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How to Increase Organic Traffic With A Content Renovation [A Step-by-Step Guide]

Traffic and Cars

In the past few years, the way search engines analyze and rank content has shifted dramatically. Pumping out subpar content that offers little value doesn’t work, and it hasn’t for many years.

But, I am not hear to talk about how “content is king.” If you have been paying attention, you already know this.

What I do want to talk about is all the skeletons buried in your content closet. I am talking about old content, like:

  • The super short post you published five years ago promoting a long-dead giveaway
  • That one-paragraph blog post announcing a new product you no longer even carry
  • The 300-word post with a whopping 20 percent keyword density (Eww)
  • That old affiliate post for a sketchy company from back when you were still trying to figure out monetization

Best practices have changed, and it is time to clean up all those old posts. However, if you have been consistently publishing for a few years, you likely have hundreds, if not thousands, of posts on your site. It is overwhelming to imagine tackling them all.

Is It Really Worth It?

Yes. A million times yes. Nearly every site that has been publishing content for more than a few months will benefit from a content renovation.

Cleaning up that old content offers several benefits, including:

  1. Increasing your organic search traffic, sometimes by upwards of 30 percent
  2. Improving user experience
  3. Decreasing your chance of being penalized by search engines by mistakes made before they were even mistakes
  4. Highlighting gaps in your content so you can create new, fresh content

Here is the thing: it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

I am going to give you the step-by-step process I have used to organize and attack content renovations for multiple clients over the last few years. This process works for clients of all sizes — from those with a dozen posts to those with over a thousand posts to update.

But first, I want to talk about what areas you need to look at.

6 On-Page SEO Factors to Correct in Your Content Renovation

Before we dig into the step-by-step process, I want to go through the most common fixes you will be making. The goal here is to get every post up to current on-page SEO standards. To do this, you will need to address:

  • Heading Structure
  • URL Structure
  • Key Term Usage
  • Meta Titles & Descriptions
  • Image Usage & Optimization
  • Link Usage

To be fair, you could spend months renovationing your entire site for each of these separately. The goal here is not to produce a site with 100 percent absolutely perfect on-page SEO. Don’t get caught up in all the details.

Instead, take a global approach and work to make significant improvements in all these areas. If digging deeper in certain areas makes sense for your site, go for it. Just don’t let yourself get so overwhelmed by all the improvements you could make that you end up making none at all.

Heading Structure

As a visual element, heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) help to organize your content so readers can better read and understand your post or article.

From an SEO standpoint, headings send signals about what topics your post covers and the order of importance of each topic. They should be used like an outline to organize sub points. You should also try to  include key terms where they make sense.

For example:

<H1>How to Make The Best Nachos

<H2>It Starts With The Chips

<H3> Corn Chips

<H4> The Best Corn Chips are From Aldi

<H3> Tortilla Chips

<H2> Next, Choose a Protein

<H3> Beef

<H3> Chicken

<H3> Beans

<H4> Black Beans for Lyfe

<H2> Add Cheese

<H3>Queso

<H3> Shredded

<H3> Vegan

In most CMSs, particularly in WordPress, your title will automatically become your H1, so you only need to worry about H2 and on.

URLs

Your URLs matter for both SEO and for user experience. For example, if you want to learn more about, say, how to grow tomatoes, would you rather go to www.example.com/how-to-grow-tomatoes or www.example.com/blog-34632323423?

The first example gives the reader a good indication of what content they will find when they get to the other end of that link. It also contains a key term, which offers some SEO benefits.

There is one caveat — you don’t want to go changing tons of your URLs, and you especially don’t want to do it without implementing 301 redirects to the new URL.

This can become a huge project in its own right, depending upon how you have structured URLs in the past. In general, you want to use key terms when they make sense and use a well-organized URL structure.

Key Term Usage

This is another topic that could become a massive project in its own right. However, you do not need to spend hours doing key term research to see results.

For each post, ask these questions:

  • Is the key term used a handful of times? (Remember, more isn’t better.)
  • Did we use synonyms and long tail key terms when possible?
  • Is the key term used in at least one heading?
  • Did we avoid using the key term in anchor text for outbound links?

I highly recommend Yoast to help make sure your key term usage is up to par.

Meta Titles & Descriptions

Your meta title and meta description will be the very first impressions most readers will get of your post. It is worth carefully considering what first impression you are making in the search results.

Best practices include limiting titles to around 60 characters, and descriptions to around 300 characters to avoid being cut off.

You should also include a key term near the beginning of the title and description, if it is possible to do so in a natural way. Leading questions or teasers about the content to entice readers to click are also useful.

Do not, for the love of all that is good and holy, use phrases like “You won’t believe what happens next…” Be honest, be clear, and above all, provide value.

Read this post by Moz to learn more about how to write effective meta titles and descriptions.

Images

Using high-quality, useful images really is one of the easiest ways to renovate your content. Here are best practices for image optimization:

  • Include at least one image per 250 words or so.
  • Make sure the images are high quality, not pixelated.
  • Make sure they are the right size for social media sites you most often share content on.
  • Include alt tags with key terms/long tail key terms that make sense.
  • Include key terms in your file name when possible.

If it makes sense for your site, you might also consider adding Pinterest-optimized images. I suggest using sites like Snappa to create professional-looking images.

Links

Checking all the internal and external links in old blog posts can have a massive impact on your organic search traffic because Google penalizes a lot of old link-building practices.

For each post, you should:

  1. Open and check each and every link.
  2. Remove any links that don’t make sense or go to spammy sites.
  3. Remove any links you placed using black- or grey-hat tactics (old affiliate links, link trades, paid links, etc.).
  4. Add new internal links to your best content. Use key terms in anchor text where it makes sense.

