Content Decay can derail your content strategy. And regular Content Updates are the only way to address it. This is what we found out at Userpiolt.
By June 2021, I thought we nailed it. We’ve been able to publish around 40 blog posts per month consistently. We’ve hit our content velocity target! To my dismay though – the traffic not only didn’t follow our publishing velocity. It actually…declined.
I felt equally terrified and embarrassed. What happened?! We looked at Google Analytics, Search Console, and run to our mentor.
He came back with grim news: some of your old, best-performing content has decayed. This meant it actually lost its former position in SERPs, in one particular case dropping from #3 on the 1st page, to #15 – right on the second page. And as you know – the second page in Google is the best place to hide a dead body.
Unluckily, this was also one of the posts with the highest conversion rate. It was optimized for an important, bottom-of-the-funnel keyword. In just one month, we lost 1000 sessions just from this one post. And there were several others that lost their positions in SERPs too. We basically dropped the ball.
How did that happen? How can a good blog post that had previously ranked on #1 or #3 drop in SERPs?
Getting you a top position on the 1st page in Google is just half of the job. The second half is to make sure your post actually stays there (or climbs up). There are dozens of companies that are directly or indirectly competing with you for the same audience’s attention in Google. These companies are publishing posts optimized for the same keywords every day. Some of the newer posts may outrank your best-performing posts and lead to lose traffic and hence, conversions.
Why does Content Decay happen?
Content Decay (gradual loss of your posts’ position in SERPs) may happen for several reasons:
- Your post is not as well-optimized for the specific keyword as the competitor’s post(s) – you can check the optimization for SEO best practices with simple tools like the Yoast SEO plugin in WordPress.
- You have a lower content score (a metric consisting of several factors including true keword density of various related KWs and synonyms, number of words in total and in specific paragraphs, H2s and H3s, multimedia, alt texts etc. developed by Surfer SEO – more on that later.)
- Your domain has a lower DR (Domain Rating) than your competitors
- Your blog is not as optimized for web core vitals as your competitor’s blog
- Your competitors have better backlinks to their blogs
- Your blog’s publishing date suggests it’s not up to date and your competitor’s post is significantly more recent (e.g. 2018 vs. 2021)
This, of course, does not exhaust the list of factors which may affect your website and cause its position to decay.
Sounds daunting. Can you prevent it at all then?
To some extent you can, or at least you can offset the worst consequences (losing highly converting traffic from these posts altogether.)
What to do when your old content decays?
What did we do when we realized our best-performing posts are bleeding traffic?
- STEP 1: Made sure the title and all headings were optimized for the target KW
- STEP 2: Checked all alt texts for the target KW and all the outbound links for potential conflict of interest
- STEP 3: Update the post for recency (replaced e.g. “Best tools for 2019” with “Best tools for 2021”) and republished for new publishing date
- STEP 4: Pasted the blog into Surfer SEO Content Audit and optimized for the suggestions there to significantly improve the content score
- STEP 5: Added internal links from other pages on our blog to the decaying post (as suggested by Surfer)
- STEP 6: Started building backlinks from external sites to the decaying post as suggested by Ahrefs.
After following all these steps, the posts started climbing back up SERPs (we set up another dashboard in Google Data Studio to track the position in SERPs for specific keywords – see how to do it here). In the case of the post that got the beating – we saw a hike of 10 positions in SERPS after only 3 weeks of the optimizations!
Now – the problem is of course not only what to do with the decaying posts, but also how often to update your posts and how to organize your workflow to do it before they start dropping in SERPs.
How to create a Content Update policy?
Here’s what I would recommend:
- Check which of your posts have the highest conversion rate. To do that, go to Google Analytics > Acquisition > Source/Medium > And change the “primary dimension” to “Landing Page”. You will be able to select the conversion event you want to track from the drop-down menu in the table on the right.
- List the top 30 (or 60 – if you have more converting posts on your blog) posts with URL s , primary KW and conversion rate in a Google Sheet.
- Add all the keywords you’re tracking + URLs to the Content Update Tracker in Google Data Studio (you can download a ready-made template with instructions here.)
- Alternatively, you can track them in Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker – it’s paid monthly though, and you will only get estimated data (as opposed to actual data from Search Console and Google Analytics you will have in the Content Update Tracker).
- After setting up your tracking, divide your list of URLs by conversion rate into 3 equal groups (of 10 or 20 posts) – Priority 1, Priority 2, and Priority 3.
- Add the post with the highest conversion rates to Prio I group. Sort them by: 1) the CVR in a descending order 2) position in SERPS in Ascending Order.
- Set up a project “Content Updates” in Asana. Use a Kanban board template. Divide it into 9 columns: “Prio I – Updated – Backlinks”; ““Prio II – Updated – Backlinks”; “Prio III – Updated – Backlinks”.
- Create a separate task for each blog post you need to update. Include: the URL of the post; On page optimization steps (see above) and the number of backlinks you need to build.
- Do the on-page updates first. Start from Prio I list and update 2 posts per day (you can instruct your Content Editor to do it of course). If you have only 10 posts in this group, you should finish in a week. If you have 20+ posts, it may take 2 weeks or more. A single post update in Surfer should take around 2 hours.
- After updating the post on page using the steps listed above, move it to the ‘Updated’ column. Add the date of the update to the name of the task. Set the deadline on the task to 3 months down the road.
- Start building Backlinks (check the number of backlinks needed in Ahrefs) to the updated posts. I’d recommend you manage your backlink building workflow in BacklinkManager (more on that in “tools”.)
- While building backlinks, move on to on-page updates in Prio II and Prio III groups. Move all the updated posts into the ‘Updated’ column. Follow the same process as in step 9.
- Check the Content Update Tracker monthly to see if your position in SERPs is improving (the lower the number, the better of course, as we’re looking at the position in Google). If not, go back to the drawing board and re-optimize the post in Surfer again to improve the content score even more.
- Every 6 months, revise your priority lists. Add new posts with the highest conversion rates to your Prio I, II and II groups respectively. Start updating them 6-9 months after the initial publishing date.
And that’s it. Having this regular content update schedule will allow you to maintain high ranking of your best-converting posts, while publishing new posts. Who exactly in your content organization should do them? You will learn more about it in the chapter about your content team’s organizational structure.