How many pieces of content has your company published? I’m talking about every format – blog posts, social media posts, white papers, case studies, eBooks, interviews, podcasts, videos, infographics – the works.
Is it 1,000 pieces of content? 3,000? More?
It’s probably a pretty hefty pile of work. And you’re probably getting at least some results from it. All that content should be generating a steady stream of organic search traffic, more email subscribers, more social media followers, more qualified leads… maybe even a few inbound calls.
But what if it could do more? What if you could refresh some of that old content and get more results from it? Like a lot more.
It’s not uncommon for companies to double the conversion rates on old pages they optimize, or to get 30% to 100% more organic SEO traffic as a result of refreshing and expanding content on a page. This is especially true if you’ve never optimized your older content before.
Content audits versus historical optimization
There’s a term evolving to describe this type of optimization. It’s “historical optimization.” It usually refers to optimizing old blog posts, but the principle could be expanded to other content formats.
While I think this is one of the biggest opportunities for content marketers right now, I can’t help but notice how similar this is to another content marketing best practice: The content audit.
There’s been a lot written about content audits (though maybe not enough). Buffer was the one to really bring it into the spotlight when they published their epic how-to-do-a-content audit post.
The problem with content audits is they can be massive undertakings. An old-school, thorough content audit would traditionally take a team at least a week, and possibly a month. Because that much time investment is almost impossible for many content marketers, it’s not surprising that there’s more talk about “mini-audits” or historical optimization. It all springs from the ideas of:
- Accessing the performance of existing content
- Finding content gaps or opportunities in the existing content
- Refreshing old content
- Strategically planning new content
Does that sound like sound like a lot of work? It is. But tactics like historical optimization streamline the audit process by a lot. They also tend to create major improvements in existing content performance. And they give you insights into how to create more of the content that results in huge wins.
In other words, yes – it’s a big time and resource investment. And it’s worth every minute and every penny.
Which content are you going to update?
Here’s the general rule: If any piece of content is over a year old, it needs to be updated.
Taken at face value, following that advice could result in a heck of a lot of work. Optimizing every single piece of content you’ve ever published is a huge task. Much of that work wouldn’t get you the kind of results you want from this, either.
So instead optimizing every piece of old content, consider this: Optimize the top-performing 10%. The question is, which 10% of pages do you go after? What are you optimizing for?
This is obviously hugely important. And answering it is more complex than it might first appear.
Here’s why: After hearing the question, “What are you optimizing for?” most marketers are going to say, leads, or traffic, or revenue generated.
Those are all great answers.
As you know, optimizing for revenue generated is challenging, because tracking ROI (aka “attribution”) for content marketing can be murky. It’s less murky with some of the marketing automation platforms we have now, but it’s still as much art as science.
But optimizing just the pages generating the most leads or revenue would cause you to miss out on some choice opportunities. Optimizing based on just traffic would have the same effect. There are a couple other situations you’ll want to account for:
1. The ‘ole page two to page one SEO optimization trick
Even if we could perfectly track where the business is coming from, we’d still be missing out on one important opportunity with organic traffic. It’s because, in essence, SEO is a winner-take-all game.
What I mean by that is that clicks to the search results aren’t evenly distributed – a page in position 7 doesn’t get anywhere near as many clicks as a page in position 1. This disparity gets even wider when you look at how many clicks the results on page 1 get versus the results on page 2. It’s an old quick-fix SEO trick to
- Identify pages that are lingering near the top of page 2,
- Optimize them just enough to get them to move up 2-3 positions
- Enjoy 2-3 times more traffic (sometimes more) because you’ve moved into the big leagues on page one
That’s a long way of saying that if we optimize only for revenue or leads, we’ll be missing out on this “jump to page 1” SEO trick. And it’s a good trick, well worth using in your “audit” or your “historic optimization” – whichever term you want to use.
2. High traffic pages that aren’t converting well
These are another flavor of missed opportunity for content: Pages that are winning SEO-wise, but that are losers when it comes to conversion rates. The low conversion rates may be coming from a call to action that doesn’t fit with the content or the visitors’ intent well. Or you might have a page that just isn’t delivering on user intent in general. No way to know until you check each page.
3. The high traffic, high bounce rate pages
There’s another thing you’ll miss if you only go after revenue or leads: Pages with high traffic and a high bounce rate. These are pages that are getting attention from inbound traffic sources, but when people actually view the page, they tend to pogo stick back.
