Content marketing is a tool that anyone can use.
It can be niche specific.
It can be in any format imaginable.
It can also be absolutely free.
But not everything about creating content is easy.
There are elements that can bog you down and bum you out if you’re not too careful.
And then far too often, there are elements of content marketing that we tend to ignore altogether.
In this particular instance, I’m talking about the maintenance phase of content marketing.
Even though updating old content has been proven to help your SEO, it still doesn’t get much attention from an Internet that’s always on.
I want to make a case for why that trend should change.
So let’s talk about the black sheep of content marketing.
Content’s unloved final stage
Content creation takes place in some very defined and often repeated stages.
It usually starts with a researching effort, followed by a period where a plan is formulated to help create new content.
Once the plan is established, writers and designers are hired and told what to do.
After the editing process is done, the content is published on blogs and shared in social media.
But then comes a phase that marketers like to include but don’t really practice.
That phase is called the maintenance phase.
And you’ll usually see the whole process broken down to something like this:
If you’ve worked with content for a very long time, you’re probably familiar with each of these stages, at least in theory.
But therein lies the rub.
Content maintenance is often discussed but infrequently delivered on in the neverending push to create fresh content.
Marketers seem to prefer to skip to the end of the life cycle where we decommission old content in favor of new ideas.
But this tendency cuts out one of the most effective cohorts of your content and leaves it hanging out to dry.
I’m talking about your evergreen content.
This is the content that you created to have long-term value.
These are the pride and joy of your site.
They’re the pieces you created years ago that still ring true and help guide newcomers to your brand.
Do you really want to neglect that content?
And do you want to neglect content that you could update to create more valuable pieces?
It doesn’t make sense to neglect maintenance when you think about it.
Because if anything, the value of maintained content can magnify over time.
Some brands have seen astronomical success, like this company whose traffic grew 1,800% when they started focusing more on maintaining their old content.
That’s a pretty impressive feat from one simple change, and I think that every brand can see similar results from their own content.
Think about some of the benefits that evergreen content bring to the table.
It drives traffic to your site over a longer period with authoritative keywords and backlinking, as this post from Lifehacker shows us.
It was originally published in 2013, and years later it’s still picking up backlinks and organic traffic.
And if you create a thorough and helpful post, it can be a backlink magnet.
It also helps create continuity in your content through the years, which is helpful for establishing authority with Google.
That means that over time the right evergreen content will even help you boost your search position.
And as I already mentioned, this type of content usually helps you attract and educate newcomers to your brand.
These are the pieces of content that Hubspot calls a Pillar Page.
These evergreen and constantly-maintained pieces act as central nodes on your site that help establish and grow your authority on a certain subject.
In turn, this mitigates any need to constantly feel like you have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to sourcing or backing your newer content.
But since maintenance lacks the urgency that creation and publishing have inherently, it’s often overlooked.
And if this is true of your content, it’s to your detriment.
Content maintenance is about creating a sustainable relationship with an ever-growing audience by keeping your posts reliable.
If they find an old post that isn’t helpful, it can show you in a negative light.
So while attempting to create expansive guides like this post of mine from Crazy Egg is a good place to start, you have to revamp your efforts to be more than just creation.
Because what you may not know is that this post actually started years ago as a guide with only six tips.
Due to changes that have happened since I created it, I needed to update and add more information.
So now, this post can stand the test of time.
But that’s the catch.
Posts like this require time, research, and frequent updates.
And the only way you can ever reach that amount of success is if you put the same amount of effort into your own content.
That means creating a plan for both creation and maintenance.
And that means you need to find out which posts are worth keeping around and what actions will help you keep them useful for years to come.
So let’s look at some methods to help you update and maintain the older content on your site.
Method #1: Update for technical issues
As with anything else, your website will start to “decay” over time.
Whether it’s an early 2000’s style background or a broken link, there will be technical issues that you have to tackle when you start going back to your old content.
Even if you published your content in peak condition for its day, I can guarantee that you’ll find at least one element that’s changed in the subsequent years.
And I bet that you’ll find more than one.
For example, Google recently made some sweeping changes to their meta descriptions.
The previous limitation of 160 characters is now behind us, which means that optimized post from years ago are now no longer as optimized as they were.
This screenshot of a post from 2011 shows how ironic this can turn for you.
