My Content Refreshing Process (With 4 Real Examples)

*This post was originally published on the Search Engine Journal and you can view that version here.

I started incorporating content updating into my workflow about five years ago and quickly noticed that while some content shot up in the SERPs after an update, others remained stubbornly stagnant.

Over time, I developed a strategy that helped improve the ratio of successful content updates to failed content updates.

Using this strategy (which I outline below), I helped Single Grain double their traffic from 9,000 to 18,000 monthly visits in a 12 month period.

Below, I’ll walk you through the strategy I use with all of my clients today and then I’ll show you several specific examples of content I updated.

Step 1: Choose The Best Content to Refresh

Perhaps the most significant thing I learned about content refreshing in the past several years is that it’s critical to choose the right posts to refresh. 

What does that mean?

I now only refresh posts that already have some traction and are stagnant or losing traffic.

In the Single Grain case study, which consisted of 50 updated posts, about 25 of them (Group A) had more than 20 monthly visits pre-update. The other 25 posts (Group B) had less than 20 visits per month pre-update.

Combined, these 50ish posts drove 9,000 monthly visits before the refresh and 18,000 monthly visits six months after the refresh.

Interestingly enough, Group A (posts with significant initial traction) contributed 85.2% of the total traffic gains while Group B (posts with little initial traction) only contributed 14.8% of the total traffic gains. (Keep in mind that both Group A and Group B had roughly 25 posts each.)

From a traffic perspective, that means that about 7,668 of the additional 9,000 monthly visits came from Group A (posts that already had initial traction) while only 1,332 of the 9,000 additional monthly visits were attributed to the posts from Group B (those with less than 20 monthly visits).

Therefore, if you want to take the 80/20 approach to content refreshing, prioritize updating the posts that previously performed well and are now losing traffic.

I also like to regularly (every 6-12 months) update my top traffic generating posts, especially if they have slipped (even just a little bit) in the rankings.

You can find these posts by going to Ahrefs’ top content feature and scrolling through that list.

I also encourage everyone to track the conversions generated from their posts, so if you know which posts drive a lot of conversions, be sure to update those posts regularly as well. 

Step 2: Perform SERP Analysis

Now that you know which posts to refresh, the next step is to understand why your post isn’t ranking first. While there isn’t always a clear answer (especially if the keyword is ultra competitive), it’s a good idea to at least try to uncover what you could do better within your post.

Specifically, I look at two things in this stage:

  • Does the post align with the searcher’s intent?
  • Do the other posts provide additional useful information that yours lacks?

Let’s dive into this.

Does The Post Align with The Searcher’s Intent?

Here’s the short checklist I use to identify whether or not a post aligns with the search intent:

  • Is the post format correct? (e.g., you wrote a guide when it should be a list post) A quick Google search will tell you what the post format should be.
  • Is the information above or below the searcher’s knowledge level? If you’re talking to a CMO, make sure you aren’t discussing concepts that are obvious to them.
  • Does it include irrelevant information? Searchers want the quickest answer to their question so don’t include information they don’t care about.

Finally, I ask myself if the other posts provide useful information that ours lacks.

To answer this question, you’ll have to dive into each of the top ranking posts and read at least the subheadings to see if you’re missing any key concepts.

The idea isn’t to copy your competitor’s content, but rather to identify opportunities where you might be missing some key concepts that the searcher does want to know about.

For example, if I was writing a post on how to choose a car and realized that my post doesn’t include anything about purchasing from a dealer vs an individual, whereas all of the other top ranking posts do mention this, I’ll definitely want to add a section on this.

Some people jump into content refreshing by just looking at the additional keywords they could add to the post, though I find it more useful to identify concepts your post is missing.

Step 3: Identify Old Examples, Stats, and Facts

It’s pretty obvious that you should update outdated information like old stats or facts that are no longer relevant.
However, I also challenge you to include more insightful examples, stats and facts than your competitors.

