It’s quite common to worry about making any changes to your content, especially when you’re ranking well. So naturally, a common question I get is, will editing my article affect its current rankings? Of course, the answer is never black and white when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). This article takes a deep dive into how this move can impact your web pages.
ANSWER: Yes, it can affect your rankings
Editing an article that's already ranked and getting traffic can affect your rank. However, this isn't always the case. There are many examples of articles which have had no changes, but still rank on Page 1 of the SERPs for many years. Some even outrank newer, more relevant content.
Alternatively, sometimes editing may be required in order to stay on page 1. Not editing your article can cause you to lose rank too! If you're in a competitive niche, or fighting for competitive keywords, it's important to remain “the best” source for information in Google's eyes.
Most of the time making small edits and improvements to your article over time will only positively affect your standings in search engines. It's really only when you are making large changes that you should tread carefully about what you want to change.
Watch me lose a page 1 ranking in 2 months:
Oct 22, 2018
— Nathaniell Brenes (@More_Coffee_Plz) October 22, 2018
Dec 20, 2018
Remember when I split that page 1 ranking, 6,000 word post into three separate posts to try to get it into spot 1-3? That didn't work. Completely de-ranked.
— Nathaniell Brenes (@More_Coffee_Plz) December 20, 2018
Why You May Want to Edit Your Article
A common tactic that well-known bloggers use to stay popular is to regularly update their old posts. After the round of Google algorithm updates that were focused on page quality (PQ), keeping your content up to date is essential.
But aside from that, there are plenty of good reasons why you may want to edit your content.
1. The Content is Outdated
Each page on your blog or site is like ‘real estate’ and just like owning a property, you need to keep them maintained. You’re devaluing your website rather than increasing its value, every time you let an article become stale!
If a visitor comes to your website and runs into outdated information, you’ll probably lose them before the CTA, whether that be to just share/like the post, to click over to another piece of content, subscribe to an email list, or to buy something you recommend.
Updating information is important because knowledge changes over time. Duh! The fastest drone from 2012 is not the same from 2019! The rules for flying near airports and how high you can fly them changes too. Information on how to buy, modify, and repair them will change all the time.
If your article is getting traffic, having up to date (within the week or month) information will keep you at the top of the SERPs.
We'll discuss how much content to change, and how to do it below.
2. To Enhance Engagement
Going over old content is an opportunity to enhance images or videos to be more up to date and relevant. Relevant visuals can encourage users to engage with your post and improve the likelihood that others will spread your message for you (i.e. social shares, backlinks etc.). But what happens when you have old multimedia on your site? I'd be willing to bet that a nice 1080p YouTube video will help your page perform better than an old 480p iPhone 3 video from the early 2000's.
Also, occasionally updating your articles will present opportunities to improve on-page SEO. As your SEO knowledge improves, you'll notice more and more mistakes you made in the past. Adding a few LSI keywords, organizing your headings better, or just adding more relevant content to the page will help engage readers.
For example, you can reduce the size of some images or even remove/replace them completely. It’s likely that you’ve got plenty of older articles with uncompressed images from a time when you were building your website without a clue (everyone starts as a newbie SEO!). This move can improve page load time, keeping more people on your site longer.
In addition, if you’ve got any older how-to or guide articles with old screenshots, you can update them too!
3. Catch Those Typos & Broken Links (and other mistakes)
No matter how good of a writer you are, you’ll still miss something and for most creators, it’s typos!
While they don’t directly impact SEO, they indirectly do. Articles with typos can turn off readers. Aside from Microsoft Word, you can use a tool like Grammarly to do additional checks for errors. Sometimes, you’ll be surprised at what you find.
Another simple fix that can affect SEO is broken links. We've all been on the content train before, publishing content machine gun style and not doing proper editing before publishing. Those mini mistakes add up over time. You could be leaking losing quality clicks because you typed htp:// before your internal link, so you're sending people to https://htp://mywebsite.com/my-content-article instead ofmywebsite.com/my-content-article
Additionally, you can improve your internal linking by linking from older articles to newer articles, or replacing old links with newer, more relevant, higher quality links.
Will My Rankings Increase Or Decrease After Making Edits?
Whether it’s positive or negative depends on your overall approach.
On the one hand, keeping your content updated is good for users. On the other, your rankings for that particular page may drop if you edit it too much. The latter is unlikely to happen, unless you’re doing a complete overhaul on the piece.
In some cases, it can’t be helped. Perhaps, your article has to be updated because changes the information you previously wrote is no longer accurate. If that's the case, then you have to take the risk. The key is to always keep quality content and user experience in mind. Is a page 1 ranking really worth it if you are deceiving your visitors? I'm a firm believer that in the long term, quality content rises to the top, so while you may spend some time dropped down to page 2 or 3, eventually you'll regain rankings.
