A Brief Guide to Fixing Your Old, Neglected, and Broken Content

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One of the first steps to creating adaptive content is becoming aware of the content you already have. This is why we encourage you to audit your site.

But before you dive into a full-blown comprehensive content audit, it might be possible to make your job a little easier by first dealing with all of the expired content.

What exactly is expired content?

It’s those old sales pages, obsolete product pages, and other outdated content. The pages you’ve forgotten about in your archives that desperately need some attention.

You’ll know where some of this content is off the top of your head. To properly attend to other pages, you may just have to walk through your archives.

Now, this might take an afternoon or longer, but as Sonia said in her article on content audits, there are a number of benefits to knowing what’s in your archives.

Why should you fix old, broken content?

There are a number of good reasons why you shouldn’t ignore old, broken, and neglected sections of your website.

Here are four benefits of attending to expired content:

  1. Keeps your site light. True, the more pages on your site, the wider your reach in search engine traffic. But search engine bots will also require more bandwidth to crawl your site. As Stephanie Chang writes, “You don’t want to risk wasting your crawl allowance having bots crawl pages that are thin in unique content and value.”
  2. Keeps your site fresh. Expired and old information communicates to search engines (and your audience) that your site is stale.
  3. Enhances the user experience. A well-groomed site enhances a user’s experience because he won’t stumble across inaccurate information or waste time reading two blog posts when one would suffice.

What exactly should you do with this content? You have four options for fixing each piece:

  1. Leave it alone. If it’s still accurate and necessary information, then you might find good reasons to leave it alone. Did it earn a lot of inbound links? Continues to drive traffic? Then it might be worth keeping. However, the big disadvantage with this option is that traffic to stale content often bounces — and bounces hard — which ruins the user experience. I would suggest you leave expired content alone if it can’t be fixed with one of the options below. But more than likely you can find a way to improve it.
  2. Redirect it (301). This is the most sophisticated option, but it has to be done right. Do not redirect to your home page. Google hates it, and it drives visitors nuts. The goal with redirects is to point the expired page to another page that is as close as possible in style, intent, and category. You want to match the original user intent as much as possible with the new page. A redirect preserves any link juice, too. This process, however, can be labor intensive.
  3. Delete it (404). This is the lazy man’s way to deal with expired content — and it’s a horrible idea. It wastes any incoming links, irritates the search engines, and upsets users (even if you do have a hip 404 page). Remember, 404 pages are appropriate for people who mistype a URL. They are not a way to deal with expired content.
  4. Improve it. This is hands down the hardest approach, but also the best. Look at a page and ask yourself, “How can I make this page better?” You might need to update a page if the information on the page is no longer accurate, or consolidate it with another page if you see an overlap in content between two pieces. Perhaps you need to update an outdated event or obsolete product page, instead of deleting them.

Now that we’ve explored why we should fix old, broken, and neglected content, and how to fix it, let’s look at what you should do with 10 specific types of content.

1. Past events

Imagine you held an event last year. It was your first live event, but you knew that you would hold the event again the following year. Instead of putting a year or date in the URL, just use the name of the event.

This: yoursite.com/live-event

Not this: yoursite.com/live-event-2014

So when it comes time for next year’s event, all you have to do is update the page.

Rework the content with a new introduction, list of speakers, and venue description. This allows the popularity of the URL to grow as the popularity of the event grows.

This also allows that one URL to grow in age and authority, never losing traffic along the way.

And don’t just delete the information from your last event. Take last year’s event information and create a new page. Then on the original URL, create an archive of past events, so people can go back and look at content from prior events.

Of course if it’s a one-time event, then you’ll want to redirect it. For example, say you promote a monthly seminar. After that event is over, evaluate the content and keywords people use to find that page, and then redirect it to a post that matches your message.

Or simply update the page with an announcement stating the event is over, and include a link to the replay.

2. Obsolete products

For one reason or another, products sometimes become obsolete. They exhaust their life cycles, better products come along and replace them, or they become part of larger products. This is equally true for discontinued services.

What should you do with these pages?

It depends.

If you have a near-identical product you can redirect traffic to — that will satisfy user intent — then you can redirect it. But in most circumstances, you’ll want to update the old page and explain what happened to the old product.

