The benefits of blogging are well-known: it’s a powerful tool you can use to increase traffic, attract suitable leads and scale your business. That’s why you worked hard on ensuring your blog posts were interesting, informative, and useful. Then you sat back and relaxed, ready to watch with a smile as your traffic grows.
But after a while, your smile slowly turned into a frown as your rankings started dropping. Your content had lost its popularity status.
The culprit? Content decay.
Understanding what content decay is, why it happens and what you can do to combat it is essential in ensuring your content continues picking up steam and receives the maximum amount of traffic it deserves.
Table of Contents
- What is content decay?
- The content life cycle
- Causes of content decay
- Impact of content decay on SEO
- How to detect content decay
- Practical tips to combat content decay
- Case study: How Imperial Rank helped increase traffic by over 100%
Content decay describes content that has been declining in organic traffic over a period of time. This means that although initially your content was bringing in traffic, it gradually ‘decayed’. There wasn’t a sudden drop; its rankings decreased bit by bit. Content decay, also known as content rot and content drift, can be used to define any piece of content that has declined over a period of three months or more.
If you observe content over a period of time, you’ll notice a similar pattern. You can see this very clearly with blog posts. Just after you publish a new post, there is very little traffic. Noone yet knows that you are imparting great words of wisdom. Soon, it will (hopefully) gain traction and start to pick up. The search engines will crawl and analyze the content and traffic will begin to increase.
Now the growth period begins. Your content will begin to rank higher and appear more frequently in search results. It may attract some backlinks, and the organic traffic will really start to take off.
This will continue for some time, until it reaches the peak. Your post may stay at the peak for some time, enjoying the view and attracting steady traffic but not growing.
Eventually, your content will reach the content decay stage. The traffic will start to decrease.
Let’s compare content decay to another type of decay – tooth decay. Based on too much personal experience, I know that tooth decay doesn’t only happen because of one factor. It could develop due to a love for sticky taffies, poor oral hygiene or hyperemesis gravidarum. Likewise, there isn’t one main cause of content decay.
Content decay can occur for a number of reasons, such as:
- Google’s preference for fresh content
- External competition
- Focus on creating new content
- Search intent shift
Let’s go through each of these points in more detail.
1. Fresh content
What is fresh content?
Fresh content is current, relevant information, either new content or updated content. Search engine algorithms, especially Google, prioritize fresh content over older content. Back in 2012, Google announced: “Google Search uses a freshness algorithm, designed to give you the most up-to-date results.”
This is because when you search for something, you usually want the most up-to-date results. Let’s say you search for “World Cup scores”, you probably want to know who just won the FIFA World Cup. You’re not interested in seeing search engine results for scores from previous years.
Unfortunately, even if your content is engaging and informative, if it isn’t fresh, it will suffer from content decay.
2. External competition
With 4.4 million new blog posts published each day, there is a lot of competition out there. Although your piece of content may have ranked pretty high when it was first published, over time, it’s likely that competitors will usurp your position. Businesses in the same industry will often check out top-performing posts and figure out how they can make their content perform even better.
3. Focus on creating new content
In life, you focus on moving forwards, not backwards. Generally, this principle makes sense and you only gain from it. However, when it comes to content, out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new can cause you harm. Channeling all your resources to producing new, fresh content means that you are neglecting promoting your older content via social media channels.
This will lead to content rot, a drop in organic traffic to your old content.
4. Search intent shift
What is search intent shift?
Search intent shift refers to a change in the user intent when searching for something. This usually occurs over a period of time.
For example, when a user typed in “ai chat bot” five years ago, they were looking for information about an AI chat-bot. If a user were to type in “ai chat bot” now, they probably have a Commercial intent and want to use an AI chat-bot, such as ChatGPT.
Your content may have been what someone was looking for when they searched for a particular word a few years ago, but it isn’t addressing their intent currently. Search intent shift can therefore result in content decay.
The short answer is yes – content decay has a negative effect on your SEO, mainly due to the decline in organic traffic to your site.
Now for the long answer: there are additional SEO factors that are also affected by content drift, such as:
- Search visibility: content decay results in a drop in the keywords your post was ranking for, leading to a decline in search visibility.
- Clicks and conversions: a drop in place in the SERPs can be disastrous for your CTR (click-through rate). According to 2022 data, ranking in first place on Google Search, nets you nearly 4 times the CTR when compared to position #3.
- Backlinks: as content decay sets in, people will be less likely to link to your content. They want up-to-date, relevant content, in tune with the search intent. Site owners may even remove links to your content as it gets older. Your backlinks will start to decline, affecting your SEO ratings.
Now that you know what content decay is and how it negatively impacts your SEO, the next thing you need to discover is how to determine if any of your posts suffer from content decay and could do with a content refresh.
