When we take on the task of building a website, we’re usually not thinking about when to update the content. We’re focused on how to organize and present the information on the site. For most websites, the initial creation is a big job. When it’s finished, it’s easy to think, “Well, I’m glad that’s done!”
But the fact is, if you want your site to remain relevant and perform well in search engine results, the job of updating your website is never finished. You may believe that because your content is relatively static and unchanging, there’s no need to update.
I’m going to show you why that’s a misconception, and how a little tidying up can go a long way.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “How can I keep my content fresh?”, I hope to answer that question for you today.
First, we’ll talk about when to update and why website updating is valuable. Then we’ll get to the details of what should be updated and how best to update it.
When Should You Update Website Content?
The answer to that question hinges on the type of site you’re running. Website updating is a prime example of “one size does not fit all.”
Some sites need to be updated every day. A news site where the latest post is several days old won’t be a very satisfying or popular news site. Similarly, any website that is primarily publishing information about hot or trending topics in any field will benefit from frequent updates.
If, on the other hand, your site is mainly static content that is unlikely to change, updates may be less frequent. This is often referred to by “evergreen” content.
A repository of the works of Edgar Alan Poe, for example, clearly doesn’t require updating very often. It’s more challenging to find opportunities to update sites with primarily static content, but it isn’t impossible. Some of what we’ll talk about here can work for you.
Most of our sites will fall somewhere between the two extremes of daily news and purely evergreen content. Since every website is different, updating frequency is not the same for every site.
Why It’s Important to Update Your Website
There are two different kinds of content updates: adding new content to update the site as a whole and updating old or existing content.
Two different methods, but they go hand in hand. It’s okay to focus on one more than the other. For some sites, adding new content is more critical than updating the old. But for the best overall results, you should work on both sides.
Have you ever visited a website to learn more about a person or company, and noticed that the most recent post on the site is years old? That didn’t leave a good impression, did it?
When a website appears to be stagnant, it sends a strong message of disinterest on the part of the site owner. That’s the last image you want to project to new visitors.
Along the same lines, never forget that Google likes fresh content. And we like Google, right?
Okay, I heard some of you laughing. But you don’t have to like Google to recognize its tremendous value to your site. When your site is updated, Google search is updated, giving you an opportunity to improve your placement.
The reality is that most search engine optimization is done to appease the benevolent emperors that are Google. You can’t ignore what they want, so the answer to why updating is essential kind of boils down to because Google says it is.
Regardless of what you think of them, it’s in your best interest to pay attention to what Google wants and do all you can to give it.
And remember, in most cases, updating existing articles is not a replacement for fresh new content. Again, work on both sides.
What Kinds of Website Content Should Be Updated?
It may seem like the answer to the question of what should be updated is “everything.” But that’s not necessarily true.
Updating, whether by adding new content or updating old content, takes time. So unless you’ve figured out how to get 30 hours out of a day, you’re going to have to prioritize. (Side note, if you have figured out how to get more hours out of a day, please contact me immediately.)
When focusing your updating efforts, take a look at these kinds of articles:
1. Older Posts That Still Get Traffic
If you’re looking for an easy way to update website content that also has an impact, look at older posts. Check your website stats or Google Analytics to determine what your top-performing pages are.
Take a look at the content to see if it could benefit from an update.
Keep the changes relatively light and relevant. You don’t want to completely rewrite an article that is already performing well. But you also don’t want it to contain any outdated or incorrect information.
2. Posts With a Lot of Inbound Links
Updates to these kinds of articles can be more extensive if it’s called for. The incoming links are unlikely to be affected by any changes that you make.
Assuming the topic and main points remain relatively unchanged. You can also leverage popular articles by inserting links or other low-key kinds of advertising for your site or product.
3. Articles That Were Optimized for Older Keywords
Your keyword optimization is probably built, at least partly, on keyword trends. That’s a valid strategy, but it also makes it necessary to revisit those keywords periodically. That way, you can adjust and adapt to changes in trends.
Ranking for keywords that are on the decline is still a good way to pull in traffic. But if the drop is steep or rapid, see if there’s a way to pivot the article with new, related keywords.
4. Technical Information That Has Become Outdated
As you might imagine, this is a big one for us. As a tech company, we’re constantly revisiting our tutorials and Knowledge Base articles (all 1,500 of them). We don’t want anyone searching for an answer to come across stale information.
Even if you don’t run a tech site, you may still be providing technical information that could be updated.
