Content from the past can still deliver significant value. In many cases, the majority of leads and traffic already comes from posts and webpages that are a year or more old. Optimizing and updating them can generate significant increases in leads without altering your content creation schedule.
Content marketing can easily become an accelerating treadmill. Everyone’s got that graph about how effective it is to blog often. (Don’t have it? Here it is.)
Trouble is, if we’re not careful we wind up thinking that more content is the same thing as better results. More content will produce more leads. And if our current content isn’t that great, all we need is… more content.
‘You don’t improve underperforming content on a blog by creating new content to get leads. It doesn’t work that way,’ says Neil Patel.
Fixing underperforming content has to actually take place on that content. And optimizing the content you already have can produce significant improvements in your content marketing effectiveness.
In fact, for many companies, they’ll be getting an actual majority of their traffic from content that’s old – two, three, or four years old. When Hubspot’s Pamela Vaughen sat down to dig into the figures, here’s what she found: ‘Over 90% of our blogs leads came from old posts… Over 75% of post views were also of old posts.’
‘Turns out,’ Vaughan goes on, ‘our old content is the stuff that generates the real results.’
That’s pretty amazing. It’s also a bit worrying. Four years ago it was 2012. Maybe a couple of things in that older content might be out of date. And it’s unlikely to be optimized for search and conversion the way it could be. It could even risk attracting a Google penalty, even if there’s nothing spammy about it, if it was written when Panda wasn’t even a gleam in Matt Cutts’ eye.
So that speaks to search optimization of older posts.
On the other hand, when you look back through your content to find out what’s performing well, you might find old posts whose performance has dropped off. If they’re still drawing traffic but not generating leads, that speaks to conversion optimization.
Either way, if old posts have the potential to generate such huge amounts of traffic and leads, we should be on it.
Old Content Isn’t All The Same
As tempting as it is to start working on making old blog posts more conversion friendly immediately, we have to start by figuring out how old posts are performing on a post-by-post basis.
When Hubspot’s Pamela Vaughan did this, she found that 46% of monthly leads from their blog were coming from just 30 individual posts. So while old content outperformed new content, it can’t be as simple as ‘old good, new bad.’
What’s making the difference?
Bill Sebald of Greenlane Search Marketing points out one reason: ‘Let’s be honest,’ he says: ‘nobody needs my post from 2009 on a simple Google change.’ It’s of limited value even when it’s current. As soon as it’s superseded it’s totally irrelevant.
So we’d expect to find that some content is radically outperforming other content, old or new. And relevance to a core audience is the deciding factor, again unsurprisingly. When Unbounce’s David Cheng carried out a content audit on the Unbounce blog, he found that ‘our top converting posts were those with great relevance to content and inbound marketers, our largest user cohort.’
Optimize High-Converting Posts For Traffic
If you have posts with high conversion rates and low traffic, it makes sense to try to drive more traffic to them. ‘11 of our blog posts had the most call-to-action click-throughs,’ says Rand Fiskhkin, ‘with one post blowing away the competition.’ That’s pretty normal: Hubspot found they had about 30, but they’re an unusually large site. And the one or two super high performers you find might not be replicable. The other ten or so should be your target.
First, Find Your Posts
Some blogging platforms have built-in attribution reporting. And there are tools, like Kissmetrics, that will help you with this. Otherwise, Google Analytics’ Landing Page Report can show you which blog posts are generating conversion behaviors.
Compare these results with your Page View results in GA and pick out the posts that get little traffic but convert a lot of it.
From here, the key is to update those posts, both for SEO and content.
Update Your Content
If it’s on your website, it should be up to date and relevant. For all its spam hunting, Google isn’t that hot at delivering up to date search results. Google ‘Small Business VoIP’ and the third organic search result is from 2012…
When Skype looked like…
So how relevant is that going to be?
I know I’m not the only one who avoids this by getting familiar with the ‘advanced search’ function; a lot of the time I never see anything older than a year. Update your content and republish it, and you improve user experience dramatically.
Keep the URL
Don’t republish under a new URL. That old URL already has links, authority and rank. You want to ride these as much as possible while getting the best results from freshness.
Keywords and SEO
Bill Sebald points out that effective keyword strategies have changed pretty radically: ‘pages are ranking today,’ he points out, ‘without the keyword even being on the page.’ But you can still check to see which search terms bring visitors to that post and seek to align with visitor intent. You’ll find them in Google Search Console > Search Traffic > Search Analytics.
When you republish content you benefit from Google’s preference for freshness. New content has received preferential treatment since 2011.
Optimize High Traffic Posts for Conversions
You’ll often find older posts that draw a lot of traffic – I mean a lot: I’ve seen posts four years old outperform the rest of the site by something like 5 – but few conversions. Since these posts already generate a lot of traffic, the first priority would be to optimize them for conversions.
