What Should You Do With Old Content? Part 1 Of 3

December 2, 2014

Answer: It depends. But don’t ignore it. 

Don’t ignore your old and potentially outdated content. You don’t yet know if it could be a huge burden or a huge opportunity for your site. Your old pages might also be where the majority of your audience lands; in October 2014, for example, about 2/3rds of traffic to our blog was to articles published prior to 2014.

Many folks take the “set it and forget it” approach to content (and to blogs in particular), spending a ton of time creating it, yet never revisiting it. This is a shame – there are potentially huge returns to investing time in revisiting-and-revising the old stuff. (I can personally attest to said returns, as we’ve seen plenty of success addressing old content for our clients). So do something.

You should carefully consider several options to handling old content. In this series, I’ll lay out those options and suggest a framework for choosing the most appropriate method for dealing with it. Part 1 begins with considerations.

What’s the problem?

Is not the first step to answering a complicated question asking a simpler question?

Because you probably have more options for handling old content then you realize, because the options range very widely in impact and effort, and because the very act of analyzing old content can be so time-intensive – you must first understand your unique situation.

An initial question might be Why are you concerned with your old content? Your first step might be to jot down as many reasons as you can think of, then figure out which ones matter. Be sure to define your pain points.

Next factor in labor/resources, SEO authority, relevance, and UX so that you can frame the whole picture.


First, think about staff, time, and money. Some questions to ask might include:

  • How much time and resources do we have? Is time or money at a premium?
  • Can we reallocate resources? What are the options to doing so?
  • How much time has been already spent in necessary handling old or outdated content? On what activities? Any “required maintenance” activities that re-occur multiple times per month or week, for example in fielding undesirable comments and inquiries?
  • What kind of resources do we have? Consider the skills available to work on content. For example, do you have a skilled web developer free that can hack automation rules, apply special messages to groups of articles, or whip up special formatting for various needs? Do your interns need something to do? Can you tap your writers? Do you have someone familiar with SEO? Do you have someone who can do the research and analysis? Or do you have a fat discretionary budget so that you can do whatever you want?

SEO Authority

Next, figure out if old pages are a burden or opportunity to help other pages rank. In SEO, authority (or link equity or PageRank, if you prefer) is a precious and finite commodity. All of your pages take some authority away from the rest. Some pages are givers – they pass more than they take, depending on how you link to them and how much authority and links that page has earned.

Use a link analysis tool like  Moz’s Open Site ExplorerMajestic SEO, or ahrefs to get the data you need for questions like these:

  • Do current priority pages really need more authority?
  • Do I have too many pages? This may be the case if well-optimized pages can’t rank highly for target keywords (that aren’t too competitive). It occurs when you have a lot of pages compared to your authority; i.e. you have more takers than givers.
  • How much of your total site authority is in those old pages?
  • Which of my old pages are givers and which are takers?


Ask yourself:

  • Is the old content relevant to current business objectives?
  • Is the old content addressing subject matter and keywords that are important to content marketing or SEO objectives?
  • Is the old content closely related to new content?


Perhaps the greatest consideration is the impact of the old content on the user experience. Figure out how much it’s hurting UX, and figure out if there may be high-potential content mixed in your old content that users might actually love. Sample UX questions:

  • Is it old, outdated, or expired? Is the old stuff totally bad or is just a little stale?
  • How much is the old content confusing and upsetting your users?
  • Was any old content considered awesome at any point in time? Did it pull good numbers, have good engagement metrics, or get shared or interacted with much?
  • Is there good stuff in there still? All or some? Is there any content in the old pages that is still relevant to users, or is it all outdated or expired? If there’s relevant content, is it high quality?
  • Is there any content in there on a high-interest topic? What does keyword research and performance numbers on the topic show?

Check Back Soon!

Check out Part 2, where I lay out your options for handling old content, and stay tuned for Part 3, which provides a framework for making the right call using the considerations we just reviewed here in Part 1.