If you are a blogger (and even if you aren’t), it’s likely that you have heard the phrase Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short. In the world of blogging, SEO refers to the process of finding ways to help our blog content rank better in the search engine results pages, also known as SERPs.
Because Google is the 800 lb. gorilla when it comes to search engines, ensuring that your posts show up on the first page of Google is critical. It’s one of the best ways to be sure that folks will find your content and read it. The ultimate goal is to find ways to get your content to that magical first place ranking.
But optimizing and updating old blog posts isn’t easy. It’s an ongoing process that requires an understand of how the search algorithms work and a commitment to periodically enhancing your posts in order to ensure that they not only rank well, but rank well for a broad range of search terms.
The more work you put into updating your old blog posts, they harder they will work for you and the more visitors they will bring to your site.
QUICK NOTE: I know this is a really long post and the length might seem like this is a scary process. Don’t let that deter you. The post is long because I tried to detail every step of the process. At the end, you’ll find a handy checklist that will speed you through the process once you have gone through once.
Since I have been blogging since 2008, and here on SocMedSean.com since 2010, I have spent a *lot* of time working to identify ways to make my old blog posts perform better. I’ve worked to develop a process that seems to work pretty well when it comes to updating old blog posts.
To help you on your way to optimizing your older posts for the search engines, I thought I’d lay out the step-by-step process in detail to give you a guide to post optimizations that could help your content perform better in Google search.
If you have any questions about the process, feel free to reach out via my contact form or in a comment and I’ll do my best to help out.
Before We Start – Some Ground Rules Regarding Search Engine Optimization
I know you’re ready to get going, but PLEASE don’t skip this part. Skipping these ground rules could potentially harm your traffic, so it’s important that you read them.
- Rule #1 – Do NOT optimize your top 20 posts. Look, these are your best posts. If they are doing well, then leave them alone. Sure, you can correct any errors or make small adjustments if the topic changes or there are positive enhancements to be made. Otherwise, just let them work their magic.
- Rule #2 – Do NOT over-optimize your posts. That means don’t spend a bunch of time stuffing in keywords that aren’t related to the topic. Don’t spend so much time rewriting your content that it no longer reads naturally. Keyword stuffing and over-optimization are the stuff that Google penalties are made of. Trust me…there are worse things that not ranking. Like Google penalties against your domain.
- Rule # 3 – Slow and steady wins the race. Did you know that it can take 18 months to two years for Google to finally determine where your content should land in the SERPs. This is not a race. Even after you optimize your post, it can take 30 days before you see any movement and it will likely take six months before you see sizeable change. If you do it right, though, the impact will be an ongoing steady rise in traffic.
- Rule #4 – Make this process a habit. I run through this process every six months or so, optimizing content that is about a year old. Do not “set it and forget it” when it comes to your posts. Successful search engine optimization is an ongoing process. Make it part of your ongoing process and your old posts will continue to bring in traffic.
- Rule #5 – Don’t forget your images. Proper file naming convention and alt tags are an important part of the optimization process.
- Rule #6 – Be brutally honest in your analysis. If a post isn’t performing in search, maybe it’s time to set it to draft status and redirect any traffic (even small amounts) to a related page. If the content isn’t relevant anymore or it can’t be rewritten to be useful, cut it loose. Google rewards sites that are filled with high quality content. Keeping out-of-date junk doesn’t help you and could be dragging you down.
This process takes some time, so set aside about an hour to 90 minutes for each post. As you get more comfortable with it, you’ll get better and faster at it.
If you’re ready to go, grab a cup of coffee and let’s get optimizing.
Step 1 – Determine Which Posts You Should Optimize
The first step in optimization is to identify the posts that need some help. While you need to develop your own list of criteria, mine is as follows:
Criteria #1 – The post has been live for 1 year or more – This is important because it gives me a full understand of how Google values my content. It also gives tools like SEMRush the chance to index the post an track its performance.
Criteria #2 – The post is not in my top 20 performing posts – As I said above, I don’t touch the top 20.
With those criteria in mind, the first thing I do is head over to Google Analytics and produce a report for the last 90 days that shows my posts in order by traffic.
To generate the report in Google Analytics:
1. Sign in to your Google Analytics account and, if you have multiple sites, choose the site your are optimizing.
2. In the left navigation, choose Behavior > Site Content > All Pages
3. In the range criteria in the upper-right corner, choose “Custom” and select the last 90 days. So, if today is May 24th set the date range from February 24th through May 24th.
