Anatomy of a Content Refresh

Breaking down the purpose, strategy, and execution behind a content refresh

Performing a content refresh is a critical pillar of any sound content strategy. It maximizes the return on the investment you already make in content creation by extending the performance and lifespan of your existing content and seizing opportunities that may have been missed when content was originally published. The scope of a content refresh can be as broad as assessing and prioritizing opportunities across your entire content library, as narrow as refreshing a single piece of content, or somewhere in between. 

In this article, we’ll break down some key decisions and processes that go into any content refresh:

  • Specifically why you might want to refresh content (beyond the reasons we already mentioned)
  • Identifying content that needs refreshing
  • Prioritizing the work so that your content refreshes give you the most “juice for the squeeze”
  • How to perform a content refresh (complete with a video featuring our head of marketing, Paul)
  • Measuring the impact of your content refresh work

Why you should do a content refresh

We already talked a bit about how content refreshes maximize your content’s ROI. They also save time – it’s easier to revise than to build from scratch. But why else might you want to refresh existing content?

One reason is to simply update or improve outdated information. Think anyone’s noticed the COVID information still on your website? Google has definitely noticed. Keeping content updated with relevant, accurate info is a great reason to refresh it. This goes double for our COVID example, which falls into the “Your Money Your Life” (YMYL) content category that Google pays extra attention to.

Another reason to refresh content is to account for new competitors. Perhaps your competitors are trying to draft off your content strategy, jumping onto the first page for keywords you previously had to yourself. You can also address search intent that may have changed with the entry of a new competitor (perhaps you have a new AI-based competitor and need to address why your business remains better than the robots.)

Finally, you may consider updating your content to specifically incorporate inclusive language. Inclusive writing practices make sure your content honors and respects everyone in your intended audience (and everyone else too).

Identifying content that needs a refresh

Start by identifying potential refreshes with a quick audit of content on your website. You’re looking for content that meets one or more of these requirements:

  • Has recently seen a plateau or decline in search impressions or clicks (sessions)
  • Has high traffic, but low conversions (assuming you’re tracking conversions)
  • Has high impressions but low clicks
  • Could be combined with other content into one article that better addresses search intent
  • Has inaccurate or incorrect information

You can use Ahrefs or a similar tool, coupled with Google Analytics, to find these articles. You may also want to use a scraping tool to more quickly get a list of all the content on your website. Ahrefs can also tell you what the primary keyword is for a piece; this will help when you get into the nitty gritty of refreshing the content.

Here’s an example of what your spreadsheet might look like after you gather some data:

example of spreadsheet showing data analyzing content refreshes

Agency folks doing refreshes for clients: remember you’ll want to search for refresh opportunities both in website subdomains as well as in subfolders.

How old should content be before you consider refreshing it?

At least 90 days – perhaps more for difficult keywords. Content takes time to be indexed, rank, generate traffic, and then potentially decline, and there’s no point in refreshing the content until it’s had time to move through that cycle. Seasonality in search volume or (for bottom of funnel keywords) your buying cycle can also play a role. 

Start by looking at search impressions to confirm that the content is relevant and generating traffic to your website. Don’t waste time refreshing content that simply isn’t performing at all. YMYL content should be refreshed more often, so take a look at these articles every 90 days.

Your goal is to create a spreadsheet that helps you analyze search impression and traffic data over time. You can use a SPARKLINE function in Google Sheets to quickly get a visual representation of these data over time (and see which posts are falling off). Conditional formatting is your friend here too – find those high impression, low click posts with color coding!

There’s no right or wrong way to gather and collate these data, so use the tools that work for you.

Prioritizing content refresh work

You’ve got data that shows which articles to refresh, but these trend lines don’t tell you which one to refresh first. Prioritize the work by looking at keyword volume and refresh articles targeting high-volume keywords first. These are the largest potential sources of search traffic.

Once your content library starts to grow and your refresh skills develop, you may want to consider a more subjective approach. At Verblio we like the ICE model: impact, confidence, effort. We look for the posts that we have reason to believe will get a large boost from a refresh but that are the easiest to update. Five more clicks to an ultimate guide isn’t worth a full rewrite, but adding a few hundred words of content to a post that we think will move from page 2 of search results up to page 1 is definitely worth the effort.

Some of this is qualitative, subjective work. Look for articles that fail to address search intent, that don’t go deep enough, that have high bounce rates. Ultimate guides are often comprehensive from day one. “How to” articles might leave something out. 