While it’s debatable whether or not the length of your meta description is relevant to overall SEO performance, it’s still worth giving your older pages a refresh if it’s been a while.
At the very least, it’s recommended to treat meta descriptions as a conversion factor, and in that way, they will help your overall SEO.
As long as you stay up-to-date on best practice for meta descriptions, it’s worth the effort to go back and maintain this information on your older posts.
Even though the new description was cut off at the very end, it had more organic traffic than the original variant.
Process.st even recommends checking your meta titles and descriptions as part of your overall website maintenance routine.
So starting with a simple update of your meta descriptions is a great place to start.
Since we’re talking about meta descriptions, it can also be a good idea to experiment with new title tags to help boost engagement with a refreshed post.
But there are plenty of other areas of your site that might show some signs of wear too.
For example, your old post may have broken links or links to outdated or out-of-business tools that ultimately hurt your credibility.
The easiest way to audit your content for broken or outdated links would be to use the Chrome extension LinkMiner.
If a link is healthy, it will be highlighted green.
But if it’s not, it will stand out with red highlighting.
Since broken links hurt your SEO, leaving an older link that “used to be good” in your content will actually end up hurting you in the long run.
Thankfully, it’s a simple fix.
Just find newer studies or statistics that help emphasize your point and link to those instead.
You can also take this opportunity to move up the “last updated” timestamp, if your posts have a published date, like this:
This makes your content feel fresher for a longer period of time, and it allows you to make updates that will draw your audience back.
But if they don’t know it’s been updated, it’s less likely they’ll return.
As long as you’re providing substantial updates, this strategy can work for you.
Just don’t think you can “update” your page without really changing anything.
There’s a good chance people will notice and that won’t turn out well for your brand.
But yet another change that you may encounter with an older piece of content is due to upgrades and shifts in how we upload and consume media.
For example, the death of Flash has caused the subsequent downfall of many pieces of content that were created to rely on it.
Flash is down to a mere 17% usage, and Adobe has announced they’ll soon be pulling the plug altogether.
And since most tech sites just recommend users turn it off, it’s really just a formality at this part.
But if you have older content that relies on Flash, it’s not going to survive much longer even if it is good.
Finding a way to renovate that content for a modern audience could help it remain evergreen for years to come.
Another trend in media consumption has to do with something a little more technical, but just as important.
Many SEOs recommend ditching hard to download JPEGs in favor of PNG files to help optimize load times.
And as you can see in the image above, the PNG on the left has a slightly higher overall quality than the same JPEG image on the right.
Simple things like this can affect your site’s load time, which subsequently factors into your SEO.
If your old pieces are slow to load, they won’t do you much good.
But a few upgrades can keep them relevant and useful for years to come.
It’s also worth noting that recent trends in semantic search markup can lead to exclusions of older, less-maintained pieces of content as well.
While most semantic search markup efforts focus on correcting simple user errors like misspellings, these are also the elements that drive the results of more conversational queries:
Because an older page may not have the structured data that makes pages SEO friendly for these types of searches, your content is less likely to rank as high as it should.
Giving the content and structure a refresh can do wonders for your SEO, but you have to put in the effort.
That’s a great result from one update per year.
I’ve also found that simple elements like URL structure make a big difference in how Google crawls your site.
Dating URLs can mean Google will take older posts and deem them “irrelevant,” which is bad for your old evergreen pieces.
And while it’s an intensive task, accomplishing it could keep your evergreen posts relevant for years to come.
Each of these technical elements plays a role in your SEO and organic traffic and requires a bit of digging to discover.
But if you take steps to correct these changes as they happen, your maintenance efforts are almost guaranteed to pay off.
Method #2: Focus on revamping your most popular old posts
It should be said that you can’t and shouldn’t update every old piece of content.
If I were to go back and find the first few blog posts I ever wrote, I probably wouldn’t even want to read them.
So you can forget about updating everything.
But you can focus on updating your most popular posts if you want a place to start.
And it shouldn’t take long to find your best pieces, even if they’re old.
Start by checking out your Google Analytics.
You’ll want to go to the “Behavior” section and click on “Overview.”
On the bottom right side of your Page breakdown, you’ll want to click the link that says “view full report.”
You’ll see a more detailed breakdown of every page’s performance for the history of your website.
This will help you know which posts have been the most popular throughout the years, which means you’ll have your shortlist of maintenance-worthy pieces with a simple search.
