Update Old Content To Improve Google Rankings (7 Easy Steps)

by Jason Smit

Before investing in new content I always recommend to our clients that they spend some time and effort updating old content

There are three reasons why you want to do this:

  • Google loves fresh content. They even have an algorithm signal for freshness.
  • There’ll be many articles on your website that are just not quite there in the rankings. They may either be at the bottom of page 1 or the top of page 2. All they need is a little bit of effort to move them up the search results.
  • Updating your old content is generally more affordable than investing in new content.

In this article I'll show exactly how we achieved 5x growth in traffic to a client's webpage by updating old content for SEO.

TL;DR: Watch my video on updating old content. 

5x Growth From Updating Old Content

One of our clients is a sports site called Golf Assessor.

A top post on their site was on the best waterproof golf shoes.

updating old content case study

In 2019, their rankings started to slide downhill for this post. They hired our content writing services in May 2019 to help turn things around. 

As you can see from the screenshot below, the lowest point for them was around 800 page views a month in April.

With a few small content updates we were able to 5x this traffic and restore the post to its former page views of around 4,000 per month.

fresh content update traffic increase

How did we achieve these results? 

Simple, we focused on the 80:20 of content upgrading.

7 Quick & Easy Ways To Update Old Content

1. Update the published date

I often get asked if the publish date should be updated after adding fresh content. 

The answer is yes!

Sticking with our case study, let's look at the ranking results for "best waterproof golf shoes". 

updating the publish date on old content

I ran this search in January 2021, and as you can see all of the articles were published within 2-3 months of that date.

There is a good chance these articles were actually published several years ago and the webmasters updated the publish dates.

Updating the publish date is a quick win which you can apply by simply amending the “published on” section in WordPress.

Besides it being beneficial for SEO, it’s also beneficial for the reader. If I was combing through the search results I’d rather click on a recent result than one from 2016!

But Note: Google is not stupid. Just updating the publish date without refreshing the content is not going to move the needle.

2. Improve click-through-rate (CTR) with engaging meta

A good CTR from the SERP to your page is an SEO signal. 

So when updating your content, it's worth revisiting your meta title and description, and updating these where necessary. 

For example, in our case study, as the content is affiliate related with products renewing every year, it's always worth stating the current year in the meta title. 

improve ctr

When it comes to the meta description and title, using power words can also have a positive impact on CTR.

Who doesn't want to click a search link that promises astonishing results, bargain giveaways, insane insights, and shocking myths?

Power words trigger an emotional response, and influence the reader to click your link instead of others.

Numbers also help catch a browsers eye and increase CTR. According to researchers, odd numbers really stand out for us (7, 9 11, 13 etc beats 6, 8, 10, 12 etc).

And finally, punctuation in your meta title and description increases CTR. We're particular partial to parentheses.

Putting these CTR tricks together your meta title could look something like this: 9 Ways To Quickly Change A Bad Habit (& What To Avoid)

3. Use Grammarly

Old content is often plagued with bad spelling and grammar.

When running a content update it's always worth fixing grammar and spelling issues, and improving readability.

Grammarly has been a game changer for us at Contentellect

fix grammar

It’s a really nifty little application that sits in your chrome browser or you can install it on your desktop.

Once activated it will provide suggestions on how you can improve the grammar, spelling and overall readability of an article.

It also has a WordPress plugin which makes it easy to go back and edit older blog posts.

These improvements may not directly affect SEO, but improving the user experience bodes well for your site in the long run.

4. Update Links (Internal, External and Broken)

When updating content, it's worth checking the internal and external links to and from your page.

In terms of internal links, you want to make sure your page links to other relevant internal pages - I always aim for 5-8 internal links on a page.

You also want to make sure your page is not orphaned (i.e. has no internal links to it). This is common with old content.

I like to add 5-8 internal links on relevant anchors to my updated page. At a minimum I make sure the page is properly categorised and linked from the category archives.

Top Tip: I always link from my homepage to my most recent articles. This means when I update old articles and change the published date, it appears on the homepage for a few weeks. This encourages Google to re-crawl the page, often resulting in an immediate ranking boost.

