Content Refresh: How to Update Old Content for SEO

by Jacob Clarke | July 15, 2021

If you need to increase traffic on your website, the obvious option probably comes to mind first: Write a new page. 

But there’s a way to earn more traffic without writing a new page. It doesn’t require you to research a new topic and package it in a way best serving your audience, and you won’t have to wait several months for it to rise to the top of Google search results — if it ever does.

Instead, you can refresh old content to give it an SEO boost.

What is a Content Refresh?

A content refresh involves identifying pages on your site that either: 

  1. Previously performed well, but traffic is down in recent months 
  2. Rank for several target keywords just outside of the top positions and has a chance to earn more clicks by rising a few spots.

By assessing the content and determining why it experienced a traffic drop or what it could take to crack the top positions in Google, you can make the necessary updates.

Steps to Refresh Content

Identify Eligible Content

The first type of content primed for an update is content that previously drove significant amounts of organic traffic, but recently saw a drop. Using Google Analytics, check the organic traffic of each blog over a given period — for example, the past two years — and see if there are opportunities that jump out.

The page below is a good example of one that performed well, but saw a drop and has not fully recovered.

example graph of web page traffic that performed well, but saw a drop and has not fully recovered.

When you see this type of traffic drop, you should first try to learn the reason for the drop. If the page is seasonal — and you expect traffic to peak in the summer months, drop in the winter, and come back in the summer — it’s not the best choice for a refresh, because no amount of high rankings in the winter is going to help it maintain its traffic.

On the other hand, a common cause for such a drop is a competitor now outranks your page and steals its clicks. SEO is not a one-and-done investment, because your competitors are always happy to take your spot in the search results, and as a result, turn them into their customers.

This situation is perfect for a refresh — you know if you update the page to be better than your competitor’s, you could reclaim your position in search results and the increased traffic with it.

The other type of page eligible for a refresh is one ranking within “striking distance” of high-volume keywords. There’s not an exact science to what’s considered within striking distance, but generally a page ranking for several keywords in positions four through 10 are a good fit.

Your page could see a jump into the top three rankings for those keywords if you make the necessary updates. 

For example, TrainingPeak.com’s page on “The Complete Marathon Training Guide” ranks in positions four through 10 for 46 keywords, with a total search volume of 35,940 searches per month.

TrainingPeak.com’s page on “The Complete Marathon Training Guide” ranks in positions four through 10 for 46 keywords, with a total search volume of 35,940 searches per month.

If it moved into the top three, they can earn a percentage of the thousands of clicks per month they’re missing.. This is a perfect opportunity for a refresh, because a small jump in rankings across a few dozen keywords could be the difference in thousands of new sessions per month.

Create a New List of Target Keywords

Whether you’re refreshing a page with a traffic drop or one with ample opportunities in striking distance, the next step is the same — create a new list of target keywords.

Using a tool such as Ahrefs or SEMrush, see which keywords the page ranks for in positions four through 10. The page will target those new keywords.

You should also note which keywords the page ranks for in positions one through three, because you don’t want the updates you make gain new keywords, only to lose valuable ones for which you already rank.

Analyze the Pages Ranking for Your New Target Keywords

The next step is learning what type of updates your page needs to earn or reclaim top three rankings. Google each target keyword and analyze the pages ranking ahead of yours.

There is a reason Google is choosing to rank pages above yours, and it’s your job to find out why.

For example, Interest.com ranks sixth for “how much should i spend on a house.”

To learn what types of updates to make, they should review the five pages ranking above them for that keyword to determine why Google might see those pages as better fits for the query.

One obvious difference is top pages include a mortgage calculator where readers can enter their income, expenses, home price and interest rate, and the calculator gives them an estimate on the price of home and mortgage payment they can afford.

Mortgage calculator where readers can get an estimate for monthly mortgage payments

It makes sense Google prioritizes pages with a calculator as the best answer to the query, because this helps users learn an exact answer to their question, instead of reading broad principles about income percentages.

One update Interest.com should make as part of their content refresh is adding an interactive mortgage calculator to their page.

The key is to identify what the top pages have in common and making sure your page has those elements. Take it a step farther to not only match those pages, but provide even more helpful content.

As another example, REI.com ranks fourth for “how to stay warm camping.” Its page is about 500 words and includes five tips for keeping warm, followed by a brief description for each.

By analyzing the three pages ranking above it, some easy updates come to mind. 

Pages one, two and three feature nine, 13 and 15 tips respectively and average 2,300 words. That’s an easy opportunity for REI to update their page to include 10-15 tips and 2,000+ words.

The site already has outdoor niche authority, so refreshing the content to be more comprehensive would likely cause a rankings jump.

Target the Featured Snippet

Featured snippets are the answer boxes at the top of search results attempting to answer the query without requiring the user to click through to the page. They appear in more than 12 percent of searches, and they are even more common for the types of informational queries perfect for content refreshes.

You should intentionally target the featured snippet in your content refresh because snippets increase your site’s prominence in search results, and serving Google the answer by targeting the snippet could earn you a number one ranking it otherwise wouldn’t give you.

How do you target the snippet?

Look at the format of the current snippet. The primary formats of featured snippets are:

  • Bulleted lists
  • Numbered lists
  • Paragraphs

When you’re refreshing your page, always include an answer to the query in the format of the current featured snippet.

In our camping example, the featured snippet is a numbered list.

Screen shot of the SERP featured snippet for "how to stay warm camping" which includes a numbered list

So REI’s refresh of the page should maintain their current format of numbering their tips.

If the featured snippet is a paragraph, include a brief paragraph toward the top of your page directly answering the question. If it’s a bulleted list, either include a bulleted list on the page or include your answers to the query as H2 headers.

Watch Traffic Rebound

One of the many advantages of a content refresh over writing a new page is not needing to wait as long to see a traffic  increase.

When publishing a new blog, expect to wait several months for the page to crack the top few positions in search results. But when you refresh content, the page is often already ranking and you can see a traffic rebound in a matter of weeks.

Graph of weekly traffic increases after implementing a content refresh

Additionally, not every page on your site will be a hit. While some might get thousands of sessions per month, others might get only a few dozen. By opting for a content refresh instead of a new page, you are doubling down on a (perhaps previously) successful page, minimizing the risk of a low-performing page.

Let Silverback Take Your Content Marketing & SEO to the Next Level

At Silverback, we know content marketing and SEO go hand in hand. You need SEO to target the right keywords and align your pages with the ever-changing Google algorithms, plus the content team to execute on these strategies.

Whether it’s finding new keyword opportunities for creating pages or identifying which pages are prime for a refresh, the Silverback team has expertise in driving more traffic to your site and turning traffic into paying customers.

Request a consultation today and let Silverback show you the best opportunities to grow your business online.

Jacob Clarke

Jacob is an SEO specialist with experience in home services, SaaS, & more. With expertise in technical SEO & content strategy, he helps clients optimize sites for search & create great content.

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