How Do You Refresh Stale Content for SEO?

July 14, 2021


Refreshing stale content is a huge SEO opportunity for marketers. Jacob Clarke joins this week’s episode to share his expertise. In this conversation, we talk about:

  • 3 telltale signs of when content needs a refresh
  • how to approach this type of keyword research
  • real examples of content refresh projects
  • the impact marketers should expect


John Tyreman: Hi gang. Welcome to The Digital Marketing Troop, where we talk about changes and trends shaping the world of digital marketing. My name is John Tyerman and I’m joined today by Jacob Clarke, Senior SEO Account Manager at Silverback Strategies. Jacob before we dive in, most if not all of digital marketers have been forced to work remotely this past year. I’m curious, what does your morning routine look like in Work-from-Home Land?

Jacob Clarke: Morning routine has been to get up a good bit before I start work and always start the morning with some sports center, getting caught up on the latest news there before I hop into work.

John Tyreman: Very good. Well, good let’s dive into our topic at hand. I know our listeners are listening to this episode, to get your take on how to refresh stale content. So, my question is this: How can marketers identify the content that actually needs a refresh? What are some of the telltale signs?

Jacob Clarke: If you’re working on the content strategy for your website, your first instinct is going to be to look for new topic ideas to create a page about, you’ll think about the topics that are relevant to your audience and identify ones that you haven’t yet covered on your website. But before you start thinking about a new page for your site you should look for opportunities to improve the content that’s already on your site, because there’s likely pages that are already driving some traffic but we’re going to take the time to improve that content. The traffic can potentially go way up. And so there’s three telltale signs for the types of content that you should refresh, but there’s often some overlap and so we’ll walk through each one here. The first is going to be if you have a piece of content that used to drive significant traffic, but in the past few months that traffic has dropped dramatically. And so, you first want to identify what the cause of that drop is going to be, because it’s possible the drop is just a result of seasonality. So for example if you had a page on what to bring to the beach, you would expect for traffic to spike in May, June and July and then drop in September. And so if it’s just dropped because it’s a very seasonal piece, that’s not necessarily a great opportunity for a refresh. But the second situation is where a refresh is going to be super helpful if the content is timely, and so there’s going to be some topics where Google prioritizes timely content in the search results because content that was written several years ago probably isn’t going to be as helpful to the user. And so one example would be if you Google how to start a blog, you’ll notice that the top results and the titles of those pages, all include some variation of “in 2021”. And that’s because those authors know that Google is going to be looking for the types of tips for starting a blog, this year, because that information from five years ago, might not be as relevant and so if you had a page on how to start a blog in 2019, you’d want to update that content with the most recent advice and make it a page on how to start a blog in 2021. And so another instance is going to be, you’d want to refresh a page if the page ranks for a ton of keywords and positions, four through 10, in the search results. So let’s say you wrote a good piece of content with the goal of ranking number one but for some reason it just wasn’t able to crack the top three in the search results. That page might be getting some traffic from users who are scrolling further down the click on the search result. But were you to rank in the top three for your target keywords, traffic would go way up and so refreshing the content to improve the page that could help you rank in the top three is definitely a good opportunity.

John Tyreman: Those are three great points, Jacob. So just to recap. So point number one is a good telltale sign is if the page used to drive traffic but it dropped off. Point number two, another telltale sign that you need to refresh is if content is timely. I think your point about starting a blog in 2019 versus 2021, very different, even just within a few years, and the telltale sign number three is, if it ranks in positions four through 10. Did I hear you right?

Jacob Clarke: That’s correct.

John Tyreman: Okay. And so that would be another good telltale sign. Well, so, if marketers were wanting to approach keyword research, how should they approach keyword research from a content refresh standpoint?

Jacob Clarke: Yeah, so once you’ve chosen the page that’s going to have the best opportunity to increase traffic from that refresh the next step is going to be to see what keywords the page is currently ranking for and what positions it’s ranking for those keywords in. And so to find that information, you can use a tool like H refs Moz or SEMRrush or any of those rank tracking tools. And so what you would do there is you can insert the URL for that page and then filter keywords by positions four through 10. And so the reason that you do four through 10 is because these are going to be the ones with the best opportunity to increase traffic because it’s possible that by improving the content on the page, you’d be able to go from positions, you know, four through 10, up to positions one through three. And so those are the keywords that Google is seeing your page is already a pretty good fit for. But if you were to improve the content, it’s likely you can make it into the top three. And so that list of keywords and positions four through 10, it could be five or six keywords, it could be 20, but what you want to then do is kind of create a new target keyword list and select the ones that you really want the page to rank for there. And that might be because there are keywords that have a high amount of search volume, they’re particularly relevant for your business or ones that competitors are ranking number one for. But once you have those new target keywords, that’s when you can really take the time to optimize the page for those keywords. And so the way you go about doing that is, what you do is, essentially you look at the pages that are out ranking you for those keywords that you want to be ranking for and so what you do is you just Google the keyword and then you open up all the pages that are ranking ahead of you. And so if you’re ranking number five, what you want to do is really analyze heavily what those top four pages are doing that your page is not doing. That’s probably the reason Google’s chosen to rank yours number five, and not number one through four. And so there’s probably going to be several aspects of those top ranking pages that jump out that you can then change your page to. And so one example would be you might find that the top three pages all have really high quality images, but your page is nothing but written text and so in that case you want to make sure that you’re adding several high quality images to the page, ideally not just stock photos but ones that really provide value to the user. Or another instance might be, maybe the top three or four ranking pages, all have 2000 plus words and yours only has 1000 words. That’s not to say that word count is a strong ranking factor there but it’s likely that just means that those pages are covering additional information that yours isn’t, whether through adding like a pros and cons list or interviews with experts are likely going to be a lot more content that you can add to their page there. But then the third thing that you might find is that pages could have additional interactive elements that are really helpful to the users, but that your page doesn’t have. And so one example I found was like the term, how much should I spend on a house. If you look at the top pages for that query all the pages include a mortgage calculator where the user can enter their income, the home price, their interest rate and the calculator will then show them how much house they can afford and what their monthly payment would be. And so that’s an incredibly helpful tool for somebody who’s Googling, how much house can I afford. And so if your page is ranking number five with no calculator, but the top four pages all include that type of calculator, that’s an obvious sign that, “Hey we might need to add this kind of interactive element to our page”.

