If you've been blogging for a while you likely have some old articles hanging around. They were awesome when you published them but now they aren't looking so hot.
You should have a system in place for updating old blog posts so your site doesn't get full of old, outdated articles. After all, you never know what article the reader is going to land on.
Ignoring this can lead to a poor user experience which is bad for your site. It also leads to overwhelm — knowing you have all these old posts and no plan for improving them.
Why You Should Update Old Blog Posts
Old blog posts are just that… old. You don't want readers finding outdated or poorly formatted articles on your site. That leads to a bad reader experience, which is the last thing you want as a blogger
Keeping information up to date and up to current blogging standards goes a long way towards making sure your site a helpful resource for readers.
The biggest reason to update old blog posts is because the information may have changed. You don't want to be giving wrong info. Even just small things like saying a service is “new” when it's three years old looks bad.
Perhaps you have a top 10 list but now two are no longer in business. Or there is a hot new player in the space that isn't on the list at all.
You want your readers to trust you and if you are giving out incorrect information they may leave and never come back.
Sometimes just the language can date the article. For example, let's say you say something like “we went to the movies to see Black Panther last weekend”. Well, that's great if it's 2018 — not so great in 2021.
One of my favorite things about the internet is how quickly things change. Yes, it makes it challenging but it also makes it fun.
It also means that old posts start looking old pretty quickly. When I started blogging the average article was 500 words long. And there was debate that even that was too long. Now the average blog post is 1200 words. So all those old 500 word posts need some love to bring them up to today's standards.
I find that old blog posts tend to look very blocky with long paragraphs and sentences. Simply breaking up the paragraphs really modernizes the look of post.
Image standards is another thing that changes quickly. A pin that killed on Pinterest in 2019 probably looks very outdated today.
In a few years the posts we are publishing today will look outdated. So it's important to have a process in place to make sure things are kept fresh.
You can keep your site looking good with some regular TLC.
Your Early Stuff Sucks
Don't take it personally — everyone's early stuff sucks. And in five years you'll look back at today's articles and think they suck too. It's fine! That's actually a good sign — it means you're growing.
Not only does the internet change on an almost daily basis so do you. You have learned SO MUCH since you started blogging and you'll learn so much more in the years to come.
You've become a better writer. You have a clearer understanding of who your reader is. You know what resonates with your audience and what doesn't. Going back and looking at old posts gives you a chance to put all those skills to use and improve those old posts.
It's Good for SEO
Keeping all your articles up to date provides a good reader experience. And a good reader experience is critical to SEO. Google wants its users to be happy. It wants them to get their answers quickly and without trouble. So it's good for you to show that your site can be trusted to keep people happy.
Let's say there are two sites:
- Site A has 100 blog posts and 80 of them are outdated and have a poor reader experience.
- Site B has 60 posts but none of them are outdated — all are looking fresh and have current information.
Which site do you think Google would want to send traffic to?
Site B! Google knows that no matter what the reader clicks on they will have a good experience.
So if you were the owner of site A it would be a good idea to address those 80 articles. But even better to have a system in place that keeps things up to date going forward.
Related: How to Use Your Keyword — An On-Page SEO Checklist
Increased Page Views
Let's say a reader comes to your site from Pinterest. They like what they read and want to learn more — so they click on a link to another blog post. And they like that one too!
What do you think the chances are that they will click on yet another link? Pretty good. Certainly much higher than if that second post was out of date, yes?
The fact that updating old blog posts increases page views goes hand in hand with improving your SEO. Since this is a metric that Google uses to know that your site is high quality.
Gives You Something to Post Even When You Don't Have a New Article
Have you ever had trouble coming up with a topic idea? Or maybe you couldn't find the time or motivation to write a whole new blog post?
We've all been there! And republishing an updated post can save you from missing a publishing date or worse, publishing something that doesn't meet your standards just to get something out on schedule.
Updating an article gives you an excuse to republish it. To do this you simply change the date to today's date and it will pop back up to the top of your feed as a brand new post.
(I go over exactly how to republish articles below. Including what to watch out for.)
If you have any automatic social media scheduled your scheduler will pick up this post. But even if your social isn't sent out automatically, you should treat this republished article as if it was brand new. Put it out in social and in your newsletter just like you would any new post.
Before you ask, no, your readers won't have a clue that it's an older post.
How to Update Old Blog Posts
Great, so you believe me that you should update old posts. Awesome. Now what?
You'll need to determine which articles to update and create a process for keeping track of them. Google analytics and a project management system (I use Trello) will be all the tools you need.
Using Google Analytics to Find Articles to Update
Google Analytics is a great place to start looking for articles to update. Pull a report that shows which articles got traffic (and how much) for the past 12 months. To do this follow these steps:
Click on Behavior – Site Content – All Pages
Once that is loaded up, change the date (up in the top right corner) to cover the past 12 months.
This is going to show you your top performing articles. You might have 10-20 articles that are really killing it. These are very important posts and you'll want to review these first for update possibilities. Make sure these articles are always looking amazing!