5. Any Article That Relies Heavily on Data or Screenshots
Data changes over time. An article about how many people are online or using a certain kind of tech can become outdated very quickly. Data may seem challenging to update, but usually, a check back to your source can provide an update.
Or at the very least, lead you to one.
The same thing applies to any article that uses screenshots to walk a visitor through a process. If—or more likely, when—that process changes, the old screenshots are going to be incorrect. I know it can be time-consuming to fix screenshots (when one is wrong, there’s usually a domino effect).
But your visitors will appreciate it.
6. All Meta Descriptions
One of the top updates you can do is reviewing your meta descriptions. We recently did a significant meta description update of some areas of our site here at GreenGeeks. As a result, many articles moved up in search engine results.
Your keywords are in your meta descriptions, so if your keyword focus changes, so should your descriptions. Remember that the meta description is what Google shows in the search results. So make sure yours say what you want them to say.
And you should do our best to update all of your meta descriptions. If you have an older site with a lot of posts, that can be a big job, I understand. But the return on your investment of time makes it worthwhile.
How to Update Your Website Content
When you’re updating older or existing articles on your website, there are a couple of things you can do to improve your site’s freshness factor.
1. Repost Blog Content
Obviously, right? It’s probably the first thing you think of when you think about updating older content. But don’t just bump an article to the front of the line by giving it a new publication date. Reposting is your chance to improve what’s there.
I like to believe I’m pretty thorough when I launch a new page or article. But when I revisit, I often find little mistakes. That can happen more than you’d like if you’re writing for a deadline or quickly posting something related to recent news.
But it can happen to any of us at any time. I read a lot of books, and I can’t remember the last book I picked up that didn’t contain at least one error. Sometimes many errors. And these are established, professional publishing companies.
None of us are immune to mistakes. Use your update time to sniff out errors.
2. Update Post Meta
You provide meta descriptions for all your posts and pages, right? If you don’t write meta descriptions, Google will write them for you.
That might sound good (hey, less work for me!), but you don’t want it to happen. You know what the main focus of your article is, and which keywords you want to target. Google is only guessing. We talked about updating meta descriptions, but they’re worth mentioning again.
3. Check All the Links
Finally, whenever you’re updating an article, check all the links. Dead links from your website can contribute to the impression of disinterest that we’re doing our best to avoid. It’s not always fun trying to find replacements for broken links, but it’s worth the effort.
Things That Trigger the Need to Update Content
So far, we’ve talked about general updating. Doing your own digging to find out what and when to update. But sometimes something happens, and you have to update to accommodate or adapt. Here are some events to watch for that may require updates.
- When you introduce a new product.
- If there is a new website element that you want to promote or explain.
- When Google makes changes to its algorithms. (This is vastly important!)
- In response to something that competitors have done.
- If there’s a topic trending that is relevant to your site.
- When customer or visitor feedback lets you know that something needs explanation.
Tracking Changes and Updates
When you update content, you expect to see a result. But often we forget that to see a result, we have to know what was happening before we made a change. So don’t forget to check your stats and analytics before making any changes.
Significant or insignificant, even a small change can have a big impact. So always get a baseline to which you can compare future performance.
Knowing the article publication date can factor into your tracking. Of course, you have that information in your WordPress admin dashboard. You may also want to know how to find out when an article was posted without logging in to WordPress. That may actually come in more handy when researching articles you didn’t write, but here are some methods:
- Check the URL – depending on the CMS used, the year and month may be in the article URL.
- Look at the comments – they’re usually dated, and the oldest ones should be close to the post date.
- Check the page – we’re used to seeing the date near the top of an article, but some sites hide it closer to the bottom of the page.
- View the page source – again, depending on the CMS, you may find a publication date in the page source that isn’t visible on the page.
The Final Piece of the Update Puzzle: Social Media
One of the great things about updating an article is it gives you an excuse to promote it again on social media. It’s worth remembering, and good for your social media game, that an article doesn’t have to be new to be shared.
Look at your existing content and see what’s still relevant and shareable. If you’re staying on top of your updates, that should be a nice pool to choose from.
Let’s Wrap This Up Before I Have to Update It
This article has been about updating your website and providing fresh offerings to our friend Google. And you have to do that to get to the top (or stay on top).
But always keep in mind one fact: what Google really cares about is relevance.
Adding a boatload of new content that isn’t relevant to your site will not reap the same benefits as a handful of relevant, detailed, useful articles.
So stay focused, and keep it fresh!