Find High-Traffic Posts With Low Conversions
Hunt through your analytics for posts that pull in unusually high traffic but low conversions. Many posts simply don’t generate significant traffic at all, and your super-high-traffic posts are likely to be very few in number and not replicable.
Calls to Action
CTAs have evolved, so CTAs in older posts probably won’t look that great or work that well. They won’t be using slide-in or exit-intent stuff – but more importantly, they’ll be designed for a different audience.
The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there, and lead gen is one of them. CTA placement, appearance and content will probably all need to be altered.
Design has moved on too, and a CTA that looks old doesn’t appeal to a lot of visitors. Just replacing it with a new one might generate improvements.
CTAs might just be in the wrong place. End of post banner CTAs get just 6% of clicks; between 83% and 93% of a post’s leads come from anchor text and internal link CTAs, says Hubspot.
And many older posts will offer readers the chance to sign up to mailing lists, but it may be more effective to offer links to additional, ‘step up’ content like ebooks that maybe you didn’t have when you originally published the post.
Funnel Construction and Landing Pages
One reason high traffic posts could have low conversions is wobbly funnel construction. If your post doesn’t lead into a modern funnel you could be losing the conversions you should be getting from the traffic numbers. Does the CTA from 2013 lead to a landing page from 2013?
Matching the offer in the blog post to the search terms readers used to find the post is one of the most effective methods of optimizing old blog posts. When Hubspot implemented this method they got a 240% jump in conversions!
Pruning Your Content
Some content should be optimized. But the optimal thing to do with some content is to ‘prune’ it. Either no-index it, consolidate it or actually remove it altogether. That’s the best thing you can do with content that doesn’t add value.
‘Google doesn’t crawl everything they know about; Google doesn’t index everything they crawl; Google doesn’t serve everything they index.’ – Bill Sebald
So when you have a big site with a lot of posts, you think you’re ‘feeding the bots.’ Actually, there’s reason to think Google won’t crawl the whole site. So which parts do you want to have crawled? If it’s going over old, thin content, that’s what you’ll be judged by.
Bill recalls an email from Inbound.org saying that they’d no-indexed his profile page – which ‘led to a large boost in our organic traffic.’
In short, when Google crawls sucky old content, and thinks your site sucks.
Old, thin content isn’t very useful to users. That’s bad in itself, since these are the people we want to please and ultimately convert into customers, and it’s hard to sell a $100 main course on the strength of a 99¢ starter. But it also stands in the way of good search performance because it drags the overall reputation of your site down.
When Ahrefs set out to improve their search effectiveness, the first thing they did was junk 179,158 words of content – 200-plus posts went into the trash. They got pruned. Result? An 89% jump in organic traffic. OK, they did some other things as well, but the strategy they implemented was built around pruning back – actually decreasing the amount of content they had on their site.
How do you fix this?
First, identify posts that get no significant traffic or conversions. Dead posts, essentially.
Then, consider one of these options:
If you have a weak post on a subject, one option is simply to turn it into a stronger one. If it’s a post about something that’s close to your core business, but the post itself is thin and gets no love, write another, much better post and drop it into the same URL.
Many posts aren’t exactly duplicates but they go over the same ground. To take the example of Bill Sebald’s ‘dead post’ about a 2009 Google change, we can guess that there were a few other posts on Greenlane’s blog about Google changes through the years. Those posts might still have some value if it could be presented differently to the user.
One popular option is to take a bunch of posts that aren’t performing well and turn them into one big post that covers the topic in depth. You could turn 10 ‘Google just did this’ posts into ‘How Google Updates Changed SEO.’ All you’d need would be to cut the main point out of each post, stitch it together and do a quick rewrite identifying the new value prop for the post.
Merge and Redirect
If you have a smaller number of posts, each of which talks about a similar subject, but one of them is by far the stronger, use a 301 redirect to point users to the stronger one and merge the content from the others into it.
Some posts can’t be rescued, or aren’t worth the effort. That sounds crazy to people who are used to regular blogging, and who work to turn out enough content to keep up. But if it’s good enough for Ahrefs, maybe it’s time to consider just killing off blog posts that are pulling your site backwards.
The key to getting truly surprising improvements is in historical posts. We’ve known for some time that having more posts is good, but that’s led some people up the wrong path, making them focus on content production and chary of cutting away bad or useless content.
Meanwhile, for many of us, site performance is an average of the smallish number of high-performing historical posts that are driving traffic and conversions, and a larger number of dead posts that are holding the whole site back. In the middle is a huge hinterland of improvable posts that can be optimized to generate more traffic, conversions, leads and revenue without the associated costs of new content creation.
About the Author: Richard Bayston is a freelance blogger and copywriter covering tech, digital marketing and content strategy for SMBs. I’ve also been known to write on health and fitness. Find out more: Richard@RBCopywriting.com or @RBCopywriting. The rest of my time is spent arguing amicably with my wife and Googling the answers.
Featured Image Attribution: jmortonphoto.com
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