You’ll also want to make sure you scroll through or expand the rows tab of your report too, as the results will likely only show ten initially:
If you focus on maintaining and revamping these pieces of content, you have a good bet that you’ll be able to continue leveraging them in the future.
You can also check out a backlink checker like Majestic, which lets you ensure you’re revamping pages on your site that are already well established.
It’s also to your advantage to take time and really consider the why and the when of what makes these pieces successful.
Each piece of content you create has a purpose, and that purpose should be kept in mind in your long-term efforts.
An evergreen piece might take a few months or years to really gain traction, so evaluate your performance regularly and with a grain of salt.
Even if it’s not getting the views that your news-oriented posts get, remember that it can benefit you more in the long run.
And if you feel like your content could be doing better, you can always check out different ideas for revamping your pieces in a new format.
This is also called “upcycling” your content.
And one of the simplest ways to accomplish this is to take an old but popular post and turn it into a video.
A short while after they post the initial blog, they create a video with the same content.
It’s the same information, but it’s been presented in a way that revitalizes the content and brings it back into the limelight.
If you focus on ways to recreate and leverage your most popular posts, you’ll never neglect content maintenance again.
Method #3: Treat relevancy as the new bar for quality
No matter what you do, time will make even your best posts irrelevant.
Even if your post was at the cutting edge when it was posted, the time will come when it falls into the category of “old news.”
And despite what you may think, this does apply to your “evergreen” content.
The result of this time-based decay is that you can approach your content maintenance with a different perspective.
That perspective is one of relevancy instead of popularity.
What that means is you take an older piece of content that used to perform well and update the information to make it relevant again.
This is a slightly different approach than focusing on popularity because it opens the door for more “underperforming” content relative to a post that was originally made to be evergreen.
But depending on your needs, it can provide an actionable content maintenance plan that helps you grow the effectiveness of your evergreen content.
To get started, you need to familiarize yourself with the triangle of relevance.
This method forces you to evaluate your old content from three sides:
- Does it still have the ability to pique user interest?
- Is it timely?
- Will it actually serve a purpose for your business?
If the answer to all three questions is yes, then you have a piece of content that can be updated.
And since your most relevant content is going to be viewed and shared more, focusing on creating and revamping relevant content can improve your overall content lifecycle.
Once you’ve determined if an old piece can indeed be updated, I recommend giving the topic one final check by looking at Google Trends.
This tool lets you evaluate if there is any interest in the topic of the old post you’ve chosen to update.
If you see spikes or dips, it may be worth waiting until you can get the most out of your renovated piece.
But if your verification carries through, go ahead and start your maintenance efforts.
You can even A/B test elements like titles and imagery with your subscribed readers to help you find and keep the content that works best.
This approach is a little unconventional, but it’s another way to continually test the relevance of the information you want to update.
If even your subscribed readers don’t favor a piece, it’s likely a signal that you need to move your maintenance efforts elsewhere.
Another way you can evaluate relevance would be to analyze how your content is used and what actions are taken from it using heat maps.
Again, while not necessarily the most conventional way of determining which old blog post should get the evergreen treatment, this can be useful.
Say for example you have an older post that doesn’t get much traffic anymore, but your heat mapping and analytics show it had high click-through rates in its prime.
That could be a signal that it needs a little upgrading to be relevant again.
At the very least, viewing your old posts through the relevancy lense can give you signals about what your audience likes and dislikes.
And that can help you find more ways to renovate or create pieces that will resonate with them.
You may not like it, but you can’t just ignore your old content.
If you want to create the kind of evergreen content that grows your brand, you have to keep putting effort into it.
And that means staring deep into the eyes of content maintenance and actually taking action.
Go back to your best old blog posts and find out if there are any technical issues holding them back.
Even if it’s just a few JPEGs, you can update them to help create an optimal load time and boost your SEO.
Then take a good look at your most popular pieces. If you can rework them to make them even better, don’t hold back.
And take some time to evaluate how relevant an older post might be.
You may be surprised when a post from years back actually surfaces as a winner.
If you really want to get serious about maintaining your content, commit to sacrificing some of your time to it.
You can’t have an overnight success with evergreen content. It’s just not possible.
But with the right approach, you can create a powerful content library that will stay relevant and boost your brand for years to come.
What do you look for when you’re evaluating an older piece that needs updating?