But that's not all, you'll also want to see what your worst performing articles are so you can either delete them, or update them and get them back in the feed to get some more eyeballs on them.
Finding Your Worst Performing Articles
Unfortunately, there isn't a simple way of finding out which articles are getting the least amount of traffic. So we have to do a little fiddling to get this information.
At the bottom of the report you just pulled, there is a drop-down box that allows you to change how many rows are shown on each page. It defaults to 10, but change this to 5,000. This will look like it gives you a lot of junk but we will clean that up in a second.
This is a report of basically every URL that has gotten any traffic in the past year. The bottom of the report will be full of junk URLs — this is normal, these aren't URLs that are actually on your site, they are often URLs with tracking code.
For example, anytime someone comes over to your site from Facebook it's going to have Facebook tracking code added to the end of the URL which Google Analytics reports as a totally separate URL.
Anyways, so to make sense of this report you'll want to download it to an Excel file or Google Sheets. Do this up at the top of the page under “Export”.
Once you have it in a spreadsheet you can delete all the junk URLs. You don't have to be perfect at this and you don't have to do the entire report. Start at the bottom and work your way up.
Make a decision on what counts as “poor performing” in your world. You may decide that any post that gets less than 50 page views per year is poor performing. In this case, you don't need to worry at all about anything that gets more than 50 page views per year. Stop fiddling with the report when you get to that point.
The goal here isn't to have a perfectly clean spreadsheet. The goal is to find your lowest traffic articles and fix them. Once you have a good list, you can stop cleaning up the report.
Think about Upcoming Holidays
One more thing to consider when looking for old posts to update is any upcoming special events. If there are articles that do well at certain time of year then you'll want to make sure those are up to date before the high season.
For example, you might want to update all your back to school articles in June so they are fresh and ready for when people become interested in that topic again.
These articles aren't likely to stand out in your Google Analytics reports from above, but it's still critically important to keep them up to date. They likely do quite well when it's their time — even though their annual traffic numbers are only mediocre.
How to Stay Organized
After going through those exercises above you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. How are you supposed to keep track of all these articles!?
Don't worry, I got you.
I use Trello to organize all my articles, including articles that need to be updated. Here's a sneak peek of a video from my Blogging Basics course that explains how I use Trello.
If you like this video you can buy the whole Blogging Basics course for only $20! Click here to learn more.
Things to Consider when Updating Old Posts
Sometimes updating old posts is fairly easy — maybe just some small fixes or updating some specific information. But a lot of times it can be quite a beast.
Here are some things to consider:
- Think about what this post would include if you were writing it today. Don't get distracted by what is already there.
- Google the keyword and see what the ranking articles are doing.
- Refresh the formatting — this is something that often changes over time
- Add in new internal links
- Refresh the image and create new social images
- Spice up the title!
- Review your meta description
Aim to make your article the best on the internet for it's specific topic. Here's some guidance on how to do that.
Do NOT change the URL, this will break any incoming links. It's very rare that you'll want to change the URL. If you do have to change it make sure you do a redirect so any traffic coming from links will go to the new post.
Pro Tip: If you can't update the whole post in one sitting make a copy of the article and update the copy — leaving the live version alone. Then when you are finished, cut and paste the finished version over to the live article. That way you never have a half-finished version live on the site.
If you want to learn more about creating amazing content check out my course, Hit Publish.
Republish the Article
Once you've updated the article you may decide to republish it. Republishing is as simple as changing the date on the article. If you change it today's date it will put it back at the top of your feed as if it was a brand new article.
This is not required. If it was a small update you'll likely just want to leave it where it is, but if it's complete overhaul then why not put it out again as a new article?
Note: You can't change the date on a post ahead of time. If you are going to republish a post you must wait until the day you want to republish to change the date.
If you change the date of a live article to a future date it will take the article down from the site. And once an article is live on the site you want it to stay that way. If you take it down it will temporarily break any links pointing to that post. (They will be fixed once the article publishes again.)
Confused? Let's look at an example.
Let's say I update a post on June 15th and I want it to republish on June 30th. If on June 15th I change the date to June 30th the post will move from “published” to “scheduled” and will not be live on the site again until June 30th.
This is not what I want! I don't want to take the article down.
Instead, I need to make a note to myself to go into the article on June 30th and change the date. I do this in my to-do-list manager “Todoist“. I create a task that says “Republish [article URL]” and set it for the republish date. Then all I have to do is click the link and change the date.
To change the date click on the date next to the word “Publish”. It will bring up a calendar.
Once you have the calendar up just select the date you want and click “Update” at the top of the screen.
That will put the post back to the top of feed as if it was a brand new article and you can treat it as such. This does not negatively affect SEO.
It's important to have a process in place for updating old posts. Keeping everything on the site fresh and up to date improves your reader experience and that helps every aspect of your site, including SEO.
To find articles to update, use Google Analytics to look at your best and worst performing articles. Keep your best stuff fresh and either delete or improve your lowest traffic articles. Also, consider any upcoming holidays and get those looking good before the event.
Once the post is updated you can either leave it be, or republish it as a new article.