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Revitalize Your Content Strategy: Handling Content Decay
As children, we were often warned by our parents that neglecting to brush our teeth before bed could result in tooth decay. Similarly, it is important to regularly review and refresh our content to prevent it from decaying. Much like maintaining good dental hygiene, cleaning up and updating our content promptly can help to preserve its quality and relevance. The article will explore the causes and consequences of content decay and provide tips on how to prevent or mitigate its effects on a website's content strategy.
Living organisms, products and content: everything has a life cycle. Once you understand this, it’s easy to see content decay as a natural occurrence, something to be handled within the content life cycle. The content life cycle can be divided into five distinct stages.
Content Planning and Development
This phase is most crucial as without a proper development plan; we can’t take our writings to the growth phase. This phase is also called the planning phase, where we choose the topic for our target audience and start our research by gathering more information on the ideas. This phase incorporates ‘creating an outline’ to organize our thoughts and give our writings a directional discipline. We then create a first draft, edit, revise, and optimize it to make it clear, concise and engaging before publishing.
It’s very common that once the article is online, it will take some time to draw organic traffic to the page. The reason is google takes some time to index and see if the new content matches the search intent. SEO optimization makes the content better and more likable by search engines. The first week's article may generate spikes as we draw visitors from different social media shares and internal traffic from the organization. But, again, the spikes are just uncertain as it's temporal. But, the foundation is created for a slow and consistent build-up.
During this phase, as the content gains popularity within its specific niche, it will receive more backlinks and achieve higher rankings for relevant queries, resulting in increased organic traffic. The duration of this phase may differ depending on various factors, such as the topic, relevance, and content authority. The FIFA website is a prime illustration of how a website can experience significant growth during an international event such as the World Cup. As sports enthusiasts, channels, and communities worldwide seek to stay informed about matches and schedules, they frequently visit the website, share content, and generate many backlinks and referrals.
The maturity phase, also called the peak stage by experts, occurs before the content decay phase. During this phase, traffic tends to remain stable with occasional spikes, resulting in consistent traffic over time. Various factors, such as content, relevance, niche, and events, determine the maturity phase's length. For example, articles related to COVID-19 may have experienced growth over time before eventually declining as life returns to normal.
If you are an SEO or content expert, you may encounter a scenario where you observe slow growth, with traffic levelling off and gradually decreasing. Despite continuing to produce new content without making any changes, your rankings may remain stagnant. As content ages, it may become less relevant, and over time, it may begin to deteriorate. This happens as Google begins to prioritize indexing newer, fresher content for the same topic or context.
An interesting aspect of content decay is that it occurs at an individual content level and not across an entire site. As a result, it's entirely possible that this issue could go unnoticed, which is why it's referred to as the "silent killer of organic growth" by SEO experts. I recall a situation where some of my friends wrote numerous articles about COVID-19 that may have lost relevance over time, leading to slow decay.
The below image illustrates a graphical representation of different phases in a content/article written by Myriam founder of web technical agency pragm.
As content ages, it can become less relevant or even obsolete, resulting in reduced traffic and engagement. For instance, the Will Smith infamous Oscars 2022 slap may no longer be considered relevant and may be seen as old content now. Although the content may still receive traffic, it may be in a state of decay, which worsens over time. References, conclusions, and supporting data that are five years old may become outdated and less relevant. The screenshot below displays an article ranked third in the SERP (search engine results page) that has not been updated since 2016. A competitor could probably surpass it and claim the third position by creating a comprehensive checklist and producing new content that is more relevant and trustworthy for today's audience and after covid situation. Did the writer add sanitizers and masks to his list?
An update in the search engine algorithms may also result in content decay. For instance, after Google introduced its Core Web Vitals update, the pages with slower loading times for their main content experienced a decline in their search engine rankings. Despite having the same components like images, videos, and graphs, the user experience was adversely affected, leading to a lower position in the search engine results in pages for specific URLs.
