written by
Wisdom Dabit

Content Refresh: How + When to Refresh Existing Content

Search Engine Optimization 14 min read

If there's one thing I love more than writing a post from scratch, it's refreshing existing content.

I always find something that could be improved – a word that sounds more natural, a statistic that would be more impactful, or structural adjustments that would enhance the piece's readability.

Beyond personal preference, refreshing content can also lead to quick wins, such as:

  • Improved search performance
  • Higher rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs)
  • Increased conversions

This guide will cover:

2 Reasons Why Content Refreshes Are Important

1. Updated content performs better on search

In an announcement titled “Giving you fresher, more recent search results”. Google first announced the freshness update in 2011. This was a significant improvement to the ranking algorithm. Since then, Google released several major algorithm updates focused on providing users with the freshest and most relevant search results.

Freshness is not the only ranking factor, but it is taken into account for queries where users probably want the most current information like the latest news or weather reports.

2. Readers love fresh, up-to-date content

Readers care about fresh, up-to-date content. When searching online, many consciously look at publishing dates and filter results to see only recent articles. There are several reasons why:

  1. Interests and needs change over time as external factors shift. For example, most queries about remote work after 2019 reflect the impact of COVID on the workplace.
  2. Old content may contain broken links or point to outdated sources.
  3. Industry best practices evolve, so guides written years ago omit critical new details. A social media marketing article from 2016, for example, wouldn't cover newer platforms like TikTok.
  4. Messaging and products change. Content referencing specific products or services needs regular updating to reflect these changes.

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Best practices for updating and optimizing content

Don’t know where to get started to improve existing content?

  1. Update metadata and titles
  2. Add new keywords
  3. Run spelling and grammar checks
  4. Replace out-of-date statistics
  5. Add internal links
  6. Include external quotes
  7. Add visual assets

1. Update metadata and titles

Updating metadata and titles is a critical first step in the content refresh process. It's essential to ensure that your metadata accurately reflects the updated content within. This includes revising meta descriptions to incorporate new keywords or to make them more enticing to potential readers.

Titles, too, should be re-evaluated. A compelling, updated title can significantly increase click-through rates from search engine results pages. Moreover, updating titles and metadata offers an opportunity to align with current trends and search queries, making your content more discoverable and relevant.

2. Add new keywords

Despite their potential, some posts may underperform. In these cases, targeting keyword variations can be an effective strategy to boost performance.

Long-tail keywords, for instance, precisely define user intent. Although they have lower individual search volume, optimizing for long-tail keywords can significantly improve a post's performance.

You can use StoryChief’s keyword generator to uncover relevant long-tail opportunities. It automates your keyword research, analyzes your rankings against competitors, and gives actionable suggestions to optimize existing content for SEO.

When you come across posts that aren't meeting expectations, find untapped long-tail keywords that align with their topics and expand beyond the primary terms.

3. Run spelling and grammar checks

In the rush to hit "publish," it's easy to overlook minor errors in spelling and grammar. But these details matter for content quality. According to Google's SEO guide, it’s important to avoid sloppy writing with grammatical and spelling mistakes.

Tools like Grammarly, Hemmingway, and StoryChief can catch issues with grammar, punctuation, and style. This helps ensure your writing makes a good impression.

However, obsessive adherence to grammatical rules shouldn't come at the cost of sounding human and approachable. Sometimes, breaking rules improves readability and voice. Ultimately, your focus should be on providing the clearest answers to your readers with minimal error.

4. Replace out-of-date statistics

Statistics can raise awareness and build credibility - when accurate and current. But old data does more harm than good.

Using obsolete statistics:

  • Signals disrespect for your readers' time.
  • Implies laziness in updating facts.
  • Erodes trust and authority.

Readers are quick to disengage from stale data. Fresh stats engage them. For content that converts and convinces, vigilant research is key.

Make it a priority to refresh old statistics during content updates. Monitor sources like social media and news for the latest data — don't rely on outdated roundups.

Using current statistics demonstrates respect for your audience. It further reinforces your commitment to providing value, not just filling space.

5. Add internal links

Quality internal links signal authority on topics and help Google understand your site's structure, potentially boosting rankings and traffic. For readers, these links enable a seamless journey through related content, enhancing their experience.

Add links to recent content where necessary, and when it makes sense. Avoid linking indiscriminately.

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6. External quotes

Google favors unique content, so incorporating expert quotes can differentiate your posts from repetitive search results. Featuring insights from industry authorities adds originality and a human element to your content.

From my experience, the best quotes often come from trusted relationships, so take the time to nurture partnerships with respected figures in your space. This lends an authenticity to your content that tools can't replicate.

When creating a post, tap into your network of experts to feature their insights. Hand-picked, quality responses from trusted sources are more valuable than soliciting quotes from unknown groups.

Strategically integrating quotes from experts will make your content distinct, authoritative, and valuable.