You also want to make sure that all your links work.

Broken links provide a bad user experience and can also be bad for SEO. 

You can do this manually or use a free tool like dead link checker to find broken links at scale.

Beyond this you’ll also want to think a little more strategically about your existing links.

  • Are any of your existing links outdated or no longer relevant?
  • Can you point to a new and more authoritative source?

5. Improve your article formatting

Formatting affects user experience. A poor user experience is bad for SEO and conversions. 

When it comes to updating old content, you can quickly improve the formatting by focusing on these quick-wins: 

  • Add a clear and logical hierarchical header structure (H1 -> H2 -> H3 etc.). Headings help break up your content and signpost important topics for easy readability. Use keyword-rich text in your headers for better SEO performance.
  • Shorten long sentences by adding fullstops, and break up long paragraphs into many sentences. The more white space, the easier your article will be to read. 
  • Use multimedia throughout your article to illustrate your point. Images and videos should be used every 300-400 words.
  • Use bold, italics and underlined formats to emphasise important points.

Terrible formatting is unforgivable. For more tips, see this article on how to structure a blog post.

Below is an article we found on the bottom of page 1 of Google. 

improve formatting

Notice how the title is not capitalised, the paragraphs are chunky making them cumbersome to read, and there are no images.

Small formatting changes to this article would go a long way to improving conversions and rankings for this page.

6. Update your old content

Updating old content doesn't mean a full rewrite.

Instead, you should look for opportunities to add more depth and insight.

Pay attention to the following:

  1. Content length: Thin content is a major SEO Flag. Investigate how long competing pages are by using tools like Frase or Surfer, and then expand your article to cover more ground.
  2. Content depth: No one likes shallow articles that add little value. Do more research on the topic and go deeper. Ask yourself: will a reader need to go elsewhere to get more information? 
  3. Content breadth: Check if you've covered the topic in its entirety. Type into Google the primary keyword and look at the People Also Ask section and Related Search terms. Have you covered all bases in your article?
  4. Introduction: The introduction is by far the most important part of an online article. It's where you win or loose a visitor. Make your introduction short, sharp and on point. Use this blog introduction ideas to hit it out the park.
update content

Top tip: Use a tool like Answer The Public to uncover related topics for your article. 

7. Promote across the socials

Once you’ve made all the above mentioned changes, it's always worth re-sharing your article across social channels.

By getting it back out into the social sphere, you can generate social signals which can help boost SEO efficacy.

How To Update Old Content FAQ

Does updating old content improve SEO?

Yes, updating old content does improve SEO. Google and other search engines prefer fresh content that is regularly updated. Think about sites like Wikipedia. An average Wikipedia article is updated regularly with new information. It's no accident these articles also rank highly.

Does old content hurt SEO?

In many cases old content does hurt SEO performance. Why? Because old information is often outdated, not relevant anymore or lacks depth. Content that is old will eventually loose ranking against competitors with more current articles. 

How often should you update content?

The frequency at which you content really depends on the nature of the content. Evergreen articles might only need to be updated once a year, whereas highly competitive article topics or news pieces where new information arises frequently may need to be updated daily, weekly or monthly. 

How do I update old content?

To update old content, focus on these 7 steps:

  • Update the published date
  • Update the meta title and description for improved CTR
  • Add more length, breadth and depth to your article
  • Update internal and external links
  • Improve the article formatting for better readability and on-page SEO
  • Improve the grammar and fix spelling errors
  • Share across social media platforms

You may also like:

Jason Smit

Jason Smit is the CEO of Contentellect and believes that marketing success lies at the intersection of great content and quality links. With 15 years spent in agency environments, including Saatchi & Saatchi, Publicis Media and Performics, his experience is distilled into Contentellect's service offering. He holds a B.Com Marketing from the University of Cape Town and a PGDip. in Entrepreneurship.

You may also like

Content + Links: It's That Simple!

Let's talk about how we can scale your content and link building efforts