Fresh, updated content from competitors on the same topic can render existing content outdated and stale. Often, competitors conduct extensive research during the content development phase, resulting in more valuable and highly relevant content aligned with search intent. Additionally, competition may not always be external. New content writers or SEO experts who replace the old ones may not review the old content and create new topics and content. This can lead to a higher chance of duplicate content, causing internal cannibalization.
Performing a technical audit at regular intervals is crucial, as broken links, updates that affect page load time, missing alt-text attributes, and other issues may cause a decline in website performance.
Annie Picard from slasheuse says, "Content decay can be caused by a shift in the search intent. Google always evaluates how the users interact with the results and adjusts the SERP to match the user intent. Its goal is, of course, to present contents that match the meaning behind the query and offer a satisfying answer to the user's need. If the user's needs change, then the content that was ranking for a previous intent will likely drop in the results.
For example, users searching for AI in 2019 were probably interested in knowing how it works and the new developments. In 2023, they are most likely looking for an app or the news about Chat GPT specifically. “ She further says, “To prevent content decay, one must have an empathetic approach with your SEO and put yourself in the user's shoes. "
The primary reason to address content decay is to facilitate growth and regain website momentum. We aim to make our articles more contextually relevant to user intent keywords. Outdated content can adversely affect the user experience by providing inaccurate or irrelevant information for the current time. Our objective is to establish ourselves as a reliable source of information for all users, including students, teachers, experts, and learners of any kind.
By now, you're familiar with the content life cycle and the reasons for content decay. Let's delve deeper and explore some significant solutions for addressing content decay.
Outdated statistics, graphs, or facts can cause frustration among users. Consider how we eagerly awaited updates on COVID-19 infection cases in our city and monitored protocol changes and travel restrictions. Updating references, screenshots, statistics, and anything else that feels outdated is crucial.
Refreshing content may also involve restructuring, which could result in adding or removing content. Sometimes, content refreshing can be labour-intensive, depending on the niche and its relevance to the situation. By updating content, we not only increase traffic but also provide accurate and relevant information to users, thereby performing a valuable service.
Many small content pieces on a website often cover the same topic or relate to the same idea. Consolidating these pieces into one well-structured content block can offer users a more valuable and meaningful experience. After creating the new content, setting up 301 redirects from the old URLs to the new primary URL is essential. Search engines prioritize comprehensive content that addresses a topic thoroughly, and consolidating small pieces can result in a higher ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs). Consolidating small content pieces into one can also eliminate duplicate content, negatively impacting search engine rankings.
Reoptimize for keywords and word counts
Reoptimizing old content is essential as it may no longer align with current high-performing keywords. By reviewing and optimizing the content for new search intent keywords and appropriate word counts, website owners can enhance their visibility in relevant search engine results pages (SERPs). Search engine algorithms are constantly evolving, and regularly updating content can help to maintain visibility. Reoptimizing content improves readability and enhances user experience, ultimately delivering more excellent user value. Overall, reoptimizing old content is a valuable practice for remaining relevant and competitive in search engine rankings.
Re-promoting your content on social media can have multiple benefits for your website's SEO. Firstly, it can enhance the visibility of your updated content, attracting more traffic to your site and improving your rankings. Furthermore, if your content is engaging on various platforms, it can send powerful signals to search engines about the relevance and significance of your content. Additionally, re-promoting your content can help you build backlinks to your website, which is vital for SEO. Overall, re-promoting your content on social media or any other platform can boost your website's SEO by increasing visibility, driving traffic, and building backlinks.
To prevent content decay, it's crucial to understand the content life cycle and its five distinct stages, including development, early traction, growth, maturity, and decay. Addressing content decay is essential to facilitate growth and regain website momentum. Outdated content can adversely affect the user experience, lead to a decline in website performance, and cause a loss of traffic, engagement, and revenue. Performing regular technical audits and updating outdated content can prevent content decay and maintain a competitive edge in the digital marketplace.
In conclusion, understanding the content life cycle and addressing content decay is crucial for any organization that wants to maintain a solid online presence and generate consistent traffic, engagement, and revenue. By keeping content up-to-date and relevant, businesses can improve their SEO rankings, attract more visitors, and achieve long-term success in the digital world.