4. Click the Apply button to set the date range. GA will display your post traffic for the last 90 days.
TIP: Be sure that the query results are sorted by Pageviews in descending order. You want to see your best blog posts situated at the top.
5. At the bottom of the query result, set the “Show Rows” dropdown to 50 so the page will display your top 50 posts. If you haven’t ever optimized posts before, start with posts 26 through 50. Since they are already performing, you can find ways to give them a little extra bump. Then you can move on to 51-75, 76-100, and so on down the line.
6. The next step is to export the list. I find it easier to work in Excel, so click the “Export” button in the top-right corner of Google Analytics and save the file somewhere to your local hard drive.
7. Open the file in Excel and delete all of the tabs in the workbook except the “Dataset 1” tab. This is the only tab you’re going to need.
8. In the Dataset 1 tab, delete all the columns except for the “Page” column and the “Pageviews” column.
9. Next, delete rows 2 through 26. These are your top 25 posts so you don’t need them in the sheet.
10. Finally, add four columns to the right of Pageviews. One named “Published”, one named “Optimize Date”, one named “O+30” and one named “O+180”. Your sheet should look something like the image below.
The Optimization Date field is where you will enter the date that you finished the optimization and saved the changes. The O+30 is the date 30 days from the optimization date. The O+180 is the date six months from the optimization date. These fields are going to help you keep track of your optimizations and when you should check back in on their results.
With your tracking sheet created, there are a few things you need to do:
1. If you have any category pages in your results, you can delete them. Optimizing category pages is an entirely different blog post, so I’m not going to focus on it here. For this exercise, just remove the category pages. In my results, I had four category pages. After removing those, I was left with 21 potential optimization candidates.
2. Next, go through each of these posts and find their publication date and add it to the “Published” field.
3. Finally, start at the top of your list and find the first post that is more than 1 year old. This is your first optimization candidate.
Well done!! You now know which posts are the best candidates for search engine optimization and you have your first candidate to optimize!
Quick Note If You Get Traffic From A Variety Of Different Sources
As I have mentioned in other posts, the majority of my traffic comes from organic traffic. 98% of it in fact. So, one of the fine folks on Facebook mentioned that the process above isn’t really effective if you also get a ton of traffic from social media.
If some of your posts are killing it on Pinterest and driving a ton of traffic then they are getting mixed in with those that are generating a lot of traffic from organic search. So, the question is how do you adjust the results so they only show your pages that receive organic traffic and allow you to see them ranked.
The answer is, you create a segment in Google Analytics that only shows organic search. To do that, follow these steps:
1. Login to Google Analytics and choose Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.
2. Set your data range as outlined above so the results are only showing the data for the data range you want to evaluate.
3. Near the top of the page, you will see a box that says “All Users”. This box is indicating that the data is showing all data from any user who visited your site. What we want to do is create a segment that only shows the data for users who arrived at your site via organic search. To do that, click the “Add Segment” button and check the box next to Organic Traffic in the segment box.
4. At the bottom of the box, click “Apply
5. Next, click the dropdown arrow next to “All Users” and click Remove. This ensures that the only segment showing data is the one that contains organic traffic.
By doing this, you now have an ordered list of traffic that came to your site from Organic search. You could do the same thing if you wanted to see which posts are generating the most traffic from social media, direct traffic, or other sources.
Once you are done with the “Organic Traffic” segment, just create a new segment and choose “All Users”. Then, remove the Organic Traffic segment.
Step 2 – Assessing The Current State Of The Post In The SERPs And Identifying Keyword Potential
Now that you have some data that tells you which post to optimize, you can see where it currently stands in the search rankings.
I have an older post that is doing okay, but could definitely use some love entitled “How Do I See Who Is Following Me On Facebook – And Why You Shouldn’t Be Asking This Question“. To see where it stands with respect to keyword volume and ranking, I’m going to use a tool called SEMRush.
SEMRush will give you a free seven day trial for you to test and see how it works. I know that $100 per month may be a lot to some folks, but the tool can actually pay for itself if your optimization efforts bring in a wealth of new traffic. Give the seven day trial a whirl as you work through this process.
Once you are logged in to SEMRush, do the following:
1. Click Domain Analytics > Organic Research in the left navigation.
2. On the Organic Research page, paste the URL for your post into the field and click the Search button.
With respect to my post, you can see in the image below that the post was published in March of 2018. I performed an optimization about a year later (before I had this process) and I saw a pretty good bump from the optimization. Now that I have access to SEMRush, I want to do another optimization and see if I can increase the traffic further.
