.

Optimize the meta description. Is it still accurate and relevant? Could it be made better? Focus on the question that someone would ask to take them to the post for more info, and lay out the benefits they will get by reading it. Doing this will boost your click-through rates and get more eyes on all of your awesome, refreshed content!

Now your content is ready to go, so...

Republish it! Replace the old content with the new info you've gathered. If you're using HubSpot, you will want to wait until the new date and time for your post before you schedule it. If you schedule it, you’ll get a 404 error for that link, which is bad.

Whew.

There you have it.

All you wanted to know about historical optimization (AKA updating old content.)

Keep in mind, updating content is only part of your content plan. You still want to have fresh, NEW pieces going out as well. It's all part of ensuring your content strategy is working for you in the best way possible. That's why at Marketing Ninjas, we're implementing this into our content strategy, both internally and for our clients.

Have questions?  Let us know!

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Photo credits: cluster image, people reading, SEO, keyboard
 

About Sereena Schneider

As the Director of Client Care, Sereena works hard to ensure all of our clients are happy. This means she has a hand in everything: content planning, resource allocation, team development, data analysis - the list goes on! But she still loves to sit down and write.

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