Optimize the Past: I’m not talking about Sci Fi Android Cowboys here…
Do you optimize the past? I’m not talking about Sci Fi Android Cowboys here. I’m talking about re-publishing old blog posts for fun and profit.
I first came across the tactic in a Hubspot article called, “The Blogging Tactic No One Is Talking About: Optimizing the Past.” It’s all about how HubSpot did some analysis that transformed their whole editorial strategy.
Here’s the gist of it:
- They update old blog content to generate more traffic and leads. It’s a lot less work that creating new content and it produces fantastic results.
- They more than doubled the number of monthly leads they were getting from the old posts.
- They increased organic search views of the old posts by 106%
How’d they come up with this strategy?
That’s the analysis I mentioned where they discovered:
- 76% of their monthly blog views were coming from “old” posts. That’s posts published prior to the month.
- 92% of monthly blog leads were also coming from “old” posts.
- 46% of monthly blog leads were coming from 30 individual blog posts.
Yikes that’s a lot! I’d be trying to optimize it too!
Here’s the flip side in the form of the effort of not optimizing the old posts:
- They were publishing 200 new posts a month and had accumulated 6,000 total posts.
Dang that’s a lot of work compared to optimizing the old posts.
So here’s what they decided to do:
- Figure out how to get higher lead conversion from high-traffic but low-converting Old Posts.
- Figure out how to get more traffic to high-converting but lower traffic Old Posts.
Are you sold on re-publishing Old Posts yet?
Let me hit you with a few more factual tidbits I gleaned from Moz’s article on the practice. In it, they argue that Google actually rewards the practice.
Whoa! I know I want to be rewarded by Google every chance I get.
Here’s what Moz had to say about why re-publishing old posts works:
- Google are often testing and verifying. Google likes to see how content performs relative to other content near it in the search results. Is yours getting better clickthroughs, lower bounce rate, and perhaps longer time on page? Move it higher in the search results. That testing settles down, but re-publishing opens the door to retest and your post may settle into a higher position.
- Fresh publishing gives its own rankings boost. Google wants to push content that is updated recently with the latest info.
- Publishing multiple times increases your site’s topic authority about that topic.
- Republishing can lead to more opportunities to gain links. Link creators want to link to newer content too. Plus, if you follow your normal promotional activities when republishing, that can draw in more links and social media mentions.
- It gives your content team a chance to polish an article and make it better and better over time. Don’t just republish–update the article. Research competing articles and add whatever’s missing to your latest update.
By now, you’re convinced, right?
Let me give you one more. Brian Dean, my favorite SEO Blogger, has used content re-publishing very successfully too. He got 260.7% more organic traffic to a post in just 14 days!!!
OK, let’s talk about some further optimization through automation. I haven’t seen any other site mention doing anything like this, so I hope this will be new and helpful to you.
The Bob Warfield / CNCCookbook Re-Publishing Process and Automation
My goals for re-engineering re-publishing were to increase my email conversion rates while reducing the time I had to spend managing the email newsletter. I’ll discuss my results after describing how the process works for CNCCookbook.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to my re-publishing process that I use on my main business website, CNCCookbook.com.
STEP 1: Identify what to Re-Publish
Pick your best re-publishing candidates…
When I am ready to re-publish a new article, I’m looking to score all available articles on the optimal mix of the following:
- Age: The longer it’s been since the article was published, the greater the potential benefit, and the fewer people that will remember having already seen it. My site has so many articles I have the luxury of going back 2-3 years.
- Lead Generation: I want to chose the articles that have higher historical conversion rates. I consider total email capture as my metric. So that’d be free trial capture plus newsletter capture as a percentage of sessions.
- Engagement: I want articles that people liked. I measure this through higher time on page coupled with lower bounce rate. In other words, I divide time on page in seconds by bounce rate to get an Engagement Score.
- Organic Search Potential: I want articles that are poised to do well SEO-wise. I like articles that are on the first page of SERPs (i.e. Avg position < 10) but not in the Top 3. I like articles that have below average for their page position Clickthrough rates. I look at Keyword difficulty and prefer articles where the competition is easy so I don’t have to engage in link building. Lastly, I use Google Search Console to check that the #1 keyword for the page also has these qualities. I generally don’t want to have to completely retool the keyword target to win, though see below I may try to add more keywords.
You can see how to go about plugging all that data into a spreadsheet so you can consider your choices. I generally just look at 10 or 20 of my oldest not-yet-re-published articles to find a suitable candidate.
what to optimize before re-publishing
Make it perform like crazy…
I treat it like I’m writing a new post from scratch in the sense that I perform the same initial research and SEO optimization steps. For me, that means:
- Perform keyword research using KWFinder. I’m looking to verify my target keyword (recorded for the post in Yoast SEO) is still good. If the competition has gone out of site and I don’t already have a good SERP Position (i.e. in Top 5), I will see if there’s an adjacent less competitive keyword. I will check to see if there are any keywords I want to try to add that have low competition and decent volume.
