How to Update Old Content that is not Ranking

You’ve decided to do an audit of your website, and you find that you have tons of old content that doesn’t rank. Although you could leave it as it is, SEO experts will tell you you shouldn’t do this because it will drag down the SEO ranking and overall authority of your entire website. Google doesn’t recommend you remove it either. According to Google’s Gary Illyes, “it’s not guaranteed that you will get any positive effect from that”.

So what exactly should you do about that old content? Google’s John Mueller himself gave us the answer: “Improving it means that rankings can only go up”.

Read on to learn how to do just that. 

Why Improve Old Content That Doesn’t Rank

Improving and updating your old content that doesn’t rank can help your overall SEO performance for several reasons: 

  1. It Helps Your Click-Through Rate

This is a no-brainer. People are more likely to click on content that was published more recently. If you’re looking for a product review, for example, I’m sure you would gravitate towards content dated January 2020 rather than January 2018. The 2018 content is less valuable because a lot can happen in two years. A great product in 2018 could have easily turned into a terrible product in 2020 due to a change of supplier, new ingredients, and so on. It could even have been discontinued. 


Click-through rates matter to search engine results. A study by Larry Kim found there was a strong correlation between search rankings and expected CTR. Kim said that pages that had a CTR that was higher than the average enjoyed a boost in rankings. 

  1.  It Helps You Give Visitors a Positive User Experience

If you access your old content and read through it again, you can easily correct any grammatical or spelling mistakes you might have overlooked when you first wrote the article. That immediately improves the quality of the content. Well-written content is more likely to rank highly in search results

Just look at what Matt Cutts from Google had to say about the apparent relationship between spelling mistakes and a page’s ranking: 

We noticed a while ago that, if you look at the PageRank of a page (how reputable we think a particular page or site is) the ability to spell correlates relatively well with that. So, the reputable sites tend to spell better and the sites that are lower PageRank, or very low PageRank, tend not to spell as well.”

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Although he didn’t say spelling on websites was a ranking factor, he did say that the “ability to spell” was a common factor among the pages that rank well on Google. 

Duane Forrester, senior product manager at Bing, was more direct. This is what he had to say on Microsoft’s search engine blog:

“….just as you’re judging others’ writing, so the engines judge yours. If you struggle to get past typos, why would an engine show a page of content with errors higher in the rankings when other pages of error free content exist to serve the searcher? Like it or not, we’re judged by the quality of the results we show. So we are constantly watching the quality of the content we see.”  

Besides, when you correct those grammatical or spelling mistakes, you’ll be improving the user experience for your website visitors, too. Poorly written content negatively affects user experience. According to Adobe, here’s how bad grammar and spelling mistakes do just that:

  • They disrupt a good reading flow.
  • They increase a user’s perceived risk of engaging in an experience
  • They compromise the authenticity of the experience
  • They allow for a deviation from the point of the experience 

So when you improve your old content and rid it of mistakes, you improve that experience straight away. The result? Visitors will stick around longer and will be more likely to return. 

  1. It Helps You Give More Value to Readers

Things move fast online, and data, facts, and statistics can quickly go out of date. If you don’t update your old content once in a while, it will no longer provide the same value to website visitors. 

Let’s say a social media marketer is researching on the best platform to use for running social media contests. They come across your blog post on social media user statistics. They read your compelling introduction, love your illustrations, then suddenly get to that part that says there are 500,000 Facebook users worldwide as of July 2010. 

No matter how great the writing was, that social media marketer is more likely to leave your page then and there. They don’t have much use for those outdated numbers you’re giving anyway, so why would they bother to stick around?

Up-to-date, regularly updated information on your website helps to increase your credibility in your industry. People looking for valuable information will come to you because your articles are exhaustive, accurate, and updated. In other words, you become a go-to person in your niche. 

How to Get Old Content to Rank 

Now you know why improving and improving old content is your best bet, let’s have a look at a few easy improvements you can make to boost your search engine rankings and give your audience a better experience on your site. 

  1. Remove Broken Links

Broken links in an article drag down your search engine rankings. When you revisit your old content, scan it again for broken links. These usually occur because the destination website has been shut down, a piece of content removed, or the URL changed. Broken Link Checker is a fantastic and easy-to-use tool. Simply input your URL and it will show you the broken links you need to fix. 

If the page you linked to no longer exists, try to find a different resource to link to. Make sure you are linking to content that is of high quality. If you can’t find a suitable alternative resource, delete the link. No link is better than a broken one. 

  1. Include Multimedia

You can improve your search engine rankings by including other types of media in your old content. Multimedia, after all, let your brand stand out. According to Seyens, humans are visual creatures. They’d much rather read an article with images than one without. 

You might ask, what does that have to do with SEO?

Simple. When your content stands out, your visitors are more likely to stay longer on your page and not leave. Dwell time and bounce rates are critical SEO metrics. 

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If you have not included images, add some. Blog Pros found that the 100 highest-ranking blogs on the Internet used at least one image for every 350 words. So as you update your old content, add photos, graphs, charts, infographics, and so on.  

Video and audio content is great, too. According to Lemonlight, including video on your page drives an astounding 157% increase in organic traffic from search engine results. 

Here are other types of media you can include in your old content:

  • Podcasts
  • Slideshows
  • Memes
  • Gifs

Make sure the types of media you choose to include in your old content, however, fit the tone of that old content. For instance, don’t include a funny meme in your old comprehensive guide on email marketing. Guides usually exhibit an authoritative tone. The idea, after all, is for that brand that wrote that guide to establish its authority on a specific subject. A meme in the guide might not help that brand achieve that goal.

  1. A/B Test

Sometimes the only thing that’s keeping an old article from ranking is the title. So come up with multiple titles and see which one helps your old content rank better. A/B testing involves changing one element at a time and testing which version yields the best results. 

