Understanding how to rank websites is something that is frequently overlooked but can significantly increase your traffic. For those who don’t know, ranking an old article is like trying to break into the music industry and only releasing albums from the 1980s. Unfortunately, it’s quite impossible to happen. But, with the right strategies, you can greatly simplify ranking from older articles on your site.
Vox republished 88 of their old articles in the span of 5 days, retweeting these stories and posting some of them on their Facebook account. This collectively got them 500k new readers.
Often the top 2-3 posts of a blog will generate a disproportional amount of traffic, such as 10-20%. And the top 20-25 posts will generate up to 80% of the blog’s traffic. These posts are generally older. The ones that have been able to climb their way organically up Google’s ladder to high positions for many keywords.
25% Increase In Traffic Virtually Overnight on Old Posts
The interesting part of this is that the number of unique visitors can see a 15-30% increase in traffic when they’re updated. That’s huge and relatively low input when compared to writing a fresh new piece of content for your site that may take months or even years to rank at the same levels depending on how much effort you put into it.
- You want to look for posts that are 6 months or older
- You want to be updating posts that already have a lot of traffic that they are generating because you know that these are successful posts in Google’s eyes and in the eyes of your readers and therefore they have potential
- If your website doesn’t have 5k unique visitors per month yet, then you don’t need to worry about this step yet. Keep focusing on building your content and building links to your domain before worrying about updating old content. Of course, if your website is less than 6 months old, then this holds true for you as well. You won’t be able to tell yet which content is going to be driving your main traffic.
Example of a website that would benefit from updating old blog posts:
- Over 17k unique views per month
- Content over 6 months old driving the majority of the traffic
- You can also find good ways to update your old articles by searching for “low hanging fruit” keywords to include in your post
Looking at keywords is a good strategy to use for every one of your articles when you’re updating them
Rather than just updating the content in order to better align with the message that your website is trying to send out or adding images or videos – which are all excellent things to do – you should also be looking at the keywords that your old blog post is already ranking for.
Specifically, look for keywords that you’re just missing Page 1 of Google for or that you’re in positions 3-4.
Sometimes if you add some new content with a focus on this keyword, particularly text, alt text, or headings, you can boost your article up that tiny amount that can make a very big difference in the amount of traffic that you’re seeing
- You can use different software to do this, but I recommend just sticking with good old-fashioned Google Webmaster. I like it because even though it may not be as pretty, it gives you all the information for free
How much time do you spend on the process?
This depends on what your goals are. Are you just looking to increase traffic to your website? Are you looking to improve the overall quality and credibility of your website? Do you want to make sure that you have no gaps in user experience?
If you’re looking to improve the overall quality, and credibility and remove any gaps or out-of-date content, then there is inherent value in updating your old posts. It is thus up to you to decide how much time you are willing to dedicate in order to achieve these goals. In other words, how much is having a coherent and updated website worth to you?
Set the amount of time and work within that limit
As with many things in a blog post, you can get completely lost for hours on end in keyword research reports, making sure ideas between dozens of articles are congruent and trying to interlink in a consistent manner. So be disciplined with this; make a plan, set a time limit, and execute as best you can.
If you’re looking to increase traffic and revenue then you can get more mathematical with your analysis of time inputted.
Let’s stick with the 15-30% increase in traffic and let’s use 20% as an arbitrary number in that range to calculate with.
Quantifying Customer Value for Traffic Increases
Let’s say you’re getting (#s from example) 5k unique monthly visitors from your top 5 blog posts over 6 months. And you update them and you expect a 20% increase in traffic. You’re looking at an additional 1k per month in traffic.
Let’s try and quantify what that traffic is worth to you:
- How much do you need to pay using PPC to get that kind of traffic per month?
- What is the value of a visitor to your site? For instance, If you’re running an affiliate blog and you’re making about 1k per month with 10k unique visitors per month then each visitor is worth $0.1 or 10 cents to you. So 1k unique visitors should increase your revenue by $100 per month.
- If you’re updating 5 blog posts, let’s say it takes you 10 hours of work (2 hours per post), then you’re looking at 10$/hour of return within the first month. This doesn’t sound all that appealing but of course, we’re talking about residual income that should continue to flow in indefinitely. Furthermore, repeating this updating process every 6 months will eventually start compounding so you’ll see greater and greater effects for your efforts as your website becomes more and more authoritative on Google.
- Also, you can compare this to the effort of creating new blog posts, which generally takes more effort than updating an old blog post and the results aren’t nearly as instantaneous.
Of course, you’ll want to track the progress after your updates. Don’t just update your posts and then stop there. Track the increase in traffic that you see each month. Track the increase in any revenue that you see each month. Be disciplined because if you can measure the increase then you’ll know for sure that it’s working and you can replicate it in the future, and replicate it for other posts.
How Google Uses “Freshness” to Rank Content
Google engineers created a patent in 2003, with much of the information surrounding how they take into account the “Freshness” of different pages. As I always say, it’s impossible to know exactly what Google’s algorithm is but patents like this certainly give us the best insight.
