Content audits: Why & how to update old pages

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Why you should regularly run content audits on your website and update old pages – plus, a step-by-step guide on how to do it properly.

You spend a lot of time and money creating quality content so it’s only natural to want the best performance from it for as long as possible. Unfortunately, even the best content ages faster than we would like and you can’t expect old pages to maintain performance without ongoing optimisation.

To maintain the performance of your best content, you should run regular content audits to identify pages that need updating, pages that are competing against each other and pages that need removing altogether.

What is a content audit?

A content audit analyses all of the pages and content resources on your website to assess their performance against your SEO and content marketing goals. By running regular content audits, you can track the ongoing performance of your content and take action before any issues have a negative impact on the quality of your pages, the user experience and your search ranking.

HubSpot defines a content audit as the following:

“A content audit describes the process of collecting and analyzing assets on a website, such as landing pages or blog posts. Content audits keep an inventory of a website and provide insight into which content to create, update, re-write, or delete.”

That’s not the catchiest definition but it includes all of the important phrases. An effective content audit analyses your existing content and provides actionable data telling you which content to optimise or which new content you should create.

After analysing all of your existing content, an audit should identify one of four actions for every page:

  1. Keep: The content is fine as it is and no action is required.
  2. Update: The page itself is fine but the content needs updating/improving.
  3. Combine: Multiple pages are competing against each other for the same or similar keywords – these should be combined into a single page.
  4. Remove: The page is adding no value or negatively impacting your search ranking.

Running regular audits minimises the amount of work required to keep your content performing and reduces any potential negative impact. It’s always easier to keep fine-tuning your content than wait until your best pages fall down the SERPs, by which point it takes a lot of work to recover your search rankings.

Best of all, you can automate most of the analysis in a content audit and run them as often as you need to – you only have to take action when an issue is detected.

Why is updating old content important?

Running automated content audits requires little effort after the initial setup but updating your old content takes work. You can reduce the workload by running regular content audits and having an efficient updating system (more on this later) but it’s worth putting some work into your old content.

Updating old content is important for several reasons.

1. Users and search engines want the latest information

As with most things in search engine optimisation, you have to think about the impact on the end user as well as search engines. When people turn to Google, they want to know they’re getting accurate information and the “freshness” of content and the information it includes is crucial to this.

Let’s imagine your best-performing page is an in-depth blog post filled with stats, data and useful info – great job. Now, let’s specify that this blog post was first written in 2016 and the stats you’ve included (and linked to) are all previous to the publishing date.

At best, these stats are probably using data from 2015 and now those figures don’t sound so useful, insightful or reliable. Understandably, users want the latest information and search engines want to deliver it, which is why fresh content tends to rank higher (search engines) and achieve better engagement (users).

2. Content quickly becomes irrelevant

We’ve already seen how quickly stats can become irrelevant but this problem isn’t exclusive to data. Industry trends, user demands, audience expectations, technology, competitor performance, regulations and a seemingly endless list of factors evolve over time – things that need to be reflected in your content.

For example, there’s not much point in one of our blog posts talking about mobile optimisation like it’s a new requirement. Or, even worse, suggesting a marketing tip or strategy that flouts GDPR regulations.

In the latter case, outdated content can be quite dangerous.

3. Relevance matters more than ever

Relevance has always been important in SEO but Google has increased the role it plays in recent years. In July 2018, Google updated its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines which heavily featured the acronym E-A-T, standing for expertise, authority and trustworthiness. Then, the following year, a series of core algorithm updates began to increase the weighting of these factors in the SERPs.

4. Performance declines with age

As content naturally becomes less relevant/accurate, performance gradually declines over time. This results in fewer clicks, fewer links, less time spent on pages, fewer return visits and just about every performance metric that matters. Thankfully, this is relatively simple to remedy if you spend the necessary time it takes to update your content, keep it relevant and maintain performance.

How to update your old content

Updating old content is important but you need a process that’s both time and cost-effective. You’re not going to work through every page, updating them one by one. You want to start with the pages that are going to make the most positive impact by being updated and, in some cases, delete content that isn’t worth updating or keeping.

Step #1: Run a content audit

The first thing you need to do is run a content audit to evaluate the performance of each page and categorise your content into three lists:

  1. High-impact content: Your best-performing pages that need to maintain this performance or improve.
  2. Low-impact content: Pages not making any significant impact one way or the other.
  3. Negative impact content: Pages that could be hurting your marketing strategy, which need updating or removing altogether.

High-impact and negative-impact pages are your priorities when it comes to updating content. Start by updating or removing negative impact content as soon as possible and devise a schedule for regularly updating your high-impact content (every quarter or year, for example). You can work on updating low-impact content into high-impact content later.

Step #2: Run content audits on the pages that matter most

Once you’ve identified your high-impact and negative-impact content, you need to assess the quality of each page. First, you’ll want to run a basic technical audit to make sure the essentials are all in place:

  • Title: Is it accurate, descriptive and compelling?
  • URL: Is it descriptive and readable?
  • Author: Who published this content and do they have the necessary expertise/experience to cover this topic?
  • Publication date: Was this page published/updated in the past 12 months?
  • Page views: Has the number of page views declined over time?
  • Word count: Could the content be improved by providing more in-depth information?
  • Number of links: How many inbound and internal links do you have?
  • Page structure: Are you using h2 and h3 heading correctly, short paragraphs and bullet points, etc?
  • Image alt-text: Do all of your images have descriptive alt-text?