7. Add visual assets

Focus on relevance by choosing graphics that emphasize or clarify specific points. Avoid unrelated filler images. For accessibility, always include descriptive alt text. Select file types and sizes optimized for quick loading. Well-placed visuals grab attention and improve information retention. But don't do it in excess.

When’s the right time to refresh existing content?

How to notice content decay? Here are some tell-tale signs:

  1. When traffic declines
  2. When your software/tool has undergone major updates
  3. When content is outdated
  4. When your content strategy is updated
The stages of content decay
The stages of content decay

StoryChief’s content performance dashboard provides a comprehensive view of key metrics related to your website's performance. It allows you to gain insights into:

  • The number of times your site is viewed
  • The number of times users click on your site
  • Your site's ranking in search results
  • The click-through rate (CTR)

Within the "click performance in detail" section, you're presented with a breakdown of your most successful and least successful keywords. It's advisable to concentrate on enhancing content linked to your top declining keywords. This can be achieved by assessing whether the material associated with these keywords requires revision.

  • Top keywords
  • Most growing keywords
  • Declining keywords

In the following section, we will present a detailed analysis of your keyword ranking performance, categorized as follows:

  • Top 3 positions
  • Positions 4 through 10
  • Positions 11 to 20
  • Rankings from 21 to 50
  • Beyond position 50

In the last section, you'll see the Click Through Rate performance overview, using 4 quadrants:

  • Top performing
  • Underperforming
  • High potential
  • Improvement opportunities

How to do a content refresh for 5 different scenarios

1. For posts ranking low on page 1 or 2

Instead of trying to revive low-performing pages, identify articles already gaining traction but still need to rank on the first page. A post already ranking on page two or four has the potential to climb up.

The first organic search result gets over 27% of clicks, while the #10 result only gets a fraction. Give your borderline ranking pages a refresh to help them stand out and earn those coveted first-page positions.

However, take seasonality and external factors into account before assuming rank decline equals outdated content. For example, holiday-related articles dropping off in February doesn't necessarily mean they need an update. Make sure to differentiate between natural rank fluctuations and pages going stale.

What to do: Conduct a competitive content analysis

Analyze the top-ranking pages for your target keywords to identify gaps. Examine both quantitative metrics and qualitative aspects like:

  • Article length
  • Types of media used
  • Number of backlinks
  • Domain authority
  • Navigation and structure
  • Presence of lead magnets
  • Calls to action

This competitive analysis will reveal areas where your post is lacking compared to the content outperforming you. The insights help prioritize what to add or update.

Use rank tracking tools like AccuRank, Revive, or Use Topic to identify articles with existing traction but still outside the top spots and focus your refresh efforts on these pages first.

"When prioritizing content for refreshing, I typically focus on keywords that are ranking just outside the first page of search results, around positions 11 to 20. The simple process is to look at your existing content ranking in those positions, identify the keywords with the highest search volumes, and then work backwards from there to determine which pieces should be refreshed first." Blake Smith, SEO Consultant & Marketing Manager at ClockOn

Also, the amount of change depends on the current performance:

For a page already ranking second, light updates like adding expert quotes, interactive elements, and actionable advice may suffice.

But for poorer-performing pages, more significant changes are likely needed. Along with the above, you may need to optimize the post for search by adding visuals and aligning sections with target keywords.

Essentially, identify where top results are outshining you both in terms of SEO strength and content quality.

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2. For posts cannibalizing each other

Keyword cannibalization occurs when two or more posts on your site compete for the same keyword. This typically happens when a site has published extensively on a topic over many years or has multiple content creators working simultaneously.

Trying to rank multiple pages for the identical term essentially makes them compete against each other. It's like fighting against yourself—no matter which page wins, you still lose [potential traffic].

What to do: Consolidate competing content

Careful keyword targeting during content creation can help avoid self-competition down the road. However, auditing existing identifies opportunities to fix such cases. If you find multiple posts competing for the same keyword, the solution may be to consolidate them into one authoritative piece.

Start by identifying the existing page that ranks highest using tools like Google Search Console or Ahrefs. This is likely the one with the most authority that you should build upon.

Combine the duplicative content from the low-ranking post into the high-performing one to create a comprehensive resource on the topic.

Once you've created the consolidated post, delete the old lower-ranking URLs and set up 301 redirects pointing to the updated page. Doing this passes on any existing backlinks and authority to the new URL. (Old URLs accumulate trust and links over time, so retaining their value is key.)

“In some cases, a single page may rank for multiple keywords related to the same broad topic. However, if one subtopic within that topic has enough search volume, it could justify creating a separate dedicated article for that subtopic. Conversely, there may be situations where multiple existing pages rank for the same keyword. In those cases, merging them into one expanded article makes sense.Blake Smith, SEO Consultant & Marketing Manager at ClockOn

3. For content that no longer aligns with your content strategy

When refreshing old content, it's important to look beyond search rankings to ensure updated posts also support your overall content marketing strategy.