John Tyreman: Those are some great tips Jacob. And you know it’s funny, I was talking with Geoff Kerbis the other day about featured snippets and zero click searches and how that’s kind of the future. So I’m curious, talking with you now it seems like optimizing for featured snippets could be a viable way to refresh older content. Can you share with our listeners some of your perspective on this?

Jacob Clarke: Yeah, so the featured snippet is the answer box that appears at the top of search results. It’s really Google’s way of trying to give the answer to the query without the user having to click through to the website, so there is some concern within the SEO community that featured snippets can actually decrease the click through rate to your site because the answer’s just appearing right there for the user. But overall I definitely would recommend targeting your refresh toward capturing that answer box because it is the one that’s appearing at the very top of search results. And the way that you do that is by first seeing what the current format of the featured snippet is. The most popular ones are going to be either a paragraph or a numbered or bulleted list. And so whichever type it is, you want to make sure that your page includes that element so you can be targeting the featured snippet as well. And so one example could be, let’s say you’re targeting the term, what to bring on a hike. And so if you Google that you’ll see that the top ranking page there captures the featured snippet, and includes a list of what you should bring on the hike, which includes things like a backpack, boots, plenty of food, plenty of water. And so Google pulled that data from the page that was containing the bulleted list there. And so in your refreshed page, what you would want to do is include a list of ideas of what to bring on a hike, and included under a header, that’s something like, “what to bring with you on a hike”. And so, if the featured snippet is a bulleted list, make sure to include a bulleted list, or if it’s like a paragraph of 50 words, make sure that you provide a really concise answer to the query in about 50 words.

John Tyreman: Yes, that’s interesting. I can see how some marketers might not see zero clicks as valuable, but I see them as valuable, this valuable real estate at the top of the results page. But then maybe this is just my own behavior. But when I go and do a Google search and I see those lists, I typically click through if it’s a topic that I really want to learn about and click through to those results that the featured snippet is pulling from. So Jacob, let me ask you, do you have an example of a client or a project that you’ve worked on that you’ve had success refreshing a stale piece of content? What was that content that you’ve refreshed, if so.

Jacob Clarke: I was working with a client that provides solutions for those working in the government affairs industry, and they had a blog that was detailing the timeline of a particular process within the federal government. And so prior to our refresh the page was driving anywhere from 10 to 20 sessions per month because it wasn’t ranking in the top three for the target terms with a lot of search volume. So, Google was seeing it as a relevant helpful page but just didn’t quite have enough content on there to be considered one of the top three pages and really drive the vast majority of the traffic for those terms. And so to make this content even better, what we did was two different things. For each step on the timeline, we provided an additional paragraph or two with extra detail about that step. And so instead of it just being a header that said like “step one, this is what happens, step two, this is what happens”, we instead added some context around each. And so the new page would say, you know, “step one, this is what happens”, followed by a couple of paragraphs describing some more details about that step followed by, you know, step two. And then the same thing and that was enough to add about 500 words to the page so already getting a much more comprehensive page on that subject. But then secondly we identified some long tail queries that users were searching related to that topic. So these were like specific questions that people were typing into Google, that were relevant. And so what we did was just add two additional headers to the page that were the exact question that someone was Googling, followed by a paragraph or two answering that question. And then for the second longtail query, the same exact thing, just add a header that’s the exact query they’re typing, and then answer that question. And so we were able to rank better for kind of the main terms related to the timeline providing more comprehensive content there, but then also some more long tail queries where users had specific questions about that, you know, we were able to provide the direct answer. And so in just a few months after that refresh we were able to see a really quick rebound in traffic where it increased about 500% compared to the previous three months, which was a total of more than 1000 sessions.

John Tyreman: Well, that was going to be my next question is what was the impact of that but a 500% increase in sessions, that’s incredible.

Jacob Clarke: Yeah, one of the things that’s really great about refreshing content is you generally don’t have to wait as long to see results. When you publish a new page, it can take anywhere from three to six months for Google to crawl, index and then rank the page for the target keyword but when you’re refreshing a page Google already is familiar with the content, it’s already ranking, probably in positions four through 10, and so once you add all that new content, you can generally see a rebound within just a couple weeks.

John Tyreman: So marketers out there, you don’t always have to create new content. You may be able to get some quick wins by going back and refreshing what you already have.

Jacob Clarke: Yeah, that’s exactly right. The next page that you need for your website could be one that you’ve already written, so make sure to go back and look at your old performance.

John Tyreman: Love it, love it. Well Jacob, thank you so much for taking the time to be on this podcast today. If folks want to connect with you and learn more about SEO, where can they find you?

Jacob Clarke:
Yes, the best place to connect with me is going to be on LinkedIn. So you can find me there.

John Tyreman: Awesome, LinkedIn, that’s the place to be. Connect with Jacob Clark on LinkedIn everybody. Ask him your most pressing SEO questions, he’s a wealth of knowledge, he’s very active on the platform. So Jacob, thank you so much for taking the time.

Jacob Clarke: Thanks for having me on, John.

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