You may need to do a bit of analysis. If you have a killer page that answers one question so well that the reader is totally satisfied and leaves your site, that’s technically a bounce, but it’s not necessarily a bad page. Google cannot tell how long a session lasts on a one-page visit, so pay no mind to “session duration.”
It’s a major missed opportunity. You’re getting what should be valuable traffic, but those pages are not delivering the value back to you.
How to choose which pages you’ll optimize
Let’s face it: resources are limited. There’s a limit to how many pages your team can optimize. Maybe 40 pages is the most your team can commit to updating this quarter.
With that 40-page limit, you could pick
- the 10 best-performing pages for revenue or leads
- the 10 pages most likely to make the jump from page 2 of the search results to page 1
- the 10 pages with high traffic and a high bounce rate
- the 10 pages with high traffic and low conversion rates
That splits your resources across the ten pages “most likely to succeed” across the four situations. Alas, for smaller teams, even 40 pages may be an unmanageable amount of work. If that’s you, then consider paring down to five pages for each category.
You’re kind of hedging your bets here, but because you’ve selected only the very top pages for each strategy, you’re almost certainly going to see enough improvements from your work for a positive ROI.
Of course, you can also mix this up. For example, you decide to go after the top 40 pages for leads and revenue. The high traffic high bounce pages can wait. So can the low-converting pages and the pages lingering near the top of page two in the search results. It’s entirely up to you.
What to look for as you optimize your content
Once you’ve got your target list of pages, the content work begins. There’s a number of things to check and optimize:
The content itself:
- Is the research referenced in the content current?
- Has something changed in the industry or the technology that warrants a rewrite?
- Are the images optimized?
- Does the copy on the page need a rewrite?
- Is this content missing any important parts or aspects that need to be added?
- If it’s an in-house piece, has the author left your company?
Call to action
- Is there a more relevant offer for the call to action?
- What keywords are visitors using to find this page? Do those searches line up with the content and the call to action on the page? (See your Google Search Console account for this data.)
- For the internal links, are they pointing to pages you want to send traffic to? Is the call to action working well?
- Do all the outbound or internal links go to the best pages available?
Search engine optimization:
- Is the on-page SEO for this page optimized?
- Is the title tag properly optimized?
- Is the meta description tag written as well as possible?
- Are there any links to this page from other sites that you might want to disavow?
- Is the bounce rate high on the page?
- Is the page mobile friendly?
- Does this page load as fast as possible?
- Could you add schema tags to make this page show up better in the search results, or for Google’s rich answers?
- Could this content be re-formatted, then re-published on other platforms, including social media?
Whew – lots of questions. I think you get the idea of how thorough the updating process can be. You may not have time to address every one of those questions, and you may have other issues or aspects of the page you’ll want to update. But the over-arching point is to take the deep dive into re-hauling the page for maximum performance.
Schedule the optimization work like any other new content
As you’ve probably noticed, this updating work is a blend of editorial, design, business strategy, and search engine optimization.
That usually means you’ll be pulling resources from multiple departments, and asking people with different expertise to work together. This is all to the good, but it needs an execution plan and a way to track progress – just like any other project.
You may find it’s impossible to continue with a regular publishing schedule while this work gets done. That’s okay. Remember – you’re going after your highest value pages. These are the big winners of your content program. They deserve some time spent in the shop, as it were.
After the optimization
Once you’ve got all that optimization done, don’t just let those pages sit there. These are your high performers. They deserve to be shared via your social media accounts on a regular basis – like at least once a month.
For blog posts, it’s also possible to re-publish. Yep – you can update and expand the post, then change the publication date and publish it as if it was new. Econsultancy tried this not so long ago and got excellent results. Republishing also means you’ve got great new content for your email newsletter, too. (Just don’t change the URL!)
One caveat to republishing and to historical optimization in general: It works best with evergreen content – content that will still be of use to your audience in a year or so. So any content that was “newsjacked” or seasonal probably won’t benefit as much from this technique.
We have to step off the hamster wheel of constant, “more-is-better” content creation. There’s a treasure trove of old content that deserves attention. Ironically, it’s usually driving most of our business results.
You don’t have to optimize every piece of old content, but optimizing even 10% of your older content can deliver significant results. After all, these content pieces are already proven performers. Who doesn’t like going after a sure thing?
Let’s take this idea one step further. Assuming you’ve got two years or more of backlog content, what if you dedicated 20% or so of your content team’s time to improving old content? What if every quarter you shut down new content creation while you optimized older content? What might that do?
Back to you
Do you optimize older content on a regular basis? How well has it worked for you? Tell us what you think in the comments.