3. Product or company name changes

Sometimes companies change a product’s name. If that’s the case, update the old page like you would with an expired product. This holds true if a company changes their name, too.

The principle with expired content is to explain to people what is going on.

If they click on a link thinking they are going to a particular page and it simply redirects without explanation, then you distort and confuse their experience.

It’s better to match expectations and deliver the page they want to visit — even if they have to click on another link to get to their desired destination. Users want to be in control.

4. Sales that have ended

Every so often, we run flash sales or offer massive discounts over at StudioPress. For each sale, we create a unique page.

When the sale is over, we redirect the page to the corresponding, standard StudioPress landing page.

5. Expired job or house listings

In both cases, the best approach is simply to update the page, explain the house has been sold or the job has been filled — and then provide the option to search for similar jobs or houses.

If that sounds ridiculous to you, then redirect them to the closest category match. You want to give visitors an opportunity to continue to search on your site for different options.

6. Closed membership site registration

Some online producers, like James Chartrand and Jeff Goins, create limited-capacity training courses. They only allow a certain number of members in, and when they hit their ceiling, they close registration.

In this case, you would simply indicate on that landing page that membership is closed.

But that’s not all. You’ll also want to add a sign-up form, so people can enter their email addresses and get on a wait list to learn when registration re-opens.

7. Out-of-stock or seasonal products

The method above works equally well for temporarily out-of-stock physical products (think coffee mugs or books) or seasonal products, like swimsuits or thermal onesies.

And no, I don’t wear thermal onesies. Often.

8. Repetitive content

Let’s be honest: If you blog long enough, you start to repeat yourself. That’s okay, as long as you approach the topic from a new angle. This is because you will always have new readers, and even the more seasoned, sophisticated readers need to be reminded of the basics.

But over time that content may look so familiar that it provides no real value. In other words, it may not be duplicated, but it’s derivative.

Let’s say you run a blog about the horrors of tanning booths.

During your audit, you discover three articles that tackle the same topic three different ways. One of the posts is getting a heavy stream of traffic, but the other two are dried up. Can you merge those three into one article and cut the fluff?

Keep in mind, you’ll want to keep the most popular post alive and redirect the other two to it.

9. Outdated reviews

If you review a product or service, and that product or service is no longer available (or changed beyond recognition), you might want to consider keeping it and updating the content. Let me explain.

From an archive standpoint, you will probably have people down the road looking for information about the product. If you keep yours alive and well-groomed, it might turn into one of the only authoritative pieces out there — thus you might garner some links from stories by journalists on big media sites, as well as strong traffic.

And it’s always wise to update reviews on the fly.

For example, I have a review of my failed month on Medium on Copybot. Shortly after I published the post, I was contacted by one of Medium’s designers who asked for clarification so he could fix some of the problems I mentioned.

Within hours the changes were made, and I had to update my review.

Staying on top of content like this is time-consuming, but worth it. You look like you are paying attention and not lazy.

10. Old guest post landing pages

A smart practice to get in the habit of is creating a landing page devoted to the traffic you will receive from a guest post you write on another site.

For example, say I write an article for Problogger. In my byline I would not send readers to a generic landing page asking them to download a book. I would create a special landing page with them in mind — with detailed copy that says something like, “Hey Problogger readers, thanks for coming over to my site.” And so on.

Over time, though, I may have 30 of these separate landing pages. In this case, it would be wise to use the same landing page for every guest post I write for Problogger, but update it with new information each time.

Some sites you write for might shut down, so any landing pages devoted to traffic coming from these sites could probably be deleted without any damage. However, I wouldn’t take the chance; simply redirect them to other relevant landing pages.

Your turn …

I could probably pinpoint a few more examples of expired pages, but I think you get the picture. If you don’t have good reasons to leave a piece of expired content alone, then remove, improve, or redirect any information you need to fix.

Within a short period of time, you’ll have a lean, well-groomed website — one that people adore and search engines love. And, of course, less content to audit when you sit down to check that off your list.

How often do you review your site’s expired content?

What are your tips for cleaning up your old work?

Let’s go over to LinkedIn and continue the discussion!

Image source: Pawel Kadysz via Unsplash.

Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

The post A Brief Guide to Fixing Your Old, Neglected, and Broken Content appeared first on Copyblogger.

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