Fixing old content is a big deal for your search rankings.
It can have a dramatic effect on where your page winds up in the search engine results pages that can be either positive or negative depending on how and why you’re fixing the content.
As a result, many content marketers and small business owners are afraid to do anything to the old content for fear of their ranks getting worse.
However, fixing old content is a mandatory action for your website in many cases, and you need to determine when it is and how to do it right.
So, how exactly do you determine that?
I’m going to cover everything you need to make sure your old content improves your site’s authority without damaging your rank.
Underperforming And Missing Content Will Damage Your Search Rank
You might be wondering why fixing old content matters.
After all, experts often talk about having more content as a requirement for great search rankings.
But there’s a caveat to that requirement that you may have missed.
The content on your site has to be high-quality, informative, valuable content that will help your audience find answers to their search.
When your old content is stale, outdated, or doesn’t hold value, it doesn’t help your audience.
Google has an algorithm to help figure that out and will penalize you if you have too much of it.
It can cause other problems for your rankings, too, that aren’t a direct result of Google penalties.
However, fixing it the wrong way can also hurt, and you need to be aware of that.
404 error pages aren’t something Google wants to find at the end of a link or indexed page.
Any time you fix old content, you need to make sure Google doesn’t find these whenever you can or at least give Google instructions on what to do when there is one.
While your old content, if it’s no longer relevant or useful, can earn you penalties, changing or deleting it carelessly can do the same.
Why Is Old Content A Problem?
Aside from Google’s penalties, old content can cause several search-related problems for your website.
Your site makes up a network of information that tells Google how relevant your content is to the search.
And the quality and attractiveness of your content create an authority rank for your website that Google uses to determine how valuable your information is.
The old content that may be outdated, irrelevant, is lacking in value, and needs fixing is driving down those scores within Google’s algorithm.
That happens because of a few added factors that aren’t penalties.
Instead, this is damage that your site is doing to itself.
Old Content Can Damage Your Visitor Metrics
It’s likely your website covers several topics within your specialty.
And you’ve likely got more than one page dedicated to information about each of those topics.
For many content creators, some of the older content is an attempt to rank for a keyword or phrase that newer content also could rank for.
When that happens, you lose the benefit of one “power page” that ranks for that keyword or phrase, resulting in splitting your traffic and backlinks between the multiples.
You wind up stealing traffic, and potentially search rank, from yourself.
Of course, that’s a problem with your old content that you can fix.
Stagnant Engagement Signals Come From Old Content
Unless you’re new to SEO you know that Google uses engagement signals to decide if a page is right for the search in question.
That old content you’ve got that’s outdated and expired and holds little-to-no value for your audience isn’t getting any traffic.
It’s also not keeping anyone on your site longer.
Those pages earn you high bounce rates, short page times, and make sure those visitors who do wind up there head back to the search engine as fast as they came.
All those actions tell Google that your content isn’t the right stuff to serve a searcher in their quest for information.
Your chances of a page 1 spot go away as fast as the traffic that lands on a stale page.
Unless you fix that old content.
Panda And Phantom Penalties Land On Old Content
Ok, there are a couple of key penalties that only happen with low content.
Since the Panda update, Google has been penalizing domains that have a ton of pages with low-quality content.
While you may have individual pages that help, your overall site score is getting dropped if you have too much old, low-value content.
On top of that, SEO experts started noticing another update that showed up around 2015.
Dubbed “Phantom”, this update seems to drop rankings for the overall domain when it shows poor engagement signals.
That means even your pages that fit all of Google’s criteria will show up lower in the SERPs if you have too much bad content.
Google doesn’t like content that the user doesn’t like.
And that should be the takeaway.
You’ve got to fix old content that earns these penalties.
Old Content Can Cause Duplication
Some major indicators to Google that your site shouldn’t earn a high search ranking include unnatural inbound links, duplicate content, and thin content.
Unnatural inbound links don’t happen as a result of old content, nor do they happen on your site.
So, we’re going to skip to the next item: duplicate content.
Only amateurs and lazy content creators outright copy other information from other websites.
It’s a practice we all understand won’t help anything.
However, duplicate content issues still happen, and they’re usually by accident.
Fix old, duplicated content so it doesn’t hurt your search rank.
Here are a few things that could be happening as a result of old content on your website:
- HTTP vs HTTPS content – For many websites, last year’s update to an https requirement may have created duplicate due to incorrect redirects.
- Multiple URLs for the same content – its possible that your old content has changed it’s URL one or more times since you first produced it due to site changes, which can create an issue of multiple URLs if not redirected properly.
- Repeated content topics – you may have produced an article years ago that contained content like or the same as content you’ve recently produced, creating a duplicate result.
Duplication like this is never intentional.
But it’s something that happens when we make site changes or fail to clean up our old content.
Most Old Content Is Too Thin
Thin content is the kind of content that doesn’t provide real value.
There isn’t that much text and there is certainly not very much information.
Text-based content doesn’t have a defined length that’s good for SEO.
However, the amount of value does, and it makes thin content easy to spot.
Old content like this needs to be fixed.
Here are some things you need to be on the lookout for in your old content:
- Insufficient text – There are probably a few pages on your website that offer minimal text, generally a paragraph or two to match with pictures that help you sell a product or service.
