Content Strategy

How to Update, Repurpose and Retire Content

August 22, 2018
By Pam Berg

This article was updated on August 6th, 2021.

After you create a brilliant piece of content, your job isn’t done: you need to revisit that content for updates, repurposing, or retirement. This last step in content management strategy is too often ignored, and skipping it can seriously impact your conversions — and your search ranking.

Updating old content, on the other hand, can have huge SEO and website performance benefits. We’ll show you solid proof from our own Google Analytics data.

Like your ads, print materials, and LinkedIn company page, each piece of content you create represents your business to the world.

Your website’s supporting content is a salesperson when someone is checking you out, researching your business for a potential partnership or to use your products or services.

Crappy content is a clammy handshake, overpowering cologne, and off-colour jokes all rolled into one. It’s the kiss of death for that potential customer relationship.

That isn’t to say that your old blog posts are bad (although they might be if you’ve never updated them and your business has been publishing for several years). But all it takes is a couple of slow-loading images or visibly outdated information to send visitors packing. And if your older content hasn’t been re-optimized for current SEO best practices, it’s definitely not pulling its weight.

It’s time to take a good hard look at your old content, and put some serious effort into the ‘management’ aspect of your content management strategy.

Why content management strategy matters

Content strategy is the planning, production, and management of content as a business asset. It stands to reason that a successful business content strategy touches on all points, right?

Unfortunately, it’s extremely common for companies — especially those with small teams and limited resources — to put everything into content planning and creation. They deliver pieces of their brand out into the vast Interwebs, and then move on to the next piece and forget all about it.

Even highly respected marketing authorities like Hubspot and Moz have produced articles on content marketing and strategy that are thoroughly detailed on every step of the process except what to do after your content goes live.

A content management strategy is a strategy within a strategy. Whether it’s the last column on your content planning spreadsheet or a fully realized guide for internal teams, every business should have a plan for what happens next — and when it needs to happen — for each piece of content you produce.   

Think of your content like a plant: its life doesn’t end when you put the seeds in the ground, it’s actually just beginning. Only regular care will ensure that it stays perky and green.  

To get started with this crucial phase in your content management strategy, you need to evaluate your current assets — all of them.

Short n’ sweet content audit checklist

There are lots of factors that will impact whether you leave content as-is, update it, repurpose it, or retire it. But once you have 50+ blog posts or case studies on your website, it can be challenging to remember the details about each of them.

We highly recommend a live spreadsheet (like the awesome template at the end of this article!) or other tool that allows you to track content from planning all the way through its lifecycle.

Here is a super-short, high-level way to assess your content:

  1. Is it current information/performing well, or outdated with poor user engagement metrics?
  2. Is it functional, or are images/links broken?
  3. Is it unique, or do you have multiple pieces on the same topic?
  4. Is it useful and better than the top articles on the topic, or is it shallow and like everything else out there?
  5. Can it spawn more content, or is it standalone?
  6. Is it on-brand and effectively driving toward goals, or is it fluff?

Need more help conducting a content audit before a website redesign? Get our Simple Content Strategy Checklist

The extra-cool thing about doing an audit and being the master of your content management strategy spreadsheet is that you’ll become intimately familiar with your company’s assets.

When you create new content, you’ll be able to easily add links to other relevant posts off the top of your head, without having to wade through pages of titles on your company blog. And you can discover hidden gems that, with a few updates, make excellent additions to your social media calendar.

Tip #1: How and When to Update Content

This is our favourite part of the last phase in content management strategy, because it’s relatively easy but can yield a hugely satisfying payoff.

6 easy ways to update your content

  1. Perform SEO to bring the content up to standard with your current keyword strategy and on-page SEO
  2. Add new, optimized images — compressed, of course, for a speedy page load!
  3. Add inter-site links to related content on your website
  4. Update external links to more current sources
  5. Update the language and tone to suit your current branding
  6. Add new and current facts, best practices, or details

Updating old content has tons of awesome benefits for your website performance, search ranking, reach, community, and more — and now we’ll show you proof.

Data speaks: proof that updating old content works

As Forge and Smith founder Shawn Johnston likes to say, “we eat our own kibble”. We wouldn’t recommend something to clients if we hadn’t tested it ourselves and seen positive results.

We had an old Forge and Smith user experience article that stood out as super critical to be updated. It’s consistently been one of our top-performing pieces since 2015, usually earning hundreds of visits each month.

