Imagine you have a huge refrigerator with double doors, an ice maker, and all the space you’d ever need. You love it — until it fills up, and things in the back start to spoil.
Keeping a large, full fridge organized is a Herculean task, especially when you have containers of who-knows-what from 2015 buried in the back.
Unfortunately, like your mystery sauces, your blog posts can “expire” too. That blog post you wrote seven years ago is stale and no longer useful or accurate.
This is why successful content marketers perform content audits and updates on a regular basis. Read on to learn more about these content-rescuing checkups and how to run them yourself.
What are content audits and updates?
A content audit is the process of analyzing and organizing existing content to see which ones need to be combined, updated, completely rewritten, or deleted. These audits also help you discover what content you lack.
Here’s an example of a content audit from Semrush:
After auditing your blog, you have four successive actions to choose from:
- Create new, relevant content about recent developments in your industry
- Keep your existing content as is (no change required)
- Delete or redirect content that’s no longer useful and has a poor performance history
- Update content that’s still relevant and has performed well in the past but needs a boost in rankings
Crafting new content requires you either to research and write it yourself or hire a content manager to do the work for you. Meanwhile, deleting content means removing and redirecting your obsolete pieces.
But we’re talking about that last option: updating content.
Writers usually update pieces by removing outdated and irrelevant information, adding engaging images and videos, citing more recent stats and stories, and restructuring pieces to match the current SEO environment.
Let’s take Buffer’s article on becoming verified on Twitter: When Twitter updated their verification process in July 2021, Buffer immediately updated their existing article by correcting outdated information and replacing broken links.
After you perform a content audit, you should have a clear idea of which pieces of content you can change to achieve higher SEO results and improve users’ experience.
Why is updating your content important?
Content freshness is a ranking factor, meaning the more updated your content is, the higher your chances of outranking your competitors.
A survey of over a thousand bloggers found those who updated or refreshed their content were “2.8 times more likely to report stronger results.” If you need further proof, here are some well-known companies that boosted their engagement stats by updating outmoded posts:
- Single Grain increased traffic by almost 96% in six months.
- Search Engine Journal doubled their pageviews over a year.
- Hubspot increased their monthly organic search views by 106% on average.
Apart from the SEO benefits, updating and restructuring your content will encourage people to stay on your site.
Put yourself in your readers’ shoes — if you land on a page with information from 2014, you’d click that tiny “x” on your browser tab in a hot second. That information is too old; unless you’re looking into a specific event that happened in 2014, you probably won’t find anything useful.
On the other hand, if you find a well-written article with up-to-date stats, you’re more likely to scroll down and read more. You might even click a few embedded links and visit some relevant pages.
Updating your content for SEO to match user expectations will improve your content’s performance, which helps it rank better, draw in more visitors, and keep people on your pages.
5 Indicators you need to audit your blog and update your content
According to Portent, you need to audit your content anywhere from two to four times a year based on the type of content you create:
- Awareness content – once every six months
- Consideration content – once every three to six months
- Conversion content – once every quarter
- Retention content – once every year
However, not all content follows a strict schedule. Here are five clear indicators telling you to take a look at your blog to find what isn’t working:
1) You have a lot of old content (more than two years old)
As previously stated, keeping your content fresh can help you rank higher. Articles older than two years need to be updated, whether it’s simply adding a couple of pictures or a complete overhaul of the existing content. After all, a lot has changed over the past two years and will continue to fluctuate.
On top of that, Botify found the more often you update your content, the more frequently Google will crawl your site. So, updating your content is a win-win: You gain fresh content that ranks higher and you attract Google’s attention.
2) You see a dip in your organic traffic
If you start noticing fewer organic visitors, it’s time to run an audit. A drastic, prolonged dip in traffic means something’s wrong. Maybe a high-ranking article got bumped down to position five on the SERP or one of your articles that performs well lost some keywords.
Either way, you need to get to the bottom of the traffic dip.
To see how your blog is performing in terms of organic traffic, simply look at Google Analytics: Under Reports > Life cycle > Acquisition, click on “Traffic acquisition” to see how your traffic is doing over a period of time.