Other stats and metrics we look at to choose which content refresh work should come first:

  • Posts with high clicks but low conversions (we meticulously track conversions around here, your mileage may vary)
  • Posts with high impressions, but low clicks (people see this post in the SERP, but don’t click!)
  • Low keyword difficulty (you’ll see fast improvement because it’s not competitive)
  • Posts where that SPARKLINE function shows a serious dropoff in impressions recently (past 90 days)

Executing the refresh

Once you’ve decided to refresh a piece of content, you’ll have to, well, refresh it. Here’s a quick summary of how to do it.

See a refresh in action

Want to see this process in action? Here’s Verblio’s head of marketing actually doing a refresh. (He’s not joking when he says “I absolutely love content refreshes” at the beginning of the video.)

Part 1: Research

Read your article (again)! Figure out what it’s trying to do. Make note of the headings and how they relate to the keyword your article is ranking for

Google the primary keyword – you found this via Ahrefs earlier – in an incognito window. Look at the “people also ask” section, featured snippet, etc.

Read other articles that are ranking for this term. How are they different from your article? What’s missing? What’s the same? Adding missing content can be helpful as long as you provide a new opinion or take on the subject matter.

Does your content help with the searcher’s intent? This may vary by keyword:

  • Informational intent – Seeking solutions, topics, or content, top-of-funnel (TOFU) and not yet ready to buy (How to…, Why…, What is…)
  • Investigational/Navigational intent – Seeking to check or validate, establish criteria, compare solutions, understand the pros and cons (Best of…, Reviews of…, Top 10…)
  • Transactional intent – Seeking to make a purchase decision (Buy now…, Discount…, The cheapest…)

Part 2: Write yourself a brief

Take all your research and go back to the article. What should change? Our goal is to make sure that the article is giving people what they want when they search for the keyword. That includes:

  • Title
  • Headings
  • Adding content
  • CTAs
  • Lists or tables
  • Making sure any links are going to up-to-date info (make sure links to external resources less than two years old, if possible)
  • Find opportunities for new types of content (videos, images, transcripts, quotes, etc.)
  • If you’re trying to improve conversions, try adding a sticky CTA. This will also help you understand search intent a bit more.

Any chance you have to easily incorporate the keyword itself in these places is also a win.

Adding content often means going deeper on existing content. Instead of “do this thing,” provide a step by step process. Instead of “check your data” or “edit the article,” explain precisely what readers should be looking for. These details add to the richness of the article and make it more complete. Evaluate how the content might be falling short by asking “why” after paragraphs. Then address those “why” questions in the refresh.

You might also add H2 or H3s that will better address the search intent. An example here might be adding a section on coffee growing regions of the world to an article about natural process vs washed process coffee.

Part 3: Paste the existing article into a Google Doc and start changing it!

As you update the things you noted in your brief, you can also:

  • Do a quick proofread for grammar
  • Note/update any visuals that are just awful
  • Fix any broken links
  • Add internal links
  • Look for formatting improvements
    • Smaller paragraphs
    • Adding bullets or tables
  • Reword things to get the keyword(s) into the article more often

You want to change 20-25% of the content. If you don’t need to change at least 20% of the content, it might not be a great refresh candidate (or you need to better understand why the search intent isn’t being met). If you’re changing 50%+, you might be better served by creating a brand new article.

As part of your updates, rematch the SERP intent and keyword intent. The question to keep asking yourself as you do a content refresh is “what does someone really want when they are searching for [primary keyword]. If your content ranks for many keywords, you can use a grouping tool to help identify that search intent (SEMRush has one of these).

Then you’re ready to update the content and make it live!

Part 4: Update more technical SEO items

Once you’ve put the refreshed content into your CMS, you’ll also want to check on some SEO items:

  • Update meta description (again, matching search intent)
  • Ensure images have alt tags
  • Improve any CTAs on the page with the latest brand messaging
  • Ensure that any redirects, canonical links, etc. are accurate and up to date
  • Evaluate mobile friendliness
  • Add to the top of your sitemap

And, of course, change the publish date!

Measuring impact

Be patient! It will take at least two weeks to see an uptick in impressions or traffic. Don’t rush it. Impressions are likely to be the first thing that improves with a piece of refreshed content. Clicks will likely follow. 

You’ll get a boost if you promote the refreshed content via email, social media, or some other channel. After all, you put in the work to make this content great, so share it with your audience!

Need a hand?

Content refreshes can be daunting, especially if you’re new to the process. The good news: you aren’t alone. Verblio is refreshing more content for folks than ever before. See how we can help.

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Ryan Sargent

Ryan leads the content team at Verblio, where he combines his creative roots as a musician with large quantities of marketing nerdery. When he's not pondering Verblio's content strategy, you can find him playing jazz and funk trombone throughout Colorado.

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