You’ve probably noticed that most content marketers tend to use the same examples, statistics, and facts to support common claims.

For example, I Googled “B2B SaaS Marketing Examples,” and the top three results all discuss, Wistia, Mailchimp, and Slack. In addition, there are plenty of times where the same tool is mentioned in at least two of the three articles.

So as you’re updating your posts, be sure that the examples/case studies you include are original and fresh.

However, this doesn’t just apply to example-based list posts.

Whenever you’re making a point, inject your own experiences and ideas into the content – don’t just use the same stats and examples to support your argument.

You (or another expert’s) opinions and experiences are what make the content interesting.

Step 4: Test Your Title Tag/Meta Description

Increasing a post’s CTR (even just a little bit) can significantly increase the traffic your content generates.

So what should you test within your title tags and meta descriptions?

First, ask yourself what the searcher’s pain point is. If you just communicate in the title that you’re going to solve that pain point more efficiently and painlessly than all of the other options, you’ll probably win the click.

However, if you feel stuck, here are a few recommendations:

  • Include the keyword at the front of the title tag versus midway through the title
  • Try using a Buzzfeed style title
  • Use emojis in the title
  • Using percentages/proof (Example: How to Improve Your CTR by 140%)
  • How you emotionally charge it (positive, solution versus fearful, avoidance)

You’ll probably find that different audiences respond differently to each of these tests, so even if you’ve run title tag tests in the past, be sure to test any new brand you work with.

Content Refreshing Examples

To give you an idea of just how powerful content refreshing is and help you understand how I approach updating a piece of content, I wanted to show you a few of the examples I’ve done.

Storytelling Marketing Examples

Screenshot of the post before the update
Screenshot of the post after the update

Results: Traffic increase by 160% 6 months post update

What I Changed

Changed Nearly All Examples

I recommend updating outdated examples, and in this case, it was even more important as most of the examples weren’t relevant to our target audience (B2B companies). For example, Bacardi was one of the examples, which isn’t relevant to most B2B companies.

Some examples were also a little generic such as Dove and Nike (most people have already mentioned them as good examples of brand/storytelling content).

Therefore, in the updated screenshot, you can see that the examples I included were much more relevant.

Added Extra Examples

I also noticed that most of the other posts ranking in the SERPs had more examples. Therefore, I added an additional two examples to make it align better with the other posts. You don’t necessarily have to have more examples than the other posts, but it’s good to be at least in the same ballpark.

Removed Irrelevant Content

One of the most significant things I changed was removing a LOT of unnecessary information. As the keyword this post targets is “examples,” there was no need to include excess information on the science behind storytelling and an additional 1500 words explaining the principles of storytelling content.

In fact, while this post had about 1800 words before the examples, the other posts ranking for the keyword only had 100-200 words before diving into the examples.

For more information on this, go back up to the search intent section. This is a perfect example of how the information included is irrelevant to the searcher – they want examples for quick inspiration, not a detailed explanation of storytelling content.

Changed The Keyword

One thing I didn’t mention in this post is that I do occasionally change the keyword I’m targeting. However, you have to be careful with this. In this case, it was targeting “storytelling content marketing examples” which had a volume of just 10 and low difficulty (showed up as N/A in Ahrefs). However, I noticed that “storytelling marketing examples” had much more volume (70) and an attainable difficulty level for this website (35).

As “marketing” is a broader umbrella that “content” falls under, it made sense to swap out the keyword as it was basically the same intent. Changing the keyword also helped it rank for broader keywords like “storytelling examples” and “examples of storytelling.”

However, I caution you to be careful with changing the keyword as you need to make sure that the post fulfills the search intent of the new keyword.

31 Best Digital Marketing Campaigns

Screenshot of the post before the update
Screenshot of the post after the update

Results: Traffic Increase 300% 9 Months Post Update

What I Changed

Replaced All Examples

This post was essentially a rewrite. Similar to the example above, I found that most of the examples included were major B2C brands that aren’t our target audience. However, the key to driving this post’s traffic through the roof was replacing the old examples with new ones.

