As marketers, we always want more. We want more sales and more leads. We want more page views and more followers. We want more impact, more budget, more responsibilities.
This culture of more also means we’re always looking to do more—a mentality that we bring into the content marketing practice. It’s no wonder that, more than ever, we’re creating more blog posts, e-books, infographics and other types of content.
But what if I tell you that the best content marketing strategy you can adopt today isn’t to create more content?
In a recent growth hacking experiment, I learned that one of the most effective ways of increasing organic traffic and unique pageviews isn’t to write new content—it’s to optimize the content you already have.
Why optimize old, evergreen content
Historical optimization means optimizing your “old” blog content so it’s fresh, up-to-date, and has the ability to generate even more traffic and conversions than it already does. By “old,” I just mean posts that already exist on your blog — whether you wrote them last month or three years ago.
I tried doing this for five high-performing blog posts in our corporate blog and saw a 54% increase in unique pageviews over 11 weeks.
There’s also an SEO benefit: Refreshing evergreen articles resulted to a 113% increase in organic traffic.
The lesson here: optimizing evergreen blog posts can generate a significant increase in website traffic. More importantly, the results of this growth marketing experiment strongly suggest that historical optimization brings significant SEO benefits as well.
If you’re thinking of trying this content marketing tactic, you’ve come to the right place. Based on the results of my experiment, here are some best practices for evergreen content optimization.
Analyze which blog posts are doing well—and why.
Before you rewrite a single word, make sure you understand why certain blog posts outperform others. Google Analytics is useful for this.
First, check out your top landing pages to see how people enter your site. This information is a valuable starting point to identifying the blog posts or articles that may be a good fit.
Next, check out your search console in Google Analytics to determine the keywords people have used to land on your site. Are these the queries you’d like to rank for? Are they related and relevant to the solutions your business provides?
Do a quick competitive analysis.
Once you know your top-performing blog posts, you can use a tool like Moz to check out your keyword ranking for those posts.
It’s also a smart idea to check out other articles ranking for those keywords. Specifically, check out the blog posts outranking you. Are those articles longer and more epic? Are they addressing questions related to the keyword’s topic that you’re not? Are those pages better designed for users? Do they have more social shares? What’s their domain authority and who’s linking back to them?
Checking out your competition on SERPs will help identify what you’re missing—whether that’s better content, more links, more promo or something else.
Set your criteria.
Really, the purpose of the first two steps is to establish rules and determine which blog posts to update.
In my experiment, I landed with these criteria:
- The topic must be evergreen. We do newsjacking posts, but updating those posts for this experiment did not make sense since, by definition, their topics were around topical issues. Updating posts that were informational- and research-based and had a longer life span made more sense.
- The blog post must already be attracting some decent organic traffic. This was mostly for analysis purposes. If I were to update a blog posts with very low traffic, the “after” numbers could appear too skewed if the experiments were successful.
- The article must also be old enough. I only wanted to update articles that we could rewrite significantly and in a way that actually adds more value to the piece. I felt that articles that were at least two years old fit the bill.
- We must have a logical (i.e. relevant) CTA we can include to those posts. This is mostly for conversions: if we have a related e-book, webinar, white paper or another type of content, we’re more likely to convert readers.
I’d also recommend choosing blog posts that are still relevant to your target personas. Many companies evolve their personas, and something you wrote 10 years ago won’t be a food fit, no matter how popular, if it’s no longer relevant to the people you’re writing for.
Rewrite based on everything you’ve learned so far.
Now, it’s time to go to work.
For the most part, this step is very similar to how you’d do a new blog post—with just a few minor tweaks. First, there are a few things I suggest NOT changing:
- The URL. High performing blog posts tend to have linkbacks already—so your post probably already have other articles that link to it. Touching the URL means you’d lose any SEO juice it already gained.
- The title. If your original title worked, there’s no reason to change it. Changing it could affect your click-through-rates and keyword ranking.
- The overall concept and format of the blog post. If the original piece is a listicle, the new post also need to be a listicle, for example.
As you rewrite your articles, consider going deeper than the first version. Creating epic content—deep, comprehensive pieces that answer people’s questions in detail—is now becoming an SEO advantage. Take this opportunity to create content that’s detailed and even more informative than before.
Republish your post.
It’s your time of glory. Time to hit publish!
In most CMS, you wouldn’t be able to pre-schedule a revision. Instead, what you’d want to do is to update the old post with the new rewritten content, and then publish the changes.
Here’s an important step when republishing your post: Change the publication date to when you revised it. The main benefit of doing this is to surface your rewritten post to your blog subscribers. Updating your publication date pushes the post to your blog’s homepage (that is, if your blog shows new content first) as well as to other RSS feeds.
Note: When you revise your article, include a note like the following. Being transparent this way builds your credibility with your readers.
Promote your rewritten content.
Get new eyeballs to your republished content. Promote it on social media, through email marketing and everywhere else.
I also suggest doing a quick link building ind influencer outreach campaign. For instance, if your rewritten post mentions or quotes influencers, let them know and ask them to link to it.
You can also use a tool like CoPromote to get more shares on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.
Measure your success.
As with any other content marketing and growth hacking experiments, you’d want to track your success. In my experiment, I looked at both unique pageviews and organic traffic. I didn’t include number of leads since that wasn’t as easy to measure with our marketing automation tool and content management system. But if you could, you should absolutely include number of in-target leads in your measurement.
Track your results over a long period of time. In the first few weeks after republishing, you’ll see a huge surge of traffic just from changing the date of the article. By choosing a longer time frame, you’ll be able to see the longer-term SEO impact.
If this growth hack doesn’t work for certain articles, be sure to take note why. Is it because the new post wasn’t as great as the original? Did you mess up the keyword somehow and lost ranking as a result? Noting what doesn’t work will help you get more out of historical optimization.
The most important tip when optimizing evergreen content
I want to end with a very critical advice. Don’t rewrite old blog posts unless doing so would provide more value to your customers and prospects. Don’t try to trick people by lazily rewriting posts. The rewritten post should be more valuable, more interesting and more timely than its old version. If you’re not significantly improving an existing piece of content, don’t touch it.
The point of this experiment is to show that when it comes to content marketing success, creating new content isn’t always the answer. In fact, in many cases, the content you already have is more valuable and provides more immediate ROI. As growth marketers, we should look for more ways of getting more out of the content we already have.
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