The graph shows you how much traffic you’ve gained or lost over a specific period of time. If you see a consistent downward trend, you should perform an audit and update content.
Then, navigate to Reports > Life cycle > Engagement, Pages and screens to see how your traffic is doing per page over a period of time.
This reveals which blogs are steadily bringing in traffic and which are declining and may need an update.
3) You have multiple articles that target the same keyword
When you have over 1,000 blog posts, it’s impossible to keep track of what topics your content has and hasn’t covered. Churning out new content under these circumstances can counteract your efforts due to keyword cannibalization. This happens when you have two pieces of content targeting the same keyword. It’s harmful because:
- It scatters your backlinks. Instead of having one page that people can link to, you have two or more, which means your backlinks are needlessly spread out.
- It confuses Google. If you have two pieces of content targeting the same keyword, Google will choose one — and it won’t always be the stronger page.
- It wastes your crawl budget. Google will only crawl a certain number of pages on your site over a period of time. If it crawls articles that cover essentially the same thing, you’re wasting crawl budget.
You can find out if you have content that targets the same keywords in four steps:
- Compile a list of your most important keywords (start with around 10 or so).
- Find the articles you created to rank for those keywords and compile the data in a spreadsheet.
- Perform a Google site search on your site for your target keywords by inputting site:[yoursite] [target keyword] into the search bar.
- Find out which article ranks higher and redirect the one that underperforms.
If you find excessive keyword cannibalization, it’s content audit time.
4) Your competitors vastly outrank you
If your competitors secure significantly more sales and traffic than you, look into what they’re doing. Then, perform a content audit and apply some of their strategies to your blog.
To determine if your competitors outrank you, all you need to do is use Google: Look up your target keywords and see who ranks for them. If your competitors take up the first 10 spots on the SERP and you’re at #25, prioritize updating your content.
5) Your company went through major changes
Consider running a full audit and then update if any of the following aspects of your company changed:
- Your company’s tone and voice
- The products and services your company offers
- Your company’s branding
- Your company’s website host
Your content needs to align with your company’s branding and story. So, if your company experiences a major change, your content will need an adjustment.
How to perform a content audit in 6 steps (plus content audit template)
You can run a content audit in six steps and with the following three tools:
- This editable content audit spreadsheet
- Google Analytics (GA) or another website performance tracking tool (this guide uses GA)
- A keyword research tool (we’re using Ahrefs for this guide)
If this is your first time performing a content audit, create a spreadsheet with the following column headers (or make a copy of this template):
- Title – The title of your blog post as it appears on your website
- URL – The full URL of your content piece
- Meta Description – Your meta description as it appears on Google (take note of whether or not Google has changed this for you)
- Date Published – The day you first published your article
- Last Updated On – The day you last updated your article (this can be the same as the publication date)
- Pageviews – The number of people who saw your page
- Conversion Rate – The percentage of people who visited your blog post and then went on to buy or subscribe to your product (you can find this data in Google Analytics)
- Target Keyword – The main keyword your content wants to rank for
- Current Position for Target Keyword – How you presently rank for your target keyword
- Secondary Keyword(s) – The secondary keyword(s) you want to rank for (list around five)
- Action Needed – The next steps for your piece (i.e., keep as is, delete and redirect, completely rewrite, or update)
- Priority – How urgently you need to take the action; the higher your ranking and conversion rate potential for the piece, the higher its priority
- Person Responsible – The person who will take the next steps (i.e., carrying out what’s in the Action Needed column)
- Done? – A checkbox column that the person responsible should click on as soon as they’re done performing the required action
🔥Pro Tip 🔥 To make your life easier in the future, keep track of the information above for each new piece of content you create, even after you’ve completed your content audit. Update the spreadsheet on a regular basis as well (I recommend monthly).
Now, we’ll describe the steps to perform an accurate and thorough content audit.
1) Catalog your content
Before anything else, you need to catalog your top-performing content over time and see how their performance has changed. In this first step, fill out the first five columns of your spreadsheet — Title, URL, Meta Description, Date Published, and Last Updated On — for each chosen content piece.
If your blog is small, gather that information for all your posts. Take note when using my template, if you enter a date older than two years in the Last Updated On column, the cell will automatically turn red. Additionally, a date older than a year will turn the cell orange.