What to do: It depends

The specifics of realigning your content will depend on how your strategy has evolved:

  • If your product UI has changed significantly, update screenshots and visuals across posts.
  • If messaging changed, rewrite copy in existing articles to match and boost conversions.
  • If your target buyer persona shifted, tweak examples and advice to resonate with new segments.

Sometimes a simple CTA or product mention is okay. However, a major UI or strategy pivot means updating details throughout.

4. For content that isn’t ranking for its target keyword

Search intent refers to what the user wants to find or accomplish by entering a particular query. For example, someone searching "best project management tools" is looking to discover top options, not read a lengthy article on the importance of calendars.

However, search intent can evolve as interests and needs change. External factors like COVID drastically shifted many intents seemingly overnight.

So content that originally matched the intent for its target keywords may become outdated. Review top-performing pages and ensure the content still answers the question or solves the problem suggested by your target keywords.

What to do: Evolve with search intent

If your content no longer aligns with search intent, the refresh approach depends.

For outdated pieces, a full rewrite may be needed to match the new intent. Simply editing won't cut it.

For more recent posts that are close, strategic edits can realign content. You can:

  • Trim meandering introductions and get right to what readers want to know.
  • Go more in-depth if intents skew towards expert information vs. basics.

Some best practices when updating content:

  • Evaluate if formats like listicles better match current intent based on top results.
  • Remove fluffy sections that don't directly answer the search query.
  • Continuously check search analytics for changes in intent. Then edit posts accordingly.

Regularly revisiting your top content keeps it focused on fulfilling reader intent.

5. For non-converting content

If existing content fails to convert readers into desired actions like email signups, purchases, etc., then it needs an overhaul. Lack of conversions indicates the content is not properly speaking to and engaging your audience.

What to do: Analyze and make adjustments

  • Study user behaviour on the page to identify friction points causing drop-offs. Look for areas with high exit rates.
  • Review page copy, offers, and CTAs against your audience's interests and buying stage. Ensure messaging aligns with their needs and concerns.
  • Check if page formatting is distracting and prevents a clear path to convert. Improve the layout and flow to guide readers.
  • Test completely new CTAs, offers, and overall page approaches to see if an entirely fresh take boosts conversions.
  • Optimize pages for keywords that drive qualified traffic closer to converting rather than top-funnel visitors.
  • Add more case studies, social proof, and content types preferred by the audience — like video — to build trust.

Posts that do not need a content refresh

"I don't believe the age of an article alone justifies refreshing it. I only consider updates if the content's performance declines, as indicated by data. If an article is still performing well, I avoid making unnecessary changes since that carries the risk of negatively impacting its success. Age alone, like an alert saying 'This content is X years old,' is not enough for me to update it unless its performance has actually dropped." Blake Smith, SEO Consultant & Marketing Manager at ClockOn

Some types of posts may not need a refresh:

  1. Evergreen tutorials - If the instructions are still accurate and useful for readers learning a skill, refreshing adds little value. The core content remains relevant.
  2. Customer support content - Specific troubleshooting guides, for example, may not need refreshing.
  3. Case studies – Case studies showcase a specific customer story and set of results at a point in time. The details of that story don't change, so refreshing risks altering the original narrative.

The key criterion is whether refreshing a post provides value to readers and your business goals. Otherwise, resources are better spent creating content around new opportunities. Carefully weigh if each piece is worth reworking.

2 Pro Tips

1. Keep readers in the loop

When refreshing existing content, it's important to communicate changes to your audience so they know to expect updates. At the top of revised posts, include text like "Updated for 2023" or "Refreshed on [date]" along with a summary of what's new.

In your site's blog, highlight major content updates and link to the refreshed pieces so readers can easily find them. Also, email subscribers informing them of relevant updated content in your niche.

Transparency helps manage expectations around changes and signals your commitment to continuous improvement.

2. Include content refreshes in reports and meetings with stakeholders

Don't silo content refresh work from the rest of your content strategy. Include progress on updating and improving existing posts in regular reports and meetings with internal teams/leadership.

Share key results like increases in organic traffic, conversions, and revenue from refreshed content. Highlight which topics and posts saw the biggest lift to inform future efforts. Ask for input on aligning refresh priorities with upcoming business goals.

Treating content refreshes as a continuous process integrated with overall content planning ensures internal buy-in. It also enables data-driven decisions on what and when to update based on performance and resources.

Start planning a content refresh

I’ve made a lot of noise about the benefits a thoughtful content refresh strategy can provide, it's time to get started with your own. Begin by:

  • Auditing existing content to identify top candidates for refreshing based on the criteria covered like declining traffic, stale messaging, etc.
  • Building an editorial calendar and timeline for systematic updates across topics and funnel stages. (Sometimes, it’s as easy as setting up your project management tool to notify you in 6 months).
  • Assigning team members to specific refresh projects based on expertise.
  • Allocating budget for any additional resources like hiring freelancers if needed.

With the right planning and commitment, a content refresh delivers compounding returns over time as you continuously improve quality and relevance across your content library.

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