You can also see that this post currently ranks for 330 different keywords or phrases. Not too shabby, but I’d like to see more and I would like to see higher rankings.
3. Click on the “Positions” tab to see the details of how your blog post is being placed in the SERPs.
4. Sorting the results by the “Pos.” field will show you which search terms your post is currently ranking well for. If your post is ranking #1 for some search terms, congratulations. Take a look, though, at the “Volume” field to see whether those search terms have a decent search volume. If you are ranking #1 for a term that has 50 searches per month, you likely aren’t going to get a lot of traffic from that. What you want is to rank well for terms that are high in volume.
5. To find those high-volume terms where I can improve my ranking, I choose to sort by the Volume column. Click the Volume column and be sure they are sorting from highest to lowest. In the image below, you’ll see that my post is currently ranked #11 for the search phrase “how to see who follows you on facebook” and it has a search volume of 5,400.
This is the perfect candidate! With a few changes to the content, I can certainly enhance my standing and go from page 2 to page 1 and then climb up the results toward that coveted #1 spot.
Not only that, but I can also optimize for terms like:
- How to see followers on facebook
- can you see who follows you on facebook
- how to see who is following me on facebook
- how to see your followers on facebook
- how to find out who is following you on facebook
These are all terms that can easily be worked into my content and should help my rankings in the SERPs. Each of them has a volume of more than 1,000 searches per month, so by climbing in the SERPs, I should see an increase in organic traffic.
With a good idea as to what keywords or phrases you can incorporate into the post to enhance it, it’s time to start making some changes.
Step 3 – Adding New Phrases To The Content Of The Old Blog Post For Better Traffic Results
Now that you have some data that tells you which post to optimize, you can see where it currently stands in the search rankings. I recommend making a simple of list of 6-8 keywords or phrases that you want to change.
TIP: Be careful when you update your post that you don’t replace a well-performing phrase with one that you want to perform. The last thing you want to do is actually harm your existing traffic.
I don’t over-complicate this part. I simply create a Notepad document that has these terms in it. Then, I carefully read through my post and find places that I can naturally incorporate the new keyword or phrase
The key word, here, is naturally. Again, you don’t want to make it look like your are stuffing keywords. Google does not like that.
For each new keyword or phrase, I add it in to the content. Sometimes, I add it to the text. Sometimes, I add it to an image alt tag. Sometimes, I add, I add to the caption below an image. The key is to find ways that use the new phrase, but doesn’t disrupt the user’s experience.
TIP: While it is okay to add a keyword or phrase to your post title, and it can actually help a lot, DO NOT change the slug (aka the permalink or URL) for the post. Doing this can cause inbound links to break.
If you really want to change it and you know what your are doing, be sure to create a 301 redirection from the old URL to the new one. Be cautious with this, though.
Once I am done adding a key phrase to the content, I simply add ” – Completed” to the end of the phrase in my Notepad document, so I know I have incorporated that keyword or phrase into the updated post. Then, I move on to the next until the entire list is addressed.
Be aware that there are sometimes I just can’t add a keyword or phrase. That’s okay. Don’t force it.
Just note it in the document. Once completed, I save it to a directory for that post so I can go back in 30 days and 180 days and track the movement of the optimized language.
The last part of this step is to update your Excel spreadsheet with the date the post was updated. Add in the +30 and +180 dates, as well.
TIP: If you are an Excel formulas nerd, like I am, you can use a formula to add in the +30 and +180 dates. For example, if your “Published” date for the post is in cell D6, then just add “=D6+30” without the quotes into cell D6 and “=C2+180” into cell E2. Excel will automatically calculate the dates for you. Be sure that all of the cells that contain dates are formatted as Dates and not numbers or text.
PRO TIP: If you’re REALLY serious about this becoming part of your process, then set a calendar reminder for yourself on the +30 and +180 days to help you remember to check on the optimizations.
Now that the post is updated, it’s time to go the extra mile and make this post perform at its best.
Step 4 – Ensuring Content Length, Cross-Linking To Other Posts, And Optimizing Images
With the new keywords added to your post, the next step is to ensure that the post is 100% optimized by focusing on content length, cross-linking, and images. To do this:
1. From WordPress, copy and paste the copy or your post into MS Word and do a word count. Make sure you are in the 800-1000 word range at a minimum.
I have found over and over again, that short blog posts just do not perform well in search. I write my posts in the 1500-2000 range, but I ensure that 800-1000 is the absolute minimum.