The following video from Neil Patel has some great tips on what to do if your rankings drop.
How To Avoid Losing Rankings!
Doing an overhaul of a piece of content doesn't mean you have to wipe the page and start over. Here are a few ideas to consider when editing. You don't have to do all of them, and they are not “required” by any set of rules. The basic idea is that your content is currently good enough to rank well, you just need to tweak it to make it accurate information
- Keep relevant headings (h2, h3, h4) in tact, or make small edits/additions
- Keep old information, but notate where updates have occurred (in small amounts!)
- Edit sentences, rather than delete and rewrite
Editing Your Article For A Better User Experience
In general, it’s much better to take a visitor-centric approach to SEO. Technical SEO will always bring in one time visitors, however, retention rates and brand awareness can take you to the next level. Here are four reasons why, and ideas on how to edit content on your website.
1. Quality Of Content
We all start out as newbie writers, so if you look back on older content, it'll be obvious where you cut corners, or just wrote stuff out of ignorance or inexperience. If a page is getting any sort of traffic, it may be worth improving the quality of your content to try to increase on-site metrics like bounce rate, time on page, pages per session, or social signals.
If a page is not getting any traffic, you may want to consider doing a 301 redirect to a better quality page, or simply inserting some internal links to a higher quality page. The benefit of doing a 301 redirect or simply internal linking isn't very clear, so just use each at your discretion.
Plus, when updating your articles you can refresh the publish dates. When Google comes back to re-crawl this page, they see new content and an updated publishing date. This all goes into the algorithms freshness calculator (I assume this is some kind of metric they consider).
2. Accuracy of Content
Inaccuracy affects your PQ because it goes against the E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) framework that Google’s manual ratters use to evaluate sites. When you’re not providing accurate information, readers lose trust. That trust can manifest itself in a number of ways, but the idea is that whatever actions they take to show that mistrust will affect the rank of your website.
How exactly that occurs is a bit of a mystery. Search Engine algorithms are a mystery. I'll admit that there's a bit of SEO Voodoo going on here. How exactly does Google determine what's accurate and what's not? I have no idea.
Still, I have faith that they are working on ways to determine this metric, and keeping your site up to date is in your best interest.
Updating the accuracy of content is not limited to changing the words you wrote. It could also involve updating images, videos, and outbound links to fresher, more accurate sources.
3. Variety Of Content
Going over your articles every now and then helps to avoid duplicate ideas within your site. Since most of us start out writing as a newbie, we Sometimes, you’ll come across articles that are practically identical or very similar. This is a symptom of having loads of content on your website.
Search engines prefer to rank one web page per keyword for every domain. If you have too many articles competing for the same keyword, you're basically cannibalizing your efforts. Writing an article for “how to build a shed”, then writing an article for “How to build a shed in your backyard” is a waste of time. Similar keywords can be diversified though!
Using the example above, you can identify what the core concept of each article is, and emphasize that to make each content different. If the first article is more about the basics of how to build a shed, and the second article is more about how to build a shed in the city where there are rules and regulations, you can edit the main title, content, and even redirect it to a new URL using 301 redirect. For example, the articles could be changed to How To Build A Shed For Newbies and How To Build A Shed According To Code In Your City.
Notice how they started off quite similar, but have now been transformed to two different audiences?
4. CTR Improvements
Many web pages fall in ranking position because their CTR (click-through rate) lags behind competitors. Your page title and description texts play an important role in keeping your page on page one!
Updating the meta title and meta description of a web page in this situation can improve its performance on the SERPs. The goal is to make them enticing or inviting enough to attract clicks and you’ll see your CTR rise, therefore, boosting your rank.
Small changes like updating with notations like “(Updated For 2019)”, or other things which indicate your content is newer than others can get more clicks. Which link would you rather click: Top 10 Space Heaters For Apartments or Top 10 Space Heaters For Apartments (2019 Update)? What about 10 Things To Do In Thailand versus 10 Things To Do In Thailand (After The Tsunami Hit). See how that adds time relevancy to the title, making it more clickable?
Final Thoughts Editing Your Articles
Editing articles to be fresh, accurate, and engaging should be part of your business building strategy. As your site grows, it will be impossible to keep everything 100% up to date and perfect. I have about 2,000 articles on One More Cup of Coffee. My recommendation is to start with your most highly trafficked pages and work your way backwards, improving the content that needs it most as a priority.
Making small changes to improve your content most likely will boost your rank in many cases. Making big changes to your articles that rank is not death sentence, but can negatively impact your rankings, even if temporarily.