Luckily, you can automate reports for all of the above so you don’t need to manually evaluate the headings of each article. However, assessing the more subjective aspects of content quality will take a little more time.

Step #3: Assess the content quality of priority pages

To assess the quality of content on individual pages, it helps to break the criteria into two sections. First, you have the basic essentials that aren’t going to win you any content awards but can hurt your performance if not done correctly. Then, you have the more advanced aspects that really make the difference between good and great content.

For the basic essentials, you’re looking at:

  • Accuracy: Is the information accurate and backed up by trusted sources?
  • Recency: How old is the data/information presented in this content?
  • Readability: Spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence length, etc.
  • Originality: As a basic essential, this means you’ve created the content yourself instead of pinching/copying it from elsewhere.
  • Accessibility: Is your content accessible to all users?
  • UX: Is your content mobile-friendly, uninterrupted by popups, etc?
  • Visual content: Does each article have relevant images, videos and other visual content to reinforce the points being made?

With those basic essentials covered, it’s time to ask some difficult questions about your content – especially for pages that are having a low or negative impact.

  • Value: What benefit are users actually getting from your content?
  • Originality: What does this content offer that every other piece covering the same topic can’t?
  • Engagement: Are users actually engaging with your content?
  • Shareability: Are users sharing your content with others?
  • Actionability: How actionable is the advice given in your content?
  • Influence: What action are users taking after they engage with your content (conversions).

Look at the content produced by your competitors and compare it to your own to get some perspective. You might find the majority of their content has nothing new to offer in terms of value or originality – nothing users can’t get from elsewhere. This is actually far more difficult to do on an ongoing basis than the technical aspects of creating “quality” content.

Step #4: Update your content

When we update our content here at Vertical Leap, we follow a step-by-step process that ensures we cover all of the bases quickly:

  1. Check keyword performance and related search terms.
  2. Update data sources, stats, figures, etc.
  3. Update time references (the current year, last year, events that happened X years ago, etc.)
  4. Check the key points of your content are still relevant.
  5. Check links are still working.
  6. Update any old images where necessary.
  7. Add new sections covering recent developments, trends, etc.
  8. Add new sections targeting valuable related keywords (going back to step 1).
  9. Link to newer content published that’s relevant (both internal and external).
  10. Update the meta description.
  11. Update publish date.

Re point 9 above, when linking out to external content such as research, make sure you cite the original research and that all facts have a relevant outbound link for corroboration, especially if you are a medical or YMYL site.

Now, for certain pieces of content, we might decide additional things are needed. For example, we might find an article that could better serve as an in-depth guide and extend it to 3,000+ words or repurpose another piece as an FAQ-style article but the process above covers the bulk of our content updates.

Step #5: Optimise for E-A-T

We mentioned E-A-T in an earlier section and this is the perfect time to optimise for Google’s new take on expertise, authority and trustworthiness. Make this a key aspect of your content updating strategy – especially for pages that have a history of performing well and may have struggled following recent updates.

  • Expertise: Ensure your content is published by someone with demonstrable expertise and create author bios linking to websites, social accounts and other verifiable sources.
  • Authority: This is where getting published on relevant external sites, quality backlinks and citations become crucial, as well as a whole host of on-site authority factors such as industry body logos and a really good “about us” page.
  • Trust: Only link to trusted sources, ensure your content is accurate, provide links to privacy policies and T&Cs, build a profile of positive reviews on platforms like Google and Trustpilot, ease user concerns wherever possible.

E-A-T is not a single fix for SEO or content quality (although it’s easy to get this impression from the way it’s written about). However, it is an important factor in Google’s search algorithm and optimising for this will improve the quality of your content – both for search engines and users.

Step #6: Run content audits regularly

The more often you update your content, the easier it is to do. Instead of drastically rewriting pages of content, you just want to be making minor tweaks that maintain performance and add anything that could give it a healthy boost. For your most important pages, you want to be updating content every 12 months, at least. In some cases, you’ll want to update on a quarterly basis and it all comes down to how quickly the information you provide needs refreshing.

Updating old content might not be the most exciting task for SEOs and content marketers but it’s crucial for maximising the ROI from every page on your website. Aside from keeping your content fresh, constant auditing will help you weed out any technical issues and even remove problematic pages altogether, if necessary.

You work hard to get your pages ranking well in search and a good system of updating content will help you stay there.

Need help?

Our content team are very experienced at running content audits at scale – to get a quote, contact us on 02392 830281 or [email protected].

Dave Colgate profile picture
Dave Colgate

Dave is head of SEO at Vertical Leap. He joined in 2010 as an SEO specialist and prior to that worked with international companies delivering successful search marketing campaigns. Dave works with many of our largest customers spanning many household names and global brands such as P&O Cruises and Harvester. Outside of work, Dave previously spent many years providing charity work as a Sergeant under the Royal Air Force Reserves in the Air Cadets sharing his passion for aviation with young minds. He can often be found in the skies above the south coast enjoying his private pilot licence.

More articles by Dave
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