Improved The Search Intent

You’ll notice that in the original screenshot, the first post focuses mainly on brands and drops a few different marketing campaigns that brand did within the section. However, I noticed that the keyword we were targeting is “best digital marketing campaigns.” Therefore, instead of just writing about more brands, I chose just one campaign from a brand and did a deep dive on it. By deep diving into one specific campaign, the reader could easily swipe that campaign’s framework rather than being left with a vague idea of a half baked marketing campaign formula.

Improved The Title

While the original title was “30 Brands with the Best Digital Marketing Campaigns,” I changed it to “31 Best Digital Marketing Campaigns You Can Swipe.” Essentially, I moved up the keyword in the title and, because I knew the searcher wanted quick inspiration to create better marketing campaigns (rather than a list of brands that have run a few good campaigns), I took “brands” out of the title. In addition, by saying “you can swipe,” it let them know they could easily copy these campaign frameworks.

17 Engaging Video Content Types

Screenshot of the post before the update
Screenshot of the post after the update

Results: Traffic increase from 1600 to 2700 (69%) 6 months post update

What I Changed

Swapped Some of the Video Types:

One of the best questions to ask yourself as you’re updating content is, “would I take this advice?” When I looked at some of the video content types, I thought they didn’t really make sense. For example, “Behind the Scenes Videos” was one of the video types. However, I can’t think of any B2B companies with wildly successful “behind the scenes” videos. Therefore I decided to replace it with other types of videos that I have seen work for B2B companies.

Elevated The Content:

I found that most of the copy explaining each video content type was a little too basic for our target audience. For example, most companies know what a vlog is, but executing it is more difficult. Therefore, I spent most of the section explaining examples of each video type and specific details on how you could execute a strategy similar to that brand.

Added Actionable Takeaways:

In the first version of this post, there aren’t any actionable takeaways. However, if people can’t take action on any of the advice in your post, they will leave pretty quickly. Therefore, I added some actionable takeaways.

Removed Dated Statistics:

This post contained a lot of dated statistics, so I worked on removing them and either added anecdotes to support my claims or more current statistics.

How to Create a Powerful Content Marketing Funnel

Screenshot of the post before the update
Screenshot of the post after the update

Results: Traffic increased by 106% percent four months post update from 4,400 to 9,100 and it is currently the top performing post on Single Grain’s website. 

What I Changed

Changing The Copy To Be More Skimmable:

This post was tricky to update, and while I kept the framework the same, I changed about 80% of the copy.

If you read through the original post, you’ll see an analogy at the beginning explaining an effective and ineffective marketing funnel. However, the rest of the post (which is several thousand words long) continues referring back to the top analogy (Molly Marketer). I found this made it difficult to skim because if you forgot the analogy or didn’t read it, you won’t understand the majority of the post.

Adding Actionable Takeaways:

Again, the first post mentions a lot of theories but doesn’t discuss how to actually execute anything. Here’s an example:

Therefore I rewrote it to make it more actionable by including examples of how you can capture TOFU attention.

Cutting Irrelevant Sections:

I found a section in the original version of the post on “Qualifying Leads in Your Sales Funnel: MQLs and SQLs.” I’m guessing this was in an effort to try to get the post to rank for more keywords. However, it’s irrelevant to a searcher building a marketing funnel.

While the information may be useful, it makes the article too broad and overwhelming for the reader. In addition, search engines probably look at it and say, “well this isn’t just about marketing funnels, so it’s probably not the best result for marketing funnels.” Therefore, they will ultimately rank it lower.

I highly recommend you skim through the original post and the post after I updated it to get a feel for the nuances I adjusted in the copy. There were a lot of small changes just in the language that positioned this post much better than the original post.

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