There are lots of tools out there that you can use to help you spot which of your content is suffering from decay.
Here are a few that we recommend because they are easy to use:
Using Google Analytics, you can easily identify changes in organic traffic to your blog posts. You can visually see a decline over a period of time and you can input a date range allowing you to compare results in traffic to a specific URL.
Google Search Console
Search Console will allow you to dig deeper and analyze the queries for each URL and see how well they’re behaving. Using the Performance tab on GSC, you can select Queries and Pages to view where content decay has occurred on your site.
Another tool we recommend to help you in identifying content decay is Semrush. Semrush allows you to track pages using its position-tracking tool. It will alert you whenever your tracked pages rise or fall in rankings. Semrush doesn’t give you the full picture, but it helps identify which pages you need to analyze further.
What can you do to banish the content decay monster?
Here are some practical, actionable steps you can take to fix content decay and regain your SEO traffic.
Expand old blog posts
Read through your old content that has decayed and see how you can expand it and improve on the word count. Maybe you could explore a topic in further depth, or add a new section to the post. Are there any examples or case studies you can add to provide extra value to the reader?
You could also have a look at the comments readers have left to see if they ask any questions you could address in the post. Alternatively, you could search for your targeted keywords and see what types of questions come up in the ‘People always ask’ section and then use them as a springboard for how to expand your content.
Expanding your content has a double advantage: the post becomes a better resource for readers and, because of the content refresh, Google will show it more love.
Update outdated info
Take a look at your old posts and remove any information that is no longer relevant. If you have included data or statistics, make sure they are updated. Remove any references to the current year, eg. ‘work-from-home has increased in popularity over the last year’. You can also add fresh content, like recent studies about the post topic.
TOP TIP: In October/November, you can already go to the posts you have that contain the current year in their SEO title, and change all mentions to the next year. Gives you a headstart on most other companies!
Stay tuned for our next post with further information and tips about updating old content.
Add internal links
Sometimes, your content is still comprehensive, engaging and relevant. To help prevent content decay, and give it that extra boost, you should include more internal links from other content to your page. This will create a better user experience and also enable Google to understand your site structure better. Google may be clever but it can’t read your mind (yet!); you need to make it easy for Google to know which keywords you’re trying to target with each blog post or other content.
Use targeted keywords as the anchor text linking to your content, to help Google know how to identify your focus keywords for that piece of content.
For instance, one of our SEO specialists here at Imperial Rank, was working with a client in the medical industry on a content refresh. After optimizing and updating an old blog post, they added internal links to it on other related posts, using the keyword ‘scheduling for surgeons’ as the anchor text. This allowed Google to understand that the updated content was the go-to piece about ‘scheduling for surgeons’ for that particular company.
Sometimes, keywords will rise and fall in popularity. This is especially true with trending keywords. Consider changing the keywords you were originally targeting with your post. You may need to research new keywords and then re-optimize the post for those keywords.
You can use keyword research tools such as SEMrush to track the performance of keywords, and then decide whether to change the keyword to a more relevant keyword.
As part of our SEO strategy for Surgimate, a surgical scheduling solution, we reviewed old content and identified any pieces of content suffering from content decay.
The ‘Patient Letters’ Challenge
One blog post, discussing customized patient letters, had declined in the amount of organic traffic it was receiving. Its position on Google had dropped, and its visibility was decreasing. This was bad news for Surgimate as this post was extremely relevant to their target audience and their software solves the challenge discussed in the article.
The Content Refresh Solution
We decided that the post was chock-full of information and didn’t need to be expanded. However, when checking the performance of targeted keywords, we discovered there were other potential terms that were more popular. We chose a new focus keyphrase and related keywords, and re-optimized the post. We also updated information and external links.
Once we completed the content refresh, we added a number of internal links to related resources, pointing to this post, using our focus keywords as anchor text.
3 months after the content refresh, this post had jumped from position 12.1 on Google Search to position 3.9. It was now not only appearing on the first page of Google, but quite high up. Traffic had also increased, with clicks up by over 100%. We had succeeded in reversing the content decay.
Content decay is a natural process that affects every piece of content published. It’s not something to be scared of, but you do need to be aware of it. Once you know what it is, what causes it and how to identify it, that’s half the battle won. You are already well on your way to combating it. Using our actionable solutions above to fix the content rot, will enable your content to regain the attention it once garnered, improving your visibility, and ultimately, increasing your bottom line.
It’s often overwhelming to try and work out which of your posts are suffering from content decay and then to create an SEO strategy to combat it. At Imperial Rank SEO, our specialists are skilled in addressing content decay and giving old content a complete makeover. Have a no-strings-attached chat with one of our SEO specialists and find out how we can help you win the content decay war.