- Date of creation
The older the article to more it loses this factor. The date of creation is actually the date that Google first finds it or its bots crawl the page.
- How much is changed
Changing one word has less impact than changing a sentence, which has less impact than adding or changing an entire paragraph, and so on.
The more you change, the more the impact on the rankings will be. In fact, inside the patent, it says that small enough changes (like one word, one link, or one sentence) may be ignored by Google altogether in order not to waste resources.
So if you really just want to add a link, rephrase, reword or reorganize the text around that word in order to make sure that Google takes your change into account and sees that you’ve updated your article.
- What is changed matters
Changing things like advertisements or comments matters much less than changing the core of your article content. This makes sense because comments can be responded to much more often and don’t mean the entire article needs to be re-crawled. Also if you’re changing a sidebar or a footer of your website, it’s the same thing. Google is looking to see that you’ve changed the main text of your article.
There are some webmasters who that claim just updating the timestamps on an article will keep the signals updating. There is controversy about this and as always, no one can say for sure if this is good enough.
What we do know works each and every time is actually updating and adding to the core content of your article. Ideally, you want to be adding text, images, and videos, with text being the most crucial.
Saying this, it definitely can’t hurt to change the timestamps on your posts from “published on” to “last updated.” Beyond rankings, this can really help your readers get a better idea of how up-to-date all your content is and generally lead to a better and more coherent user experience on your site.
- The more often you update your content, the better.
If you’re updating your content more frequently, it looks better. This makes sense because Google will see that you’re keeping your readers up to date regularly.
Of course, you have to balance this with the amount of time you are able to put into your articles. If you’re trying to update all your posts every 2 weeks, it’s going to be a constant cycle of updating and you’re never going to have time to write any new content.
I would say try at least every 6 months and if you can do more than that due to better resources, awesome! However, I think any more than once per month is probably overkill and is no longer useful.
- Switching anchor text is dangerous
If anchor texts of links coming to your website change too dramatically over time, Google will consider older anchor text links as stale and devalue them. For instance, if you update your article so significantly that the older anchor text is things like “how to rank an article” and new anchor text that’s developing are completely different like “developing your first website” then the older links may be devalued. So the main message here is don’t change the topic or main point of the article too much.
Here are some other more general tips from this awesome article by Cyrus Shepard:
- More links are better
- Links from “fresher” websites are better
- Lower bounce rates are better
- All else equal, older content is usually ranked better because Google sees it as the most trustworthy
In summary, you want to make sure that you’re:
- Updating regularly
- Update the main content
- Don’t deviate too much or at all if possible from the existing topic
- Focus on getting more engagement and links
Other Things to Change
When you’re doing your routine update, you want to make sure that everything is still working the way it should be. However, it can be quite tedious, especially with long-form content (which you should have!) to go through all of the content and make sure the links are all working.
If you offer any resources on your page, make sure that they’re still up and running and the best options available.
If you’re an affiliate marketer, make sure your links and images are still working.
An awesome idea from Tom Demers is searching the main topic keywords for your article and looking at the other search terms that come along with that topic. What do people looking for that topic also want to learn about? If you haven’t addressed this yet in your post, this is a great time to add some subsections within your post in order to do so:
Tom Demers also suggests considering updating your title tag. I would personally be too nervous to do this. I’m a fan of “why mess with a good thing?”. If your post is one of the top traffic generators, then it’s already got a lot of things that are working.
You just want to add to that with more of the same type of content that’s newer and more recent, as well as update anything broken on the page. If you want to add more of a keyword that you think you can rank better for, I would add a new subsection and create a header tag for it with the keyword in question rather than altering the main title. But as always, the best policy with these things is to try it, track it and see if it works!
There is no one right answer. But there are definitely things that have more or less risk involved with them and I perceive changing the title tag as quite risky.
- Adding internal links
This is always a great way to boost your freshness and also keep the user experience high. Especially if you’ve added a bunch of new content to your blog recently, you want to make sure that anything relevant to the article you’re updating has internal links to and from those new articles.
- Re-sharing on Social Media
You can’t really go wrong with sharing content more often on social media. And if you’ve put time and effort into updating a post on your blog, then you should definitely also be linking it out to your social media accounts saying that it’s recently been revamped. This will increase the likelihood of shares and links but will also be generally useful to your audience.
- Adding images, videos, or other media
Your own videos are the gold standard but I also think infographics, graphs, and other interactive media are great. If you don’t have the time or resources to create your own videos you can always embed other people’s Youtube videos on your blog.
This is not plagiarizing or anything but to be polite, I always advocate linking out to the creator’s Youtube channel or blog. YouTubers can opt-out of making their videos sharable or embeddable. If they do not opt-out of this, their videos are free to be included in anyone’s blogs, social media, etc.
In fact, YouTubers usually love when you put their videos on your blog – it gives them more attention and more views (which gets them paid more)!
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