The Internet was a different place back then, and our blog wasn’t the user-friendly, fully optimized, attractive beast that it is now. People are finding this old article when doing searches for scrolling vs. clicking, but unfortunately the user experience was so poor that the blog was getting terrible engagement — a huge fail for a blog about user experience!

Using our content audit checklist to analyze the article, it was too short, lacked useful and current information, had no images, and didn’t match our current voice and tone.

Here’s a sample of one week’s traffic before the post was updated, at its worst performance:

Google Analytics data showing poor user engagement data

After conducting interviews to add new perspectives to the old article, adding inter-site linking and styling, and of course using a current keyword strategy, this is what the numbers looked like for one week after updating:

Google Analytics data showing improved user engagement data

Ta-da! Double the traffic — which was 88% organic search visits — dramatically longer reads, and a lower exit value.

And here’s a look at a full month of data for the same article:

Google Analytics data showing improved user engagement data comparing July 2017 to 2018

This post was given no additional amplification compared to last year — it was shared once on Forge and Smith social media, and had no boosts from ads or new backlinks. This was 100% the result of proper SEO and improved content relevance and quality.

Once we saw the magic that resulted from relatively simple updates, we went full steam ahead with the update portion of our content management strategy. We now devote equal attention in our monthly blog efforts to updating old posts, to make them more awesome.

Tip #2: Repurpose That Content!

Repurposing content is about squeezing every last bit of content marketing juice out of everything you create. Use the work that you’ve already done to produce multiple pieces of helpful, engaging content for your audience.

Older content that’s still relevant (or has been recently updated) can be every bit as valuable as new content when it comes to repurposing.

How you repurpose it will depend on your business goals, your digital strategy, and of course, the types of content that your target audience likes to consume. All new content you produce should include plans for how and when you’ll repurpose it, right there in your content management strategy.

If you’re approaching this step for the first time, or your older content never had this plan in place, here are some creative repurposing ideas to get you started:

10 ways to repurpose content

  1. Create a shareable infographic
  2. Make a YouTube video — or even a series!
  3. Film an Instagram Story or create a video for IGTV
  4. Create an illustration or other Pinterest content
  5. Publish it on LinkedIn, Medium, or another popular platform
  6. Create a LinkedIn SlideShare presentation
  7. Turn it into a standalone email, or tease it in your regular newsletter
  8. Make it downloadable by creating an eBook or checklist
  9. Create an offshoot case study, blog, white paper, or press release
  10. Design a deck or custom landing page to showcase exceptional work

There are tons of other ways to repurpose content, depending on your resources and your team’s tech savvy. From company podcasts to webinars, industry talks, apps, games, and even quizzes, your content can reach all new audiences by morphing into exciting new mediums.  

Tip #3: How and When to Retire Content

Every blog has its day.

For some, that day can be relived again and again with regular updates. Others will outlive their usefulness, and then it’s time for retirement.

5 signs your content is ready to retire

  1. It has poor user engagement that can’t be corrected with updates
  2. It’s too time-specific and can’t be edited to hold relevance
  3. You have multiple pieces of content with the same keyword or topic, and it brings nothing new or useful to your audience
  4. It’s too off-brand, showcases products or services you no longer offer, or otherwise doesn’t match your current content assets in type, tone, or purpose
  5. It doesn’t drive any of your business goals

If there is no way to breathe new life into your content with updates, it’s time to say goodbye.

Old content with a poor user experience can drag down overall website performance and ranking factors — just look at our scrolling vs. clicking blog mentioned above. That piece of content earns 5% of our website’s monthly entrances, and a bad impression would send hundreds of people packing, never to return!

When removing content, make sure to always follow SEO best practices. Have redirects in place to avoid 404 errors. We use YOAST SEO for WordPress, and they have straightforward tips on how to properly retire content.

Super Bonus! Content Management Strategy Template

Need help getting started with a deep content audit, creating a calendar, and planning the next steps for all of your content? Use our handy template!

>>  Forge and Smith Content Management Strategy Template  <<

We’ve included sample content and drop-down data values to show you how it can work — once you make a copy for yourself, you can modify the drop-down cell data and add tabs to suit your own content and digital strategy goals.

Are you excited to plan the final steps in your content management strategy? We hope so! Go forth and update that content — but don’t be afraid to let it go.

Pam Berg

Pam has backgrounds in journalism, computer forensics, and public libraries, which add up to the perfect mindset for digital strategy. She's been a professional content writer for over 20 years, and working with clients in SEO and analytics for 8 years. Her Instagram feed is equal parts horses, waffles, and drag performers.

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