2. Next, re-read your blog post and find opportunities to link to any new content that you have published since this post went live. Add links to those posts where appropriate. These outbound links can help your newer blog posts, so long as they are relevant.
TIP: Also keep in mind that you might have some other posts that can link IN to this post. If there are link opportunities to do that, then now is the time to quickly update those post with new inbound links to this post.
3. Look at every image that is included in the post and ask yourself the following:
- Is the image still appropriate?
- Does is have the correct title, description, and alt tags?
- Is it optimized for speed (also known as “smushed”)?
- If you added new content, should you also add new images?
- Are your image file names optimized for search?
Go through each of those steps to be sure that each image contributes to your blog and helps your readers and Google understand the content better.
TIP: If you aren’t lazy loading images, now is the time to do it. By not lazy loading your images, you are slowing down your site. Here’s a guide to my favorite WordPress performance recommendations. Additionally, here is a guide to implementing lazy load while still keeping your pinnable images visible.
PRO TIP: Believe it or not, Google looks at your image file names as part of the image search engine optimization. If your image is named something like DSC009-1010.jpg because that is what your digital camera named it, then you are missing out on an opportunity to optimize. Rename the file so it more accurately reflects the content that the image reflects.
For example, when optimizing my post, I named one of my Pinterest images find-out-who-following-me-facebook-pin2.png. Notice how that directly aligns with the keyphrases I am optimizing for?
Once you have your images optimized, it’s time to work on an important social-sharing element of your post.
Step 5 – Update Those Pinnable Pinterest Images
At the bottom of each of my posts, I add a several pinnable images that are specifically sized for Pinterest sharing. Since Pinterest likes it when you pin posts with new images and new descriptions, now is a good time to add a few new pinnable images.
As I noted above, make sure the filenames are optimized and ensure they have the correct title, description, and alt tags.
Step 6 – Update Or Republish The Old Blog Post
Now that the post is optimized, the question I hear a lot is whether you should just update the post and leave the publish date as it’s original date or whether you should republish the post with today’s date.
I have found success with both, so the guideline I follow is whether I have made significant updates to the post. Basically, if I rewrote 50% of the post or added a lot of new content, I add [UPDATED] to the title and I republish it with that day’s date.
If, however, I simply optimized the post I leave it alone and just click the Update button.
Step 7 – Let Google Know You Made Changes So It Can Reindex
I will probably hear some push-back on this one, but it works for me so I do it every time I optimize. I use Google’s Search Console (also known as Webmaster Tools) to request a new index of the page. To do that:
1. Login to your Search Console page. If you don’t have one, now is the time to get one and register your site’s feed within the console.
2. In the left navigation pane, click the “URL Inspection” link.
3. In the URL field at the top of the page, paste the URL for your recently updated blog post and press the Enter key. Google should confirm that you page is already indexed.
4. Click the “Request Indexing” button and this will signal to Google that you made changes and would like the Googlebot to take a closer look at the changes. The sooner you get Googlebot noticing your changes, the sooner you’ll see results.
Step 8 – Let Your Social Networks Know About The Updated Blog Post
If you made some really good enhancements to your post, be sure to tweet, post, pin, and email your audience about the changes. Remember that an old blog post is a lot like a used car. While it might be “old” to some people, it’s “new” to others.
Spread the word and use your social channels to drive traffic.
Step 9 – Review The Optimization Results
Be sure not to forget about the posts. Review them at the 30-day and 180-day intervals that you set in your spreadsheet. To see how they are performing, do this:
1. Check SEMRush to see if the specific keyphrases that you optimized for have any movement. Remember that there is a “Pos.” column that will tell you whether they moved up or down in the rankings for that specific keyword.
2. Check Google Analytics to see if traffic has increased. This is the end-goal, so keep an eye on it and remember that optimizations can take up to 30 days to see any beginning movement and up to a year to 18 months to see more permanent results.
Step 10 – Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Blog optimization is an ongoing process. As long as you are writing new content, you should also be optimizing older content. Doing both will likely lead to health growth in your traffic and a blog that is filled with useful, helpful, up-to-date content.
I hope this guide has helped you in your efforts to understand how updating and optimizing old blog posts can lead to more traffic to your site. This isn’t a perfect process and this is simply the process that I follow that has worked for my blog.
As always, if you have tips or enhancements that you think would make this process better, feel free to leave them in a comment below. The more we share and the better our articles are….the better the Internet is.
For making it through the entire post, here’s a PNG and PDF printable checklist that you can use as a guide through your optimization efforts.Check out this printable checklist for optimizing old blog posts to increase their traffic. Click To Tweet