Even though the American economy keeps outrunning a recession, uncertainty is causing a lot of heartburn. Instead of popping an antacid, many decision-makers are clawing back budgets and putting big content initiatives on hold. You get it. But you also know that one key to keeping the revenue stream flowing is keeping the content tap on. What’s a content marketer to do?

It’s tempting to bet on new assets, but don’t sleep on upgrading the stuff already in your CMS. Investing in existing assets gets the attention of human audiences and search algorithms – even if you aren't putting much or any new stuff out there.

BONUS: Refreshing content is also an effective way to get around decision-makers who say, “We have enough content already”.

“When you create a new piece of content, search engines need to index it and getting rankings is a long game,” explains Norma Gaffin, director of content for BlueSnap, a global payment orchestration platform. “By having refreshed content as a part of your content strategy, you’re starting at a baseline rather than at zero. With less effort and cost, you can likely boost up.”

Let’s take a look at the why and how of reinvesting in existing content.

Why you should invest in existing content

Updating what you’ve already got adds value to previous content investment.

“You’ve already done the hard work of creating original content that had impact with your audience,” notes Jill James, CEO and founder of The Jill James, a  Los Angeles-based strategy and operations consulting company that supports self-funded founders and CEOs.

And, Gaffin adds, “It gives readers who discover your refreshed content more current information.”

A refresh lifts quality and relevance – key elements of differentiation and discoverability.  Quality increases with stronger writing, clearer voice, better readability and easier access to additional information. Relevance grows when you focus on topics that meet audience needs and interests, and support decision-making.

BONUS: Focusing on these traits also reinvigorates search performance.

6 more reasons to refresh content

Need more motivation? Check out these additional reasons to refresh.

  1. Resources are restricted. Time, budget and headcount limitations can sideline content marketing projects, leaving your brand to fade out of customers’ and prospects’ consciousness.
  2. Competitors change and messaging morphs. I bet your content library is still selling to/against the OGs or follows a direction you abandoned three campaigns ago. You need stories that tell your unique story and differentiate you from the competition you have now. TIP: Some of these can’t be rehabilitated without a total rewrite, but some might be able to be easily realigned.
  3. Opportunities open up. Too often we don’t take advantage of current events, appearances and seasonal trends and observances even though we have relevant content sitting in our library that we could refresh and repromoted.
  4. Data gets dated. Few things tank trust like old information. And these days, old is about a year unless it’s a landmark study or report. In the worst case, there’s a mountain of new data that debunks what the old data showed, but that’s rare. Depending on your area, there’s probably new research and polling that shows your product or service is still the right choice.
  5. Search tactics shift. Did you anticipate voice search? No, you did not. So your old content wasn’t structured to support it. But that’s not the only thing – algorithms are always evolving, and keywords and phrases are, too. And your existing content probably isn’t designed to capitalize.
  6. Links aren’t leveraged. Broken links vex human and search engine visitors to your site. Equally bad are contextual and related content links that only connect to content that pre-dates them, preventing easy access to new assets that might be just as or more useful.

How to identify content to refresh

Choosing content for reinvestment can be super-easy or super-intense. Time and resources are your guide here. While you could refresh your entire CMS, if resources are tight optimize only your highest-value content:

  • High-traffic and/or high-engagement content. It may seem counter-intuitive, but tweaking these performing assets serves the humans and search engines looking for new and improved information. You don't have to do much here to have an impact. It can be as simple as updating internal links, adding new photos or videos, changing up the CTAs and re-promoting across various channels. TIP: Use Google Search Console to evaluate site performance, especially as it pertains to traffic and click-through metrics.
  • High-relevance but low-traffic/engagement. Relevance is relative, but in this instance, we mean relevant to your specific product or service offering. This can include how-to/explainer content, FAQs and other assets that support decision-making. A good place to start here is asking sales and customer service people what content they point people to the most and then revising and publicizing. No staff? Float a quick survey to customers and subscribers asking for topics they’d like to know more about and/or the issues they’re struggling with the most. Use their responses to filter through your library.

“SEO is a long game, so your older content often ranks higher in search results,” Gaffin says. “Refreshing content is a smart strategic move because it signifies to Google that the content is fresh – which will help keep your ranking or improve it. I’ve seen improved SEO rankings and increased traffic from it.”

How to optimize existing content

There are a lot of ways to optimize existing content, but a handful – based on practices endorsed by Hubspot, TopRank, Orbit Media and others – directly address the biggest reasons to refresh:

  1. Revise text
  2. Include new KWs and support voice search
  3. Integrate the latest marketing and sales guidance
  4. Change the visuals
  5. Swap in new data and research
  6. Tend those links

Let's take a closer look at each.

Revise text to improve overall quality, create a clearer voice and reflect current usage (i.e., capitalizing Black). TIP: Focus on these areas to get the biggest boost:

  • More effective verbs. Use more “visual” verbs that describe the action and how it’s happening, and ditch state-of-being verbs like “will be launched” or “has expired”.
  • Precise language. Select words that make your meaning super clear.
  • Concision. Tighten up long sentences, combine shorter sentences and delete introductory phrases that don't add value.
  • Oragnization. Move sentences and sections around to make the logic and rhythm flow so readers stay with you till the end. Pay particular attention to beginnings and endings to lure visitors in and reward them for reading to the end.
  • Voice and tone. Make sure the content sounds like a real person produced it, which has always been important but is now even more valuable in the age of AI, declining trust and a growing appreciation of authenticity.
  • Purpose. Revise to articulate exactly what you want the audience to think, feel or do after they consume the content, like adding sufficient details and obvious CTAs.

