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What to Do with Old Website Content

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

If your business has been around for a while, there’s a good chance your website has a blog. How often you utilize it may be a whole other conversation, but most modern websites at least have the functionality to produce “feed”-style content that gets archived chronologically.

Whether or not you are regularly publishing new content, it’s never a bad time to look at your content strategy and figure out how you can best support your business by engaging customers and improving your SEO.

But right now, let’s put aside the idea of new content and think instead about what happens if you were to go to that archived content and scroll allllll the way to the end. Do you know off-hand what your oldest still-public blog content is?

If your business dates back this far, there’s a good chance you started churning out blog content sometime around 2010. The image below from Google Trends shows that the popularity of the word “blog” as a search term reached its apex in mid-2009.

Not to spoil the recommendations to come, but if you have old website content dated 2010 or earlier, it’s time to hit that Edit button and take some action. What action? That’s the question.

Option 1: Refreshing Old Content

Really good content that you wrote 10 years ago is still really good content… it’s just old. And web content is not something that works with that “ages like fine wine” cliché.

Google values recency, or “freshness.” This applies to publication dates as well as the recency of any data or references within the content. Google doesn’t specifically state what impact this has on your SEO, but its importance is not difficult to intuit. An article published recently, using information that is also recent, is often going to offer a more current and relevant answer to whatever question it addresses.

If you were looking for information on Alzheimer’s research, for example, wouldn’t you prefer to read about data published in 2021 over a similar article using 2014 research?

What Does “Refreshing” Content Mean?

This term gets thrown around a lot in the marketing world. Sometimes, it sounds like there’s some refresh button you should go looking for to take care of the job.

The actual actions you should take will vary based on the content you’re updating, but it can and should include the following, when applicable:

  1. Update statistics and data citations to the most current available. If you cited data from a study that is published annually, go find the most recent year’s data and update your numbers accordingly.

  2. Update your links to external references. You want to make sure your links match up with the information you’re providing. Even if you cited something from a one-time study or publication, the website where it’s hosted may have moved it. If your current link gives a 404 error, then definitely update it. Also look to see if the URL you link to is the same URL you land on. If not, the host website may have implemented a URL redirect; you should update your link to the actual page where the content is now hosted.

  3. Update your images. Sensing a theme here? If your images are dated or otherwise not as current as they could be, update!

  4. Consider if your stated recommendations or opinions have changed. Hey, it happens. That position you took five years ago didn’t age so well. Don’t be ashamed! Rewrite your content to match up with your current understanding.

  5. Reword or remove any dated references. Instead of saying “We’ve been in business for 10 years,” say, “We’ve been in business since 2012.” At the very least, change the 10 to the correct number. And instead of your fun pop culture reference to LOST, update it to a current show.

Dude, update those outdated references.

Can I Republish the Same Article with a New Date?

example of refreshed blog post

Yes, sort of. What you should not do is present an article you published five years ago as though you published it yesterday instead, without having changed anything. While Google may or may not pick up on that, it’s a poor practice to get in the habit of. It’s dishonest to your readers and potentially confusing if you don’t make the updates noted above. “Ten years ago” means something different five years after the original content is published.

However, if you take your old content, refresh it as we described above, and have made it different and more relevant, then go ahead and update that publish date. An even better option is to use a “last updated” notation to preserve the original publication date while noting the recent changes, as in this example image from the website nChannel.

Option 2: Merging Old Content

This is often a fantastic option for a number of reasons.

Let’s say you have some older content that you really like. It was clever, informative, and got you results. Unfortunately, the value of that content has tapered over the years, both in terms of SEO and the simple fact that it’s “buried” on your website and hard to find.

On top of that, if it’s a topic that’s important to your business and/or customers, you might have other information on the same topic elsewhere on your site. So, why not combine it all together?

Moving the old content to an existing page with similar content provides several benefits:

  1. It gives your old content new life, where users will find it.

  2. It gives the other existing page an upgrade by making it more thorough.

  3. It removes the content and URL that may actually be hurting your SEO by making you compete with yourself (aka “cannibalization”)

Four-Step Process for Merging Content

  1. Identify which “loser” page is being merged into which “winner” page. Only one URL will remain when you’re done, so keep the one that is currently more important.

  2. Add the loser page’s content, as appropriate, into the winner page’s content. Don’t just cut and paste. This is a situation where you want to “massage” the content in. Splice it, reword it, reorder it… whatever you need to do to make the final product read naturally.

  3. Save and publish your updated page.

  4. Create a 301 redirect from the loser URL to the winner URL. This is an extremely important step. This preserves any backlinks you may have acquired on your original (loser) page. It also means any internal links on your site, any saved bookmarks your customers might have, and any other reference that would otherwise be broken will still be functional.

Option 3: Removing Old Content

This is the scary option, but often the most sensible one. Yes, you just straight up delete your old content.

Let’s take a step back for a second. Before we delete anything, let’s discuss what advantages not deleting it — doing nothing — has.

Take a look at the performance of a specific “old” page. You can use Google Analytics to check the total incoming traffic and its sources, as well as the conversion rate of the page for the goals that matter to your business. You can also use Google Search Console to see the current and historical performance of the page in organic search. In other words, look at how much SEO value this page has relative to past performance and for what specific keywords it’s ranking.

If you look at this information and say to yourself, “Yes, this page is bringing me business,” then deleting it is probably not your best option (refer to options 1 and 2 above to increase its value). But if you look at this data and the traffic is negligible and not converting well, there’s another question to ask…

For the keywords this page is still ranking for, is it actually the page I want people to get to?

Again, if the answer is “yes,” don’t feel like you need to remove it. If the answer is “no,” or if the keywords it ranks for are largely irrelevant to your business, then don’t be afraid to just cut it loose.

Steps to Deleting Blog Posts You No Longer Want

  1. Choose another page you will redirect the URL to. If you have a better, similar page for this content, choose that. If you have no other good options, use your homepage.

  2. Add the 301 redirect and test to make sure it works.

  3. Delete! Or, to play it safer, put the page/post in “draft” or “unpublished” mode. This will keep it in your website backend while removing it from the public site.

  4. (Optional, but recommended) Remove the URL from Google’s index via Google Search Console.

WAIT! I Like My Old Content!

I get it. Maybe you like it exactly the way it is and don’t want to change it. Maybe it’s simply not a top (or middle) priority to fix up content you already have.

By doing nothing, you should expect little to change. That’s not necessarily a negative. It’s just not a positive. Highway One Marketing likes to make sure its clients are not leaving chips on the table, and keeping content up to date and “fresh” is part of that process.

Bonus Infographic:

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