If your blog is moderately sized, you’ll need to identify 10 to 50 of your top-performing articles. Here’s how:
Go into Google Analytics and navigate to Reports > Life cycle > Engagement > Pages and screens.
Then, scroll down and filter your results for your blog subfolder by adding “/blog” (or maybe “/learn” or “/news”) into the search bar.
Now, you should see your top-ranking blog posts based on views (i.e., how many people saw your post over a period of time).
Take note of the top pieces and fill out the first five columns of your spreadsheet with their information.
2) Analyze your content’s engagement metrics
Next, you’ll fill your content audit sheet with data about how people interact with your site. For this step, you only need two data points, Pageviews and Conversion Rate. If you have more success metrics though, feel free to add them.
Go back to the Google Analytics view you pulled up in step one and click on the date range found in the upper-right corner of your screen.
Click on the “Add comparison +” button and change the dates based on the time periods you want to compare (I suggest by quarter). This will show you how your pageviews have changed over time.
Then, go into your “Conversions” tab to find the conversion rate based on your set conversion events. If you don’t have that set up, here’s more info on how to do it.
3) Analyze your content’s organic SEO performance
The next columns you’ll fill out are Target Keyword, Current Position for Target Keyword, and Secondary Keyword(s), which deal with SEO data.
You can find your target and secondary keyword(s) from your first round of keyword research in your content brief. If you don’t have a content brief, then your target keyword should at least be in your title.
To determine your current position on the SERP, leverage a keyword research tool. Most keyword research tools can return this information, but Ahrefs has a free one, its Keyword Rank Checker.
Plug your target keyword and blog post URL into the tool’s search bar and hit “Check rankings.”
The tool showed me it’s in position #3. If your content ranks in the top 100 for your target keyword, Ahref’s tool will tell you.
4) Categorize your content based on your data
Now that you have your initial data set, go through your list of posts and categorize them into the last two columns, Action Needed and Priority.
If you follow my template, you’ll notice these final columns have drop-down menus. The color of each cell will also change based on the option you choose (for example, if you select “Keep As Is,” the cell will turn gray).
You have four options for Action Needed:
- Keep As Is – Choose this option for content that’s less than six months old, still ranks and converts well, and continues to receive a steady or increasing amount of organic traffic.
- Delete & Redirect – Choose this option for content that has low organic traffic and conversions, doesn’t rank well, and doesn’t target a keyword that’s important to your brand. For example, if you run an online pet shop, you could delete a piece that targets “history of dinosaurs” and earns no traffic or conversions. But you don’t want to remove a piece that targets “best dog food” no matter its rankings and engagement rates.
- Completely Rewrite – Choose this option for pieces that rank poorly and have little to no organic traffic or conversions but target a keyword that’s very important to your brand (like that piece targeting “best dog food” in the previous point’s example).
- Update – Choose this option for pieces that rank well but have started to lose keywords and organic traffic. You can pinpoint these pieces by comparing their performance in Google Analytics.
Then, under Priority, you have three choices:
- Low – Select this label for anything under “Keep As Is,” as well as for anything under “Update” not targeting a keyword that’s super important to your brand. For example, it’s great that your pet shop ranks for the keyword phrase “how to train your puppy,” but it’s irrelevant if you don’t sell puppy training products.
- Medium – Select this label for anything under “Delete & Redirect,” “Completely Rewrite,” and “Update” that are important to do but might take a while to complete. Also, add this tag to content that has a low chance of ranking well but is important to your band.
- High – Select this label for content under “Delete & Redirect,” “Completely Rewrite,” and “Update” that’s easily actionable and has a large impact. For example, if adding images to your high-ranking post about “top 10 cat treats” will push it to the #1 spot, set it as high priority so you complete it sooner rather than later.
In this step, each of your blog posts should have assigned actions to prepare you for the next action to take.
5) Create an actionable content plan
With your data table now complete, it’s time to put your writers, editors, and SEO specialists to work.
