Many companies spend a lot of time and money creating and optimizing new content for their blogs. They invest resources in writing, optimizing, and promoting each new post, but after those activities are complete, the content sits on their sites, neglected and decaying. The experience for users who come across that content degrades, and search rankings decline.
A better approach: in addition to developing content for your blog, you should invest in maintaining it.
Updating website content is typically less costly than creating new content—both in terms of time and money. Plus, performing regular maintenance on your content keeps it fresh, delivering a better user experience, and helping you maintain high rankings for content that initially received a lot of love from search engines.
Here’s what I learned.
Traffic Changes for Updated Zapier Blog Posts
The first thing I did was grab screenshots of organic traffic in Ahrefs for each post I could find on the Zapier blog that was updated and republished within the specified timeframe. This slideshow shows the traffic changes for each of the 21 updated posts:
It’s obvious from the screenshots that many of the updated posts saw dramatic traffic increases after their updates.
For example, on the day of its update (November 5, 2018), Ahrefs estimates that traffic to the post “Find Any Email Address for Free With These Tips and Tools” was 1,714/month. Six months after the update, traffic to the post had climbed to 7,920/month—a 362% increase. That increase is obvious in the screenshot of organic traffic to the post.
And on the day of its update (January 7, 2019), Ahrefs estimates that traffic to the post “The 10 Best Calendar Apps for 2019” was 14,027/month. Three months after the update, traffic to the post had climbed to 26,325/month—an 87% increase. Again, the increase is obvious.
Some of the other posts, however, look—based on the charts—to have had less dramatic changes. For example, the chart for “The Best Dictation Software for 2019” looks relatively flat, but if you look at the data, it climbed from 11,788/month on the day of the update to 18,338/month three months after the update—a 55% increase that’s not obvious when looking at the chart:
So to really take a deep look at the traffic changes pre- and post-update, I grabbed traffic estimates from Ahrefs for the day before the update, one month after the update, three months after the update (when available) and six months after the update (when available) and compiled all of those values in the spreadsheet below:
As you can see in the table above, all of the updated posts saw traffic increases after they were updated. And while some of the traffic changes were more dramatic than the others, none saw traffic decreases.
Overall, total traffic for these 21 posts went from 75,179/month the day before they were updated to 114,606/month one month after their updates—a 52% increase.
Additionally, if you compare the values from the day before each post was updated to the last measured value (either one month, three months, or six months later), updating these 21 blog posts has driven an additional 52,431 visits each month to the Zapier blog.
The Caveats of This Study
It’s important to note that Ahrefs estimates the volume of organic traffic a page gets. Those estimates are based on 1) the keywords it ranks for, 2) the volume of searches conducted for those keywords each month, and 3) the post’s ranking position for those keywords (more about how Ahrefs calculates organic traffic values).
So if we were to look at the metrics for these blog posts in Zapier’s Google Analytics, it’s likely that there would be differences. There’s no guarantee these results are 100% accurate.
However, a few studies have measured the accuracy of Ahrefs organic traffic volumes. This one from Screaming Frog found that Ahrefs tended to underestimate traffic by 17% on average. These two smaller studies found the same thing: traffic displayed in Ahrefs was lower than actual organic traffic volumes.
So it’s possible that the real traffic values for these Zapier posts are even higher than what’s shown above.
The likely reason for organic traffic being underestimated is that while Ahrefs has nearly 8 billion keywords in its database, it doesn’t track all keywords. So it’s likely that a page can rank for keywords that Ahrefs doesn’t track—keywords that drive additional traffic to the page and site.
One other thing worth mentioning is that it may not have exclusively been the updates that led to traffic increases for certain posts. For example, Deb Tennen, Zapier’s Contributed Content Manager, noted that “Zapier’s blog tends to have more traffic in March than January,” so some of the increased traffic may have simply been the result of seasonal traffic fluctuations.
What is clear is that rankings increased for each of these posts, and many began ranking for keywords they didn’t rank for before.
For example, the chart below shows the number of keywords that “Find Any Email Address for Free With These Tips and Tools” ranked for the day it was updated. It ranked for 10 keywords in SERP positions 1-3 and 142 in positions 4-10.
Here’s the same chart showing rankings data six months after the update. Six months later, the post ranks for 107 keywords in SERP positions 1-3 and 424 in positions 4-10.
Given that most searchers click results in the top five positions, it’s not a huge logical leap to predict that an increased number of rankings in positions 1-10 leads to increased traffic to the post, so it’s reasonable to believe that this data from Ahrefs mirrors the actual traffic increases that Zapier saw after updating these 21 posts.
So Is Updating Website Content a Magic Bullet for SEO?
The answer to this question is both yes and no.
If done correctly, updating old blog posts can absolutely deliver the same remarkable results that Zapier gets.
If not done correctly, updating old posts can have no impact whatsoever.
Some people think they can just republish old blog posts with a recent date and get these benefits. But that doesn’t work. Google’s crawlers know what changes have been made to a page. If all you update on a page is the date, it’s not going to consider that content refreshed, so it won’t treat it any differently than the pre-updated version of the post.
To get Google to see the post as a refreshed post, you have to make the content different and better. And “better” can mean a lot of things:
- It might mean making it better than the posts that are ranking higher than yours.
- It might mean making it more up-to-date. For example, if you’re updating a five-year-old post about the best to-do apps, you probably need to add some popular apps that have been released since the original post was written.
- It might mean formatting it correctly for search—using headers properly, adding jump nav elements, targeting featured snippets, or adding structured data.
Sometimes, successfully updating an old blog post means rewriting it almost completely. But the advantage of rewriting an old post—as opposed to just writing a new one—is that the old post likely already has some backlinks pointing to it. Those existing backlinks will help the post rank higher faster than a new post.
Getting results from updating old blog posts is a delicate balance of choosing the right posts to update and updating them in a way that both search engines and people will feel is better than the old version—and better than the other results you’re competing with for top rankings.
But if you do those two things strategically, you can absolutely drive more traffic to your site by updating old blog posts.
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