What to Do With Old Website Content

Posted by Emery Ross on Nov 2, 2020 8:53:00 AM

old pages of writing

If you've had your website for a while, chances are you have a significant amount of old content. For many sites, this means blog posts from the early days of your site until now. It's likely that some of that content is outdated, or that older posts are not even getting any traffic. 

Why Should You Care About Old Content?

Old content on your website represents missed opportunities. Google likes freshness, so stuff that hasn't been updated is unlikely to get on or stay on the SERPs, meaning you're not getting organic traffic to those pages. 

Additionally, there are some other factors to consider when thinking about old content on your website.

Low Quality; Duplicate Content

If you've been adding content to your site for a long time, there's a good chance that your early stuff isn't up to your current standards. It takes time to develop good content, not to mention that what we know about how Google values quality changes constantly. So, some of your early blog posts and landing pages may be low quality in today's terms. 

Another possible issue is duplicate content. If you've written on the same topic frequently, there may be enough overlap in what you've published that Google could view some of it as duplicate. Or, maybe in the early days you shared articles or sections of pages verbatim on your site from other sites. 

Both of these could be issues if Google has determined that your website has low quality or duplicate content, which in turn could impact your site as a whole. 

Crawl Budget

There's plenty of speculation around crawl budgets--the number of pages googlebot will crawl on a site at any given time--and Google has said that most sites don't actually need to worry about it. However, it's worth keeping in mind that Google doesn't crawl your entire site in most cases. If it crawls very old pages and not your newer, more relevant pages, what does that mean for your site overall? There's no way to know for sure, but if you're considering the entirety of your site, you might want to remember that some of that old content could be taking up valuable crawl space. 

E-A-T

Google's concept of E-A-T, which stands for expertise, authority, and trustworthiness, is a key component in how it evaluates content and websites. This applies to older content because your early days of content writing might not be showcasing your current expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Do you want a human evaluator to make judgments about your site based on outdated content? It's worth thinking critically about what old content says about you and your brand. 

Impressions or Clicks for Irrelevant Terms

Sure, getting traffic is great, but it isn't ideal when visitors are finding a page based on something completely unrelated to the content itself. This happens sometimes when a page has a unique title or uses a turn of phrase that people are searching for. That traffic is probably useless because searchers are expecting something different, not to mention the impact that will have on your bounce rate. 

Conducting a Content Audit

Okay, so you get why you need to consider the older content on your site--now what? Your first step should be to conduct a full audit of your site's content. You can be as in-depth as you want this audit to be. You might, for instance, create a spreadsheet with all your blog posts, pages, and landing pages, and document titles, CTAs, buyer personas, in addition to the publication date and when it was last updated. 

Your audit should capture as much information as you need to move to the next step, which is to assess the value of the content. 

Organize your content like a professional!

Assessing the Value of Old Content

Once you have a list of all your content, it's time to make some judgments about it. Your assessment will be unique to your brand, audience, or product, but there are a few things you can start with. Some factors to consider include:

  • Whether the topic is still relevant
  • Whether the intended audience is the same
  • If the piece represents your brand well
  • If it is optimized for search
  • How much traffic it gets, for what keywords, and how that has changed over the lifetime of the piece of content

You should define what "high quality" versus "low quality" means to you, and keep in mind how Google evaluates it, too (see our discussion of E-A-T above). Once you've made your assessments, it's time to decide what the heck to do with all that content. 

Options for Old Content

Finally, use your audit and assessments to figure out the best way to deal with your old content. There are four options: give it a facelift and update anything outdated, completely rewrite the content, combine two or more similar posts, or just get rid of it. Here's a quick look at how to approach each of these options.  

Refresh and Update

If the content is evergreen and still has value, doing a refresh can bring it back to life. It's a good idea to revisit your highest trafficked and most valuable content regularly to ensure it's fresh and up to date anyway, so this is a good chance to put that into practice. 

There are many ways you can refresh content. You should definitely add, delete, or update things like statistics or dates if timely information is included. You can also copyedit to make sure that readability is good, the structure makes sense, and the writing is as good as it can be. Adding more relevant content is another good way to refresh, as is adding and/or optimizing content and meta data. 

Rewrite

When refreshing isn't enough, a full rewrite might be in order. Rewriting is a smart strategy when the topic is one your target audience still wants to know about, but the piece of content needs a lot of work. A rewrite might still include some of the old version, if there are parts of the original that you can work off of.

Your rewrite might live at the same URL (you may see some changes in traffic as Google assesses your new content), or you might choose to start over completely and have a new URL. Keep in mind that a new URL will not have the same history as the original, so it could be slower to gain traction on the SERPs. It's always better to update older posts and pages rather than create new ones, but sometimes it's necessary to completely start from scratch.

Combine

Oftentimes sites have pieces of content that are so similar that they could essentially be competing against each other for certain keywords. If this is the case on your site, combining similar pieces into one streamlines your content, beefs up your content, and removes the possibility of self-competing. 

To combine, you shouldn't just copy and paste one post into another. It should be well integrated and seamless, and there's a good chance you'll need to cut some of the writing so it's not redundant. Then, redirect one post to the other--keep the URL with higher traffic and impressions and unpublish and redirect the other. 

Remove 

Not all content can be salvaged, and that's okay. When content is totally out of date, not relevant to your brand now, or doesn't have any traffic to speak of, it might be time to get rid of it completely. Unpublishing old posts is the best method when refreshing, rewriting, or combining doesn't make any sense. 

First, be sure the URL gets no traffic, and be sure it isn't something that could be useful if you put time and attention into it. Unpublish the content and remove it from your sitemap. Then, remove the URL from the SERPs through Google Search Console's URL removal tool.

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Emery Ross

Written by Emery Ross

Emery is an inbound marketing specialist in search engine optimization and content writing. She earned a Master of Arts in rhetoric and composition from Boise State University. In her free time she writes about birds (mostly geese).

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