Build a team comprised of:
- An SEO specialist who will handle deleting and redirecting pieces and research more keywords for each of your pieces that need to be updated or rewritten. Make sure they set up 301 redirects for all deleted pieces as well
- A writer or two who will completely rewrite and update important content
- An editor or two who will edit your writer’s work and make minor updates as needed
You can also put one of your team members in charge of updating your content records and tracking performance.
6) Monitor results and continue cataloging your content
Although your content audit is complete and you have your next steps laid out, you should keep tracking your content.
After you’re done updating a piece, mark it as “Done” in your spreadsheet, change the Last Updated On date, and continue tracking data for it. I suggest tracking Pageviews, Conversion Rate, and Currently Position for Target Keyword on a monthly basis.
For a deeper analysis, consider using Google’s Looker Studio. It’ll visualize your data so you can easily see how your content is performing and whether or not you need another update.
How to update your content in 5 steps
You’ve finished your content audit and identified articles to update or rewrite. Now what?
To increase your content’s performance, you need to research SEO. And stats. And other ranking elements. Below is a five-step walkthrough of the process:
1) Identify keywords you already rank for
It’s easier to rank higher for keywords you already rank for than to go after new ones. So, before you rewrite or update an article, look for keywords you want to target again and add them to your list of secondary keywords.
Go into Ahrefs’s Site Explorer tool and paste your article link into the search bar.
Then, go to the “Organic keywords” report.
You’ll receive a list of keywords that your piece already ranks for. But we’re looking for keywords to rank better for.
So, use the filters to find the perfect ones. Avoid keywords that take the number one spot — they’re already at the top, so you can’t rank any higher for those. Also, have a monthly search volume greater than 100.
Then, arrange your keywords by volume by clicking on that column’s title.
From the list above, you’ll see some viable keyword opportunities for our Buffer piece, such as:
- Twitter blue – The article ranks at 50 for that keyword, and it has a high monthly search volume (MSV, 6,600) and low keyword difficulty (KD, 0).
- Twitter verification – The article ranks at 12 for that keyword, and it has a high MSV (3,500) and low KD (30).
- How to get verified on Twitter – The article ranks at 3 for that keyword, and it has a high MSV (3,400) and low KD (0).
- How to change your Twitter handle – The article ranks at 91 for that keyword, and it has a high MSV (2,700) and low KD (27).
We want to ignore keywords that are typos (e.g., “twiter,” “twiiter”) and have high keyword difficulty (e.g., “create twitter account”). Make a list of at least 10 keywords to retarget and put them in a table like this:
Update the “Position After Update” column six months after you’ve uploaded your refurbished piece. That way, you’ll know if your optimization worked.
2) Determine which parts of your content to keep
Even articles that require complete rewrites may have a few components worth keeping. This is especially true of pieces older than two years because they’ve had time to gain keywords and rank higher.
So, before you erase an article or start updating it, look for paragraphs ranking for featured snippets and sections that have backlinks pointing to them.
Let’s continue using the Buffer article from earlier to walk you through this step.
Featured snippets in the article
To find your featured snippet, go back into the “Organic keywords” report and use the “SERP feature” filter. Select “Where target ranks” and check the box beside “Featured snippet.”
The Twitter verification article has a featured snippet for 19 keywords.
Armed with that information, go into each SERP and look for the part of the piece that ranks. For this article, let’s search “How to get verified on Twitter 2021.”
Now you know which part of the article ranks for a featured snippet. Highlight that section and leave a note for your writers and editors to keep that part as is, or to change it but include the words Google bolded on the SERP (as seen above).
Do this for all your paragraphs that rank for featured snippets.
Portions of the article with backlinks pointing to them
Next, you’ll want to find what your backlinks direct to. Backlinks help your piece rank higher, so hold onto them.
There’s no streamlined way to identify the specific part of your article that people link to, but it’s easy to figure out by going through the anchor text used.
Go to Ahrefs’s Backlinks report to pull up a list of articles that link to your content.
Then, look at the Anchor text and target URL column. For our example piece, the anchor texts are “get verified by Twitter” and “request for consideration.”
So, we know to keep the section of the article that lists the step-by-step verification process.
We should also keep the gist of the section that mentions reconsideration.