Checking all your links is really important, even if you didn’t employ any shady link practices in the past. If you have been publishing content for years, there is a good chance some sites you linked to eight years ago are no longer owned by the same company.

I’ve seen a very good site linking to a really, really spammy site because the business website of an interviewee is now a spam site.

Bonus Points

If you are tackling hundreds of posts, the details can get overwhelming. So, don’t feel like you have to do ALL THE THINGS. Every small change will have exponential results, but don’t let the details overwhelm you to the point where you do nothing at all.

With that said, there are a few more adjustments that can take your old content from average to exceptional.

Interactivemedia Additions: Consider adding interactive elements like videos, charts, infographics, and audio to increase time on page and user experience.

Check the Length: Exceptional content tends to be longer. I rarely see really great content that is less than 2500 words or so, but not all content needs to be that long. However, don’t add length just for the sake of length. The content must be useful.

Test Titles: Use a plugin to test the most effective titles for each post.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Renovating Old Content

Okay, now that we have covered all the gritty details, let’s look at what the content renovation process will look like. Keep in mind, the goal is to create really awesome content, not just follow a bunch of arbitrary rules.

Step 1: Pull a Content List

The very first step is pulling a list of all your content, including links and traffic, and putting it into a spreadsheet. This can be done in Google Analytics. This video shows you exactly how to pull the content.

How to Pull a List of All Your Blog Posts from Google Analytics

  1. Sign into Google Analytics
  2. In the left side bar click “”Behavior”
  3. Then “Site Content”
  4. Then “All Pages”
  5. In the upper right corner, click “Export,” then choose a file type

I like to export into Google Drive because it allows multiple people to work on the spreadsheet at the same time.

Once you export the data, you will want to clean up the spreadsheet by deleting the information at the top and cleaning up the extra rows. When you are done, it will look something like this:

The data is already sorted by unique page views, which I prefer. This way you start working on the posts that receive the most traffic, which is where your updates will have the greatest impact.

You will also want to delete rows for category pages, author profiles, about pages, etc. This will leave you with only the blog posts.

A few other suggestions for making your spreadsheet pretty:

  • Freeze the top row so you will always be able to see the column headings.
  • Hide any data you don’t need to see. For example, here I would probably hide entrances, bounce rate, exit, and page value.
  • Add the “Live URL” column to each post as you work them. It makes it easier to go back and check things.

Step 2: Analyze Your Posts

Now, it is time to prioritize the changes on your site. Look at the top three to five posts on your spreadsheet. Based on new best practices, where do you need to focus?

All your posts should address the list we went through at the beginning of the post, but you may find additional areas you want to focus on.

For example:

  • Add Pinterest image
  • Length +1000 words
  • New featured image
  • Add video, etc.

Step 3: Organize Your Spreadsheet

Now is the fun part. You get to create the spreadsheet you will work from. Start by adding columns to your spreadsheet based on the areas you need to focus on.

This will function as a checklist as your team works through all your content.

I also like to add color codes so anyone can easily scan the sheet and get an overview of how the project is progressing.

Longer descriptions of each column type are also helpful if you have multiple team members working on the project. For example:

I also suggest adding links you might need often — for example, to a style guide or approved image sources.

Step 4: Make a Plan

The example I am using only has a few posts — there is a good chance you are looking at a much longer spreadsheet. To make sure the work actually gets done, you need to create a schedule and assign the work out.

Who is going to do the work? Who is going to check the work? How many posts can each person complete each day? Does your developer need to be involved?

Every post will need to be read from top to bottom. Correct grammar, check links, add new images, add content, and so forth. On average, I find most posts take an average of 30 minutes to update. The average for your site might be very different, but that is a good starting point.

It is unlikely you have multiple people who can dedicate 100 percent of their time to this project, so you might consider giving each person a per-week article quota.

Step 5: Mark Articles for Deletion/Redirect

Some posts can’t be saved. Those should be marked for deletion if they are getting very minimal traffic. If they are seeing some traffic, they should be redirected using a 301 redirect  to a better post on a similar topic.

Keep in mind, Google no longer penalizes for this:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>30x redirects don&#39;t lose PageRank anymore.</p>&mdash; Gary &quot;鯨理&quot; Illyes (@methode) <a href=”https://twitter.com/methode/status/757923179641839616?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>July 26, 2016</a></blockquote>

<script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Step 6: Work Through from Top to Bottom

Here is where you and your team do the heavy lifting. Start working through your spreadsheet, updating each post, and marking each one off as it is updated.

For most teams, this will take a few months. Updating content can be tedious work, and you have a business to run, too!

Step 7: What Do the Stats Say?

This is the fun part! After all the work is done, what improvements do you see? Most often, my clients see massive increases in organic search, an uptick in leads, increased email sign ups, and higher time on page. Seeing what content does well will also give you insight into what you should do for new content.

A content renovation is a massive undertaking, but my hope is that seeing it broken up into smaller, manageable steps gives you the confidence to tackle it.  There is so much useless content out there clogging our news feed, our inboxes, and the search results. A content renovation will ensure you are not contributing to the noise, but instead are sharing useful information — and building your brand.

A final suggestion: As you go through each post, keep a side list of areas that constantly need improvements so you can create new editorial guidelines for your brand. This will make sure your new content is up to standard.

About the author

Danielle Antosz

Danielle is a Chicago-based content marketer and writer who enjoys long walks through Ikea, defending the necessity of the Oxford comma, and drinking coffee with more cream and sugar than is strictly necessary.