James Parsons is the CEO of Content Powered, a blog management and content marketing firm. He's an SEO expert, developer, and entrepreneur.
Refurbishing old content is not a new idea. Old blog posts are not dead weight, even when they aren't evergreen; they're a resource you can mine for more modern-day value.
Why do readers abandon old content? There are three reasons: First, search engines tend to show newer, fresher content. Older content, unless it's proven to be evergreen and highly valuable, is likely to drop off the search results over the course of months or years.
Second, older content can be more difficult to find on a site. Blogs are usually formatted to showcase newer content upfront, and old content requires digging through archives or clicking in-text links or "related" boxes — which themselves might be ads that cause users to shy away.
Third, there's a perception that older content isn't useful. For example, old software advice can change when patches move menus or change procedures. Old recommendations for products can change if those products change or disappear. Even if your older content is perfectly valid, many users are going to look for something fresher.
You know some of your old content is perfectly valuable, but how can you refresh it and put it in front of your audience again? As the CEO of a blog management and content marketing firm, I know a few ways to get started.
Determine if the content is worth refreshing.
First, you need to determine if your content is worth rewriting in the first place. Old news articles, for instance, probably aren't worth it. But past usage guides people loved before the product changed to make them invalid? Those are much more likely to be valuable. Old evergreen content that has dropped off in traffic over the years can be good targets as well.
I look for three things to determine if a piece of content is worth a rewrite:
1. The old post used to get a decent amount of traffic.
2. The old post still has valid backlinks pointing to it.
3. The old post's topic is still relevant today.
I tend to try to focus on old posts that had better-than-average traffic metrics, though anything that meets the average is probably fine. Backlinks are valuable just to make sure the refreshed post doesn't start from scratch. Topic relevance is the most important of the three.
Figure out how to refresh the content.
Rewriting old posts for a new audience might require a new approach. Maybe your writing style has changed to be more casual over the years. Maybe you write much longer posts and want to cover the topic in more detail. Maybe you need to update instructions for a new version of an app or change recommendations because items on your old list no longer exist.
I typically aim to add at least 50% new value to the post. Some of the old post will be perfectly fine as written, and some of it will need a complete do-over. Cut the content that no longer works or is no longer relevant, and see what sort of skeleton you have left.
If you realize at this point that 90% of the original content is gone, you have to decide if the topic itself is worth keeping. A "top 10" list of software recommendations can still be valuable even if all ten of them change. A product guide for a product that has a diminishing userbase or that is at its end of life? Not so much.
And in my experience, don't worry too much about keeping fragments of the original post around. I know some people are terrified of appearing as if they are stealing content, but search engines will recognize when you're just rewriting an old post, not stealing fragments from another content creator. (Just be sure not to plagiarize other publish sources, and always attribute outside content.)
Publish and promote your new post.
When you rewrite a post, one thing you should avoid doing is changing the URL. The old URL has old links pointing to it and has existing search engine metrics tied to it. Changing the URL means you might as well just be writing a new post from scratch. If your permalink uses the publication date, it might be worth changing, but redirect incoming traffic from old links to make it clear it's the same post, updated.
Make it clear that your rewritten post is an updated post. Some people put a big "Updated Today" banner in the title. Others like to put an intro paragraph explaining that the post has been updated. As long as you have something to identify it as updated, users will be able to judge that the content is more recent and thus more valuable to them.
Just because the post has existed for a while doesn't mean you can slack with promotion. Make sure you run your newly-refurbished post through your promotion cycle, with posts on social media, link building and whatever other outreach you do.
One question is: Should you alter the date the article was published? I believe this is OK to do. Do not change the publication date on a piece of content you otherwise haven't edited. But when you're rewriting a post to add new value, there's nothing wrong, from my perspective, with giving it a new publication date, so long as it doesn't break backlinks.
Once you've seen your refurbished post in action, it's time to get to work on the next one. Dig until the mine is played out. There's definitely gold buried in your back catalog.