Include new KWs and support voice search, using guidance from your SEO team and/or Google’s People Also Ask and Related Searches items to revise H1s and H2s and update FAQs. TIP: Include these insights in title tags, meta descriptions and excerpts, too.

Integrate the latest marketing and sales guidance on messaging and USPs, and customer/prospect objections and questions. TIP: Ask the biz dev team what they're hearing and what's working.

Change the visuals -- hero image, photos, videos -- and descriptions to include updated products and people, especially under-represented communities, improve accessibility and add more key terms. TIP: Consider using images from outside the usual sources, like createHERstock.com, a Black-owned photo repository.

Swap in new data and research at least quarterly. TIP: Update immediately if you get a major analyst report like a Magic Quadrant mention.

Tend those links by checking every one in every asset every time you interact with it. TIP: Revise contextual links and related content to point to the most relevant and recent content.

Why focus so much on links

“Once you get people to your website, you want to keep them interacting with your brand as much as possible,” Gaffin says.

Site visitors expect to find what they want when they arrive at your site. And when their curiosity is piqued, they want instant access to more information. This desire for self-service raises the stakes for your digital presence. That's where internal links come in.

“Internal linking helps lead visitors through your pages,” noted Georgina Bomer, SEO coordinator at digital agency AndiSites Inc., in her explainer, Boosting SEO using internal links.* “This keeps them on your site for longer, too, which helps build trust, can increase ad revenue, and improves the validity of your site with Google and other search engines.”

The superhero here is the contextual link – the little chunk of hyperlinked text that just hangs out there in the content readers are already digging ready to take them to more information. No need to engage with the nav bar or understand the site architecture.

TIP: “Place links obviously and intuitively,” Bomer advised. “Imagine you’re a user with a short attention span (as most are). When you quickly scan the page, you should immediately see highlighted text that links to internal pages.”

When you need more than a quick refresh

A more robust update – that feels more like a rewrite – is warranted in these scenarios:

Current events and SEO research may uncover topics you haven’t covered sufficiently or at all. Rather than a quick update, this requires research and new writing to propel relevance and length. Search engines reward that, making your content more discoverable. And once they’ve found you, they spend more time on site. EXAMPLE: At the height of the pandemic, many state legislatures made special workers' compensation considerations for COVID-19. One of our clients that has blog posts about workers’ comp in every state brought us on to update pages for affected states.

New research or other data turns content on its head. When new research emerges that strengthens your claims (or – worst case – debunks them), you can’t just rip and replace references to outdated information. You need to reframe the content and potentially rewrite most of the piece. EXAMPLE: We were tasked with refreshing a popular blog post on summer heat safety for seniors. While schooling ourselves up on the topic, we realized that the guidance on heat exhaustion, written 10 years earlier, was no longer valid. What started as a quick refresh turned into a serious revision that enabled us to deliver better-quality information without losing the good-performing URL.

Most of your sources are straight white men. It’s no longer ok to rely on the same members of the dominant culture to tell your story. Be intentional about including voices from historically underrepresented people. Acknowledging and amplifying their contributions just – and that should be reason enough to undertake it. But if you need more motivation, more valuable insights improve length and relevance for humans and search engines. EXAMPLE: When we started working for an infosec client, we noticed that one internal expert (a white guy) was quoted extensively in almost every blog post. Instead of relying on that person for our assignment, we sourced insights from women and people of color in the space. IMPORTANT: Identifying new internal and external experts beyond the usual suspects must be done deliberately and with care to avoid tokenizing and other miscues. Work with someone who has a proven track record for appropriately identifying sources from outside the usual circles.

How to measure the ROI of updated content

“As crucial as including refreshing in your content strategy is setting goals around it for measurement,” Gaffin says.

Analytics pros have multiple ways of doing this. If you don’t have that kind of expertise on staff or on retainer, you can do it yourself by simply benchmarking performance before optimizing and then monitoring quarterly. Most of our clients track unique readers and/or time on page/site before and after for:

  • Overall blog/site
  • Specific post/page
  • Optimized posts/pages in the aggregate

The Bottom Line

Revising the content you already have is a solid incremental investment that can yield valuable results.

Whether you’re grappling with limited resources, seeking search and engagement lift or wanting to improve the ROI of existing content, a refresh project should be on your to-do list.

“From a cost perspective,” Gaffin says, “you can refresh content more inexpensively than creating new pieces.”

How The Word Factory can help

Thinking about outsourcing? Here's what we include in our  basic historical optimization package:

  • Tighten writing using proven revision strategies to rework beginnings and endings, deleting unnecessary words and phrases, simplifying complex sentence constructions and strengthening voice through word choice and sentence fluency.
  • Update search terms, including those you provide and our own findings from semantical search, auto-fill and People Also Ask.
  • Add or contemporize contextual links and related content suggestions so the most recent and relevant content is featured.
  • Upgrade title tags, meta descriptions and excerpts.
  • Switch out photos and videos with new images and alt and descriptive text
  • Create <200-character Tweets and LinkedIn statuses

Need a more complex refresh, including diversifying sources? We calculate our fee based on the specifics of your project.

Big brands like Staples and Phillips Healthcare have hired us to perform strategic historical optimizations on their vast content libraries. We can also consult on selecting the assets and how to plan the work.

Let’s talk about how we can help you. Email us!

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* Used by permission. AndiSites is The Word Factory’s web development partner.