Around 2005 or so, corporate blogs became the thing to do. Big players in the business world touted that such platforms could “drive swarms of traffic to your main website, generate more product sales” and even “create an additional stream of advertising income” (Entrepreneur Magazine circa 2006). With promises like that, what marketer or exec wouldn’t jump on the blog bandwagon?
Unfortunately, initial forays into branded content did not always dwell on minor issues like “quality” or “entertainment,” instead focusing on sheer bulk and, of course, all the keywords. Now we have learned better, and many corporate blogs are less prolific and offer more value. But on some sites, behind many, many “next page” clicks, this old content can still be found lurking in the background.
This situation leaves current SEOs and content teams in a bit of a pickle. What should you do if your site has excessive quantities of old blog posts? Are they okay just sitting there? Do you need to dosomething about them?
Why bother addressing old blog posts?
On many sites, the sheer number of pages are the biggest reason to consider improving or scaling back old content. If past content managers chose quantity over quality, heaps of old posts eventually get buried, all evergreen topics have been written about before, and it becomes increasingly harder to keep inventory of your content.
From a technical perspective, depending on the scale of the old content you’re dealing with, pruning back the number of pages that you put forward can help increase your crawl efficiency. If Google has to crawl 1,000 URLs to find 100 good pieces of content, they are going to take note and not spend as much time combing through your content in the future.
From a marketing perspective, your content represents your brand, and improving the set of content that you put forward helps shape the way customers see you as an authority in your space. Optimizing and curating your existing content can give your collection of content a clearer topical focus, makes it more easily discoverable, and ensures that it provides value for users and the business.
Zooming out for a second to look at this from a higher level: If you’ve already decided that it’s worth investing in blog content for your company, it’s worth getting the most from your existing resources and ensuring that they aren’t holding you back.
Decide what to keep: Inventory and assessment
The first thing to do before accessing your blog posts is to make sure you know what you have. A full list of URLs and coordinating metadata is incredibly helpful in both evaluating and documenting.
Depending on the content management system that you use, obtaining this list can be as simple as exporting a database field. Alternatively, URLs can be gleaned from a combination of Google Analytics data, Webmaster Tools, and a comprehensive crawl with a tool such as Screaming Frog. This post gives a good outline of how to get the data you need from these sources.
Regardless of whether you have a list of URLs yet, it’s also good to do a full crawl of your blog to see what the linking structure looks like at this point, and how that may differ from what you see in the CMS.
Once you know what you have, it’s time to assess the content and decide if it’s worth holding on to. When I do this, I like to ask these 5 questions:
1. Is it beneficial for users?
Content that’s beneficial for users is helpful, informative, or entertaining. It answers questions, helps them solve problems, or keeps them interested. This could be anything from a walkthrough for troubleshooting to a collection of inspirational photos.
2. Is it beneficial for us?
Content that is beneficial to us is earning organic rankings, traffic, or backlinks, or is providing business value by helping drive conversions. Additionally, content that can help establish branding or effectively build topical authority is great to have on any site.
3. Is it good?
While this may be a bit of a subjective question to ask about any content, it’s obvious when you read content that isn’t good. This is about fundamental things such as if content doesn’t make sense, has tons of grammatical errors, is organized poorly, or doesn’t seem to have a point to it.
4. Is it relevant?
If content isn’t at least tangentially relevant to your site, industry, or customers, you should have a really good reason to keep it. If it doesn’t meet any of the former qualifications already, it probably isn’t worth holding on to.
5. Is it causing any issues?
Problematic content may include duplicate content, duplicate targeting, plagiarized text, content that is a legal liability, or any other number of issues that you probably don’t want to deal with on your site. I find that the assessment phase is a particularly good opportunity to identify posts that target the same topic, so that you can consolidate them.
Using these criteria, you can divide your old blog posts into buckets of “keep” and “don’t keep.” The “don’t keep” can be 301 redirected to either the most relevant related post or the blog homepage. Then it’s time to further address the others.
What to do with the posts you keep
So now you have a pile of “keep” posts to sort out! All the posts that made it this far have already been established to have value of some kind. Now we want to make the most of that value by improving, expanding, updating, and promoting the content.
When setting out to improve an old post that has good bones, it can be good to start with improvements on targeting and general writing and grammar. You want to make sure that your blog post has a clear point, is targeting a specific topic and terms, and is doing so in proper English (or whatever language your blog may be in).
Once the content itself is in good shape, make sure to add any technical improvements that the piece may need, such as relevant interlinking, alt text, or schema markup.
Then it’s time to make sure it’s pretty. Visual improvements such as adding line breaks, pull quotes, and imagery impact user experience and can keep people on the page longer.
Expand or update
Not all old blog posts are necessarily in poor shape, which can offer a great opportunity. Another way to get more value out of them is to repurpose or update the information that they contain to make old content fresh again. Data says that this is well worth the effort, with business bloggers that update older posts being 74% more likely to report strong results.
A few ways to expand or update a post are to explore a different take on the initial thesis, add newer data, or integrate more recent developments or changed opinions. Alternatively, you could expand on a piece of content by reinterpreting it in another medium, such as new imagery, engaging video, or even as audio content.
If you’ve invested resources in content creation and optimization, it only makes sense to try to get as many eyes as possible on the finished product. This can be done in a few different ways, such as sharing and re-sharing on branded social channels, resurfacing posts to the front page of your blog, or even a bit of external promotion through outreach.
Once your blog has been pruned and you’re working on getting the most value out of your existing content, an important final step is to keep tabs on the effect these changes are having.
The most significant measure of success is organic organic traffic; even if your blog is designed for lead generation or other specific goals, the number of eyes on the page should have a strong correlation to the content’s success by other measures as well. For the best representation of traffic totals, I monitor organic sessions by landing page in Google Analytics.
I also like to keep an eye on organic rankings, as you can get an early glimpse of whether a piece is gaining traction around a particular topic before it’s successful enough to earn organic traffic with those terms.
Remember that regardless of what changes you’ve made, it will usually take Google a few months to sort out the relevance and rankings of the updated content. So be patient, monitor, and keep expanding, updating, and promoting!