- Article completeness. I go through every article on the first page of the Google Search Results to make sure I cover every topic in them. If I find something I didn’t cover, I will add a section on that. I will also have a look at related searches and make sure I address those if I haven’t already.
- I’ll do a general proof reading and tighten up the text.
- I will go through the Yoast SEO report and see what can be improved. Perhaps some image Alt Text or other similar thing. I will also general search my site and add some internal links back to this article.
- I will pull out my conversion metrics for the page and see how it’s doing. If it is below average, I will rework it for better conversion. This can mean creating a new lead magnet or inline offer, or often just updating the old one to something newer that’s already available.
That’s all stuff I’d have to do when creating a new article, and it takes surprisingly little time to do it comprehensively for an older article–less than 1 hour. I always find ways to improve the article too, usually multiple ways.
Now I republish the article. I set the publish date to today’s date so it comes to the top of my blog. And, I proceed to do all of my normal blog promotion activities.
The exception would be that I generally don’t bother link building these articles. I’ve got too much low hanging fruit that doesn’t need time-consuming link building.
Weekly Newsletter Automation
Automate for more optimization and time savings!
All of that is pretty standard stuff, though I admit it’s the most detailed account of the process I think I have seen. Now here is where I am doing something different.
My email newsletter is sent 3 times a week–on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Mondays are always for genuinely new content if there is any that week. After that, Mondays are for content that I really want my entire mailing list to see right away. For example, announcing a Flash Sale. Or, when I re-publish a post that had super-high conversion rates.
Nothing too special about Mondays, though I do automate the process mostly so I can set it up early in the week and forget about it.
You see, re-publishing takes so much less time that writing from scratch I can set up for all three days in a few hours. In fact, I generally set up 2-3 weeks at a time on autopilot by dedicating a full day once every 2-3 weeks.
Wednesday and Friday are Special!
Wed and Friday are fully automated with long lists of articles in them. Each article checks to see if the user was already e-mailed the article. If not, they get it. If so, the go on to the next article. I try to keep 2-3 weeks ahead of the crowd.
As I write this, I have 6 months of articles on each list.
Now why do this? Because there is magic available to those who do!
Here’s what I mean:
- The articles are sent in order of highest to lowest converting. Anyone joining the list for the first time gets a super high conversion calorie diet. And every new subscriber is fed the same diet. Guess what? This doubled my lead volume! It’s content marketing at its finest.
- It makes it easy to optimize open and clickthrough rates via AB Testing. Yup, the automation is all set up. I even arranged to divide up the big initial bump of folks in the automation when I first set it up. So, for most of these articles, I get 1 week’s worth of subscribers visiting each article. Then, there’s about 3 big clusters. And ahead of those 3 are smaller test clusters that I made when I was initially testing the automation. All those clusters make AB Testing easy and lucrative. I call this AB Testing process, “Micro-Republishing” because I am literally redoing things to optimize results.
- Last thing: Google loves it when you can permanently increase the traffic to a post even if it’s not organic traffic! With this method I am literally pumping extra traffic to all of my most important posts every week. Nice!
That’s some pretty good magic to have on hand.
Overall, my year-on-year organic traffic is up about 30% and I publish very little new content plus I have a lot more time available for other things.
A new article takes me 3-4 hours to do right. That’s all the research, writing, tracking down photos, and optimization. Re-publishing is anywhere from a half hour to 1 hour. So for 3 articles a week (my norm), that means 9-12 hours (call it a day and a half) is suddenly 1 1/2 – 3 hours.
Huge time savings! Plus, I am working on proven articles rather than firing shots in the dark that may dilute my overall efforts.
Does 30% sound too low to be interesting? How about a 72% increase in email conversion rates?
Looking at my year-over-year conversion rate numbers, I can see this method increased conversions from traffic in the email channel by 72%. That’s a big deal for my business, especially when the time savings is added.
When you consider how little time I have to spend on a huge (3000 article) content site, consider the 30% overall traffic boost (not just traffic to the old posts like Hubspot quoted), and then add the 72% conversion rate increase, I consider this new strategy a huge win.
If nothing else, it freed me up to do enough Conversion Rate Optimization that I doubled my free trial rates through the other channels too. No way I could’ve even come close if I hadn’t freed up a ton of content time.
Plus, I seldom have grown more than that anyway with new content. The site gets circa 8 million visitors a year and it’s just lil ole me working it! That’s more than publicly traded companies in my niche get by spends tens of millions of dollars and having large marketing staffs.
The other thing?
My unsubscribe rates are lower despite sending 3 emails a week out than they were when I sent just one weekly email and it was all new content.
Plus, the overall traffic on my site is up significantly with non-organic email generated traffic. That’s valuable too considering how hard it is to get decent Social Media traffic. The email traffic is super-engaged. They convert well and they spend more time on site.
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