Highlight all the parts of your article that have backlinks pointing to it. Then, leave a note for your writers and editors to keep the meat of those sections in the final updated piece.
3) Update your structure to match search intent
Google’s algorithm was built to satisfy user queries, so it pulls up content that matches search intent. As such, the next thing to do on your SEO research checklist is look at the current search intent. There are four types of search intent:
- Informational – Searchers want to learn more about something but don’t have the intent to purchase. For example, the keyword “what is SEO” means searchers are curious about SEO.
- Navigational – Searchers are looking for a specific web page. For example, the keyword “Ahrefs Site Audit” indicates searchers want to land on the Ahrefs website.
- Transactional – Searchers are looking for a specific product to buy. For example, “Ahrefs Pricing” shows users are considering subscribing to an Ahrefs plan.
- Commercial Investigation – Searchers are looking into which product to buy. For example, “Best SEO tools” reveals searchers are unsure which SEO tool to subscribe to but are trying to learn more to narrow their choice.
However, search intent isn’t static. Sometimes, a search results page that was filled with how-to guides turns into a results page with products instead. Search intent changes based on how users interact with each result.
So, when you update your article, match the current search intent.
To determine search intent, search for your target keyword on Google. In our example case, we use “how to get verified on Twitter.”
As of this writing, the first five results on the results page are from:
And all five pieces are how-to guides.
Next, click into each of those pieces to see the structure and the word count.
The first two results from Twitter and Neal Schaffer each have over 4,000 words, and some of their headers overlap.
🔥 Pro Tip: Download the Ahrefs Chrome Extension to see outlines in an instant.
If you look through the other two top-ranking results from Hootsuite and USA TODAY, you’ll find the same things — their structures aren’t exactly the same, but there are some overlapping headers and content.
Take note of all the headers and elements you can find in most top-ranking pieces and include those (with slight adjustments to avoid plagiarism) in your updated article as well.
Communicate to your writers and editors what each piece’s search intent is and give them a recommended structure based on the SERP.
4) Optimize your article for SEO and accuracy
Now that you have your main keyword (the one your original article was targeting, if it’s still relevant) and secondary keywords found in step one, you can begin updating.
As you go through your article, keep all the SEO research done in steps one through three in mind. Here’s an SEO update checklist to help you out:
- The main keyword is in H1, at least one other H2 or H3, and sprinkled throughout the text.
- At least five secondary keywords are mentioned throughout the text.
- Portions with featured snippets have been identified and kept the same or slightly updated for accuracy.
- Portions with backlinks have been identified and kept the same or slightly updated for accuracy.
- Internal links to other relevant articles are included.
- The structure matches the SERP intent.
Here’s a helpful writing and accuracy checklist as well:
- Each section is actionable.
- Each section has a main takeaway.
- All links have been opened to ensure you have no broken links.
- All stats have been checked and either verified or updated.
- All stories or case studies have been checked to reflect their credibility.
- Images smaller than 300KB are sprinkled throughout the text.
- All included images have sources and alt text.
Refer to this checklist for each piece of content that needs to be updated. Tell your writers to go through it as well before sending a draft to their editors.
5) Add an “Updated on” date
As stated twice before (it’s that important), content freshness is a ranking factor. If you go through the effort of updating your piece but forget to add an “Updated on” date, Google won’t view your content as new; Google only knows how to read code — and yours says your article was published in 2005.
Most CMSs will have a field for your update date. If you use WordPress but don’t see that field, try installing WPCode. All you have to do is click a few buttons, and the tool will do the work for you.
7 Content audit and optimization tools that ease your workload
Content audits are a lot of work, and content updates take even more time. Luckily, there are numerous tools that can take on the heavy lifting of both.
Some tools offer help with a specific task while others handle most of the audit and updating for you. Here are seven recommendations to look into, depending on your needs.
👀 Check this out: If you need even more tools, I’ve compiled a list of 200+ content creation tools to help you build your tech stack.
1) Ahrefs — A suite of SEO tools
Ahrefs is a suite of SEO and content creation tools packed into one subscription (which is why it’s featured so much in this guide).
Their wide array of tools can help you with your content audit and updates in several ways:
- Use Site Audit to look into how your blog posts are ranking.