- Fluff pages – There’s a page or two full of text that offers no useful information or simply contains a ton of keywords with no real context.
- Stubs – A page you started and didn’t finish, leaving it with a placeholder like “coming soon”.
- Low-quality blogs – Any of the old content you’ve produced that was low-content, low-value, both, or were generally forgettable.
When it comes to identifying thin content, your biggest indicator will be the number of bounces it earns.
That, or the fact that it gets no traffic at all.
Content like this needs to be dealt with appropriately.
What Can You Do About Old Content?
Fixing old content problems needs to be a high priority on your SEO to-do list.
If you’re looking for a better spot in the SERPs, you already understand why.
But do you know what to do with that old content?
There are a couple of options you can try.
Which one you choose is largely up to the reason the old content needs to be fixed.
Different problems require different solutions.
Here are some things you can do.
Delete The Old Content
One option, which is often the one people are most uncertain about, is deletion.
Getting rid of that old content can help to boost rankings under the right circumstances.
In those circumstances, deleting old content is fixing old content.
For example, if your company used to produce widgets, but no longer does, it might make sense to delete your old posts about widgets.
The fact that your content is no longer relevant to the concerns of your target market is often a good reason to delete it.
However, you need to be careful about outright deleting old content.
It may be bringing you traffic from a backlink from a guest post you produced for another blog.
Those influential backlinks are valuable to your SEO score and need to be maintained whenever possible.
So, what else can you do?
Update The Old Content
Fixing old content implies that you’re making it work better than it does.
In some cases, that means legitimately fixing the content.
Thin or outdated content may not be irrelevant to the needs of your target audience.
It just might not be enough to improve your search rankings or earn real traffic.
When that’s true, expand and update the information in the content.
Make it new again by expanding the value contained within.
Don’t just add more words, though.
Create all-new value from the content by expanding it into something that truly meets your target audience’s needs.
Redirect The Content
Sometimes you’ve got content that’s doing well as a backlink but is no longer relevant, as we mentioned before.
Other times you might have duplicate content that’s dividing your results.
Fixing old content that matches either description best done through redirection.
Include a 301 redirect from the old content you want to get rid of to newer, better content that can become a “power page” for that keyword.
Now you can delete the old, outdated content and fix the SERPs by directing them at more relevant, more valuable, fresher content.
Consolidating your links to point at your best content while getting rid of the junk is a great way of fixing old content.
What Does Fixing Old Content Do For You?
Ok, so after all this, you’re likely wondering what fixing old content will do for your brand and your site.
It’s a reasonable request.
After all, it takes time and effort to fix the content.
You’d like something in return.
I want to start by saying that, in practical tests, there is very little improvement or gain from deleting old content.
From doing it personally, I saw our website traffic go down, but the quality of site visitors increased.
Recovering the traffic numbers will likely take time, but if the visitor is more within your target market, it’s worth it to me.
But fixing your content through the other methods has some measurable benefits.
Here’s what you can get as a result.
Fixing Old Content Increases Your Click-Through Rate
One of the best opportunities in fixing old content is the ability to use search results data to improve your content.
When you better understand what people were looking for when they landed on your content, you can make your content focus more on that.
That makes your content even more relevant.
As searchers come across your updated, more relevant content, they’ll be more inclined to seek the answers within it.
Each time a searcher uses your result in the SERPs to get their answers, Google chalks it up as a point in your site’s favor.
And, because your content is more relevant, those visitors will spend more time there, boosting your engagement metric.
Fix Old Content Accuracy With An Update
Sometimes the content you produce isn’t as accurate as it should be.
Maybe the information you gave is older, or maybe you cited a less-reliable source.
Fixing the old content is a chance to improve that accuracy.
By opening your old content to edit, you can re-research, update, and correct the information you previously offered.
Improving the accuracy in your old content improves its authority according to Google.
And every page with a high authority score boosts the overall authority score of your whole site.
Both results bring your page up in the SERPs and earn more visitors from search.
Broken Links In Old Content Need Fixing
We talked about deleting old content earlier.
Some of the links you used in your old content may have gone to pages that were pruned by the sites they were on.
Those are known as broken links.
When the content you linked to is no longer there it hurts your authority score.
Broken links need to be removed or replaced.
Either option will benefit you more than the broken link.
Just make sure you don’t leave broken links alone when fixing old content.
That’s a foolish and avoidable mistake.
Fixing Old Content Is A Chance To Use Better Links
The quality of the links in your old content help to determine the quality of the content.
Google uses evidence sourced from authoritative sites as evidence that you’ve done your research.
So, as you’re fixing old content, why not make it better?
Research better, more valuable, more authoritative links to use in your content as a way to improve the quality.
Swap out the older, less-valuable links you may be using.
Focus especially on links to thin or outdated content.
You don’t want to link to the same kind of content you’re trying to fix.
Better references equate to a better SERP position for your old content.
Fixing Old Content Is Essential To Great Search Optimization
SEO isn’t complete just because you added the keywords and used great internal links.
You’ve got to be sure that you’re providing value to your audience.
And, while you may be doing that with all your new content, your old content can’t lie stagnant.
Fixing old content is as important as creating new content if you want to earn an excellent SERP rank.
Take the time to make your old content better to help you rank better.
The visitors, leads, and sales you earn will make it all worth the work.