Creating new content vs. optimizing old webpages: Which is better for SEO?
You want the overall quality of your website to be high, not just the new webpages you are creating now or in the future.
Should the larger focus of your SEO efforts go toward creating new content or updating existing content?
In my opinion, you should dedicate about half of your SEO efforts to updating old content, and the other half to creating new content.
Webpages build value over time
The content on your website can remain relevant for years to come.
Pages that have been published for some time have presumably built up links and visibility. That creates a lot of page value.
That means those pages can still show up in the search results for the queries your target audience is using today.
Freshness is generally less of a concern for Page Quality rating. “Stale” pages can have high Page Quality ratings.”Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines
What does this mean?
Older content can still be relevant and considered high quality.
Think: An informational page about the American Civil War.
However, other types of old content can only remain relevant if the material is considered “evergreen” and up to date.
Over time, any given website could have hundreds or thousands of outdated webpages.
Google may not trust a site where two-thirds of the pages are, say, three years old or older and have outdated information on them. Especially if those topics are being refreshed by your competition.
You can do a quick check on your older content and see for yourself. When you published the page years ago, did it rank on Page 1 in search results? And is it on Page 2 or lower now?
Usually, a refresh of the content can bring it back to Page 1.
Normal things depreciate over time. If not maintained, webpages eventually rot away and become useless. But well maintained, they remain a valuable asset.
If a webpage is designed and researched, outlined and written, edited and optimized – and engagement objects like images and video are added – that can take eight hours for quality work. That time has a significant cost.
You can ignore it and essentially write it off, or you can keep it fresh. We prefer the latter as a content strategy and tactic.
What Google says
Google says you should spend time maintaining your website in order to ensure quality:
… unmaintained/abandoned “old” websites or unmaintained and inaccurate/misleading content is a reason for a low Page Quality rating.Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines
- An old or unmaintained webpage may be considered low quality. This is especially true for “your money or your life” pages – those that can impact a person’s health, finances, etc.
- A webpage that contains inaccurate information is low quality, period. You might need to update your webpages frequently just to keep your info current, depending on your subject matter.
In a 2019 “Office Hours” session, Google’s John Mueller talked about evergreen versus fresh content:
” … We do try to find a balance between kind of showing evergreen content that’s been around and kind of being seeing more as reference content and kind of the fresher content and especially when we can tell that people are looking for the fresher content.”
You can listen to that answer here:
Mueller is likely referring to the concept of “query deserves freshness” – the kinds of search queries whose results need to reflect new content. You can read more about that in a 2011 Google blog post here.
In another Office Hours video from 2021, Mueller addressed how to handle old content:
” … if it’s something that you think is good content that you want to publish with your website, with your name, then I would keep it. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s bad. But if you look at it and you say, oh, this is embarrassing for me now, I don’t want it to be online. It’s like so bad. Then that’s something where I’d say either improve it or remove it.”
You can listen to that answer here:
What to do? A content audit
In addition to creating new webpages for your SEO program, a web content audit is going to be key to prioritizing how you refresh old pages.
A content audit identifies weak and underperforming content on your website so that you can improve it.
Using Google Analytics and a tool like Screaming Frog, Semrush or our SEOToolSet, you can get all the data you need to understand the webpages on your site.
Once you’ve compiled the necessary data, you will divide your webpages into three categories. Those that:
- Garner the most rankings and traffic (e.g., those on Page 1 of the search results).
- Have the potential to get better rankings and traffic (e.g., those on Page 2 of the search results).
- Perform poorly and aren’t in either of those categories.
Then, you can:
- Focus on strengthening the content in the first two categories.
- Figure out what to do with the rest, which is the poor-performing content. Some webpages may need a content refresh, others may need optimization. And some content may just need a 301 redirect to a more current URL on the same subject.
Grow and maintain your content
The beauty of SEO is that your webpages build value over time through visibility and links. So all the great work you put into them can continue to pay off in traffic and, hopefully, revenue.
But you do need to maintain your website throughout its entire lifecycle.
So to strengthen your SEO program, make sure you spend 50% of your content-focused time creating new webpages and 50% of the time refreshing the old.
As a last encouragement … Your website might already have hundreds or even thousands of outdated pages, and getting a handle on it can be a big project.
Build refreshes into a regular schedule just as you do with creating new content.
Get into a rhythm of identifying existing pages related to each new page, and either update or consolidate them as part of your content creation process.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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