You might find that a simple change causes your rankings to skyrocket. On the other hand, you might realize that a more significant overhaul is needed and contract a custom web design agency to work on the site for you. 

When coming up with options to A/B test, focus on what Google describes as low-quality content. Low-quality content tends to have some or all of the following elements:

  • Inadequate expertise and authority of writer
  • Unsatisfying amount of content (i.e., too short)
  • Exaggerated or “clickbait” style H1 header
  • Excessive ads or supporting content that distracts from the main content
  • Lack of information about the writer or website 
  • Negative reputation of the writer or website

Come up with as many combinations as you can, and try things out. A/B testing requires time and effort, but it will help ensure your content has the best chance of ranking highly. Fortunately, you can save time by using an A/B testing tool to help you. 

  1. Update the MetaDescription

The meta description is the small snippet of text that appears under the page title in a search engine result. It helps Google understand what the site is about and is an important ranking factor. 

A good meta description can also boost your click-through rate. Therefore, ensure the meta description summarizes the main focus of the article, contains your focus keywords, and lets the searcher know what value they can expect from your site. Here are other tips on how to write a good meta description. And according to Yoast:

  • Don’t exceed 155 characters: The figure is based on the number of characters that usually appear on a screen. If you make your meta description longer, search engines might just decide to cut it and not show it entirely. The result? The meta description wouldn’t sound as snappy as you had intended it to be. 
  • Don’t use the passive voice: You want to drive people to action (in this case, to get them to click on your link). You can’t do that if your meta description is in passive voice or is plain boring. 
  • Show specifications when you can: Do this if you’re selling a product. When people search for products, they usually already have product specifications in mind. Include those in your meta description to increase the chances of your link getting those clicks.
  • Make sure the meta description matches the page content: Remember when we said the meta description should summarize the main focus of the article? It follows, then, that the meta description should match the page content. If your page doesn’t deliver the meta description’s promise, you’ll just end up losing the trust of your website visitors. In other words, don’t expect them to return afterwards.
  • Make your meta description specific to each page: Don’t use a meta description template. Take the time to craft a meta description specific to each page. If you don’t have time to write one, just remember this: it’s better to have no meta description at all than have duplicate meta descriptions for different pages.

Check out these meta descriptions, for Hubspot and Thomasnet, respectively: 

Each meta description summarizes what the main article is about, telling the reader what to expect. They are also keyword-optimized. It’s no wonder then that  Hubspot and Thomasnet appear at the top of search engine results for the long-tail keyword “types of email marketing”.  

  1. Do Keyword Research

Determine which keywords your old content used to rank for. For this, you can use tools such as Ahrefs or SEMRush. If you can’t pinpoint the exact keywords, you can at least make an educated guess based on the content. 

If you find these keywords are no longer used as much, or that Google demoted them, then look for other keywords the old content could rank for instead. If you need inspiration, a plugin like Keywords Everywhere is invaluable. 

Optimize the content for your chosen keywords. If you have to add more information or repurpose the article, then do so. Remember, your goal is to get the old content to rank. And it can only do that if it is optimized for keywords people actually use in search queries now. 

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  1. Check Out the Competition

Speaking of keywords, you will want to check out which websites and pages are ranking for the keywords you’re aiming for. Again, you can use Ahrefs and similar tools for this. You can also perform a simple Google search and see what the top results are. Here’s an example:

The top result is a paid ad. The other three results would be my direct competition for that particular keyphrase. Find the top ten or so highest-ranking pages for your keywords, and figure out what they have in common and why they are ranking so highly. 

Is there anything in them that your old content doesn’t have? How about the word count? Maybe their content is way longer than yours. Or maybe they all have a similar structure? How many backlinks do they have? You might want to consider writing some guest posts to build your backlink profile. The key is to learn from what the top ranking pieces of content have in common. Don’t copy directly from your competitors of course (that’s plagiarism!) but take note and write yours accordingly. 

  1. Read the Comments Section

The comments section is not just for engagement with your readers. It’s also an invaluable resource when you’re trying to make improvements to your work, too. 

If your readers asked follow-up questions or said there was something lacking in your old content, give them the information they need. Maybe they needed more actionable tips. Or maybe the information in the old content no longer applies. Perhaps the entire article lacked focus in general, and needs tightening up. 

Pay attention to what your audience wants. They know best. And if you receive a lot of comments, this is a goldmine of valuable information to help you. 

Out With Old, In With The New?

Many website owners wonder what they should do about old content that is not ranking and is dragging their overall site performance down. If you have old content that has not been performing well, don’t give up on it and remove it. This might have the opposite effect to the one you’re after. Leaving old and outdated content alone is also a big SEO mistake

Besides – you worked hard on that content. So if you can repurpose it to make it rank again, why would you not want to do that? 

The key is to find ways to improve the old content so it will perform better. In summary, here are my top tips to help you bring it up to standard: 

  • Update the data, statistics, and information 
  • Check for broken links and fix or remove them
  • Include more visual and video content 
  • Check for spelling and grammatical mistakes 
  • Update the meta description to ensure it accurately reflects the content and its value 

Don’t forget that you can find incredibly valuable insights from competitor intelligence, your comments section, and through running A/B tests to see what works. With strategy and persistence, you’ll soon see an improvement in your rankings as you update that old content.

Author Bio

Ian Loew

Ian Loew is a web entrepreneur and inbound marketing expert, and the Owner and Creative Director of Lform Design. After four years of helping Fortune 500 companies with MGT Design, Ian embarked on his freelance career before establishing Lform Design in 2005. He leads a team of creative professionals to deliver inspired online experiences via modern, responsive websites that reflect his clients’ core values. When not at the helm, Ian can be found mountain biking with friends or spending time with his family.