- Use Site Explorer to find out which of your competitors outrank you.
- Use Rank Tracker to track automatically when your content has improved or fallen in rankings.
- Use Content Explorer to generate ideas for pieces you need to rewrite completely.
If you want more information on how to use Ahrefs, scroll back through this guide. You’ll find step-by-step information on how to capitalize on Ahrefs’s free (and paid) tools to run a fruitful content audit and update.
2) Semrush — Site audit, keyword research, and SEO writing assistant
Similar to Ahrefs, Semrush has a suite of tools to help you automate some of the processes involved in conducting a content audit.
For example, their Site Audit tool reveals how your content and site rank overall. You can also use the tool to check on your technical SEO.
Use the Domain Overview tool to look into individual pieces of content and find out what they already rank for. Meanwhile, the Position Tracking tool provides automatic reports on how your content is ranking.
What sets Semrush apart from other SEO tools is its SEO Content Template, which can speed up the process of updating your content.
Simply plug your target keyword into the tool, and it’ll generate a template you can use to optimize your page for that keyword’s SERP. It basically handles steps one through three of the content update process for you.
3) Animalz Revive — Content audit done for you
Animalz Revive conducts the whole content audit for you. All you need to do is give the tool your email address and access to your Google Analytics data.
You’ll receive your report 24 hours after you provide Animalz Revive with access to your Google Analytics dashboard.
It’ll give you a list of all your blog content and indicate which ones have lost traffic over time. The tool will also tell you how much traffic has been lost over time so you know which articles used to perform well but no longer do.
4) MarketMuse — AI-powered content audits and briefs
Similar to Animalz Revive, MarketMuse handles every step of the auditing process.
Their Inventory & Applications product uses AI technology to comb through your content database and take an inventory. It then scores your content based on authority, search intent matching, and other metrics it deems important.
After scoring your content, the tool will tell you which pieces you should update for best results.
The company also offers AI-powered Content Briefs. In their words, their content briefs allow you to “stop paying writers to guess” what will rank.
5) Grammarly — An in-depth copy editing tool
A copy editing tool is a must for brands. No one wants to read an article littered with grammar and spelling errors, and it looks unprofessional as well. Grammarly catches those mistakes and even offers editing advice.
After you’ve written your piece, run it through Grammarly. It’ll tell you which parts of your content are repetitive, which phrases are unclear, and identify all typos.
On top of that, it can figure out what tone you’re aiming for (friendly, formal, etc.).
6) Frase — Comprehensive content updates with AI
Frase takes care of the entire content update process for you with their AI technology, from research to rewriting your entire content piece. I suggest using Frase or something similar if you’re a small team that has no time to overhaul your content.
If you want to see what Frase is capable of, check out any of their 13 free tools.
7) Clearscope — Gamifying content optimization
Last but not least, Clearscope is a great tool if you have time to write your content yourself and just need an extra set of hands for SEO optimization.
Some people suggest using Frase and Clearscope together to streamline and speed up your content update process.
Clearscope combs through SERPs to determine the composition of the articles that rank for your target keyword. They then give you four pieces of information:
- Content grade based on how many primary and secondary keywords you use compared to your competitors
- Word count as compared to the average word count of the top 10 results for your target keyword
- Readability score in comparison to the average readability score of the top-ranking results for your target keywords
- List of keywords your competitors include in their articles that you should as well, plus how many times to incorporate each keyword
After you write your content, simply plug it into Clearscope’s optimization dashboard. The tool makes optimization fun by showing how your Content grade goes up every time you add a new primary or secondary keyword.
Restructure, reorganize, and refresh your content with regular audits
A messy fridge frequently leads to food loss; items go to waste, you buy duplicate items, and you constantly struggle to find anything.
On the other hand, a clean, organized fridge is efficient. Nothing goes bad because you can see everything from the moment you open its doors.
The same principle applies to your content. Now that you know how to perform a content audit, track their metrics and watch for signs that it’s time to update. This will keep your content fresh and your content bank organized.
Bear in mind though, you need to focus on more than just the numbers. When you update content, aim to increase its value — for the SERP and your readers.