Many business owners and marketers focus exclusively on creating new content instead of optimizing content they already have.

This makes sense, given the constant reminders of how much search engines love fresh content. The result is a constant sense of pressure to keep filling the content pipeline, publishing fresh pieces to attract new users, and persuade fence-sitting prospects. 

Yet, this approach can be shortsighted. It ignores a strategy that requires less effort by building on what’s already there. When you optimize an already-existing piece of content that’s proven valuable in the past, you extend its useful life and reap greater rewards as a result. 

Benefits of optimizing content

Over time, even your best content tends to go stale. While there’s a lot of debate about exactly how long a content marketing post or article stays fresh enough to pull in valuable traffic, one thing’s certain: Even a popular piece of old content can be made fresher with a bit of a makeover, and the results can be impressive: 

  • More valuable incoming links
  • Higher rankings in SERPs
  • Increased and steady flow of organic traffic 
  • Deeper levels of user engagement 
  • More shares of your content through all channels 

How to optimize content in 7 steps

Here’s a step-by-step guide to optimizing your already published content, so users keep coming back for more.

Find the Right Piece to Optimize 

1. Find the right piece of content to optimize 

The first step to optimizing content is to use web analytics to identify topics already getting engagement and traffic, then tweak and update the content, so it will reach more users and persuade them to act. That action might be something as simple as leaving a comment, reading another post on the site, or signing up for the brand’s email list. 

Set a few specific parameters to help you pinpoint the right post, article, or page of content for optimization. 

  1. Rank: Content that ranks in the top 20 spots for the associated keyword stands the best shot of ranking more highly with a little effort. However, don’t assume a high-ranking piece needs no work. Even posts that rank in the coveted top spot can be made more rankable and persuasive. 
  2. Age: Out of the high-ranking posts you identified initially, look for posts that are over a year old. Those pages are the likeliest to see a boost in traffic and engagement through updating. 
  3. Topic: Now that you’ve narrowed down your list of pieces to optimize by rank and age, look carefully at the topic of each and weed out any that are time-limited. Ideally, you want a topic that’s somewhat evergreen or that at least can be updated to become so. 

Evaluate whether the piece also needs updating or just optimization. If it contains statistics or other data that might have become stale or out of data, mark that with a note that you’ll need to update those stats. 

2. Analyze the best of what’s out there on the same topic 

Once you’ve picked the piece you want to optimize, it’s time to identify the relevant keywords. Use a mix of methodologies, pinpoint the best content on that topic, and research keywords from other sites. Take a broad approach here, using search engines, social media search, Quora and other user Q&A sites, and other SEO tools. 

You don’t need to analyze pages of results here. Identify the top five pieces for further evaluation. Carefully read each piece, noting the major elements that account for its traction: 

  • Word count 
  • Organizational structure, including H2s and other subheadings
  • Structure of the argument (major and supporting points)
  • Outgoing links
  • Any attached assets, such as PDFs or checklists
  • Incoming links 

These factors will help you evaluate whether the finished product of your content optimization efforts is likely to outperform the top-ranked pieces. Make a list of your goals for each element to help guide your efforts as you continue to build up the content. 

3. Brainstorm ways to make your piece exponentially better 

Optimizing content after publication means making it exponentially better and more compelling than the best-ranked articles you’ve analyzed previously. The best way to go about this is to start by comparing your piece to the top-ranked pieces you just analyzed.

Some common content-optimizing tactics you can explore include:

  • Add step-by-step instructions where you previously simply linked out to how-to content.
  • Go deeper into subtopics, or add new subheadings to cover new ones (just make sure they’re relevant).
  • Add case studies and other concrete examples to illustrate points.
  • Consider interviewing an expert and weaving their responses throughout your piece. 
  • Create a collection of additional authoritative sources you can round up and link out to in a separate section.
  • Identify long-tail keywords that are relevant to the piece, then add content to optimize for those keywords. 
  • Add updates to improve the post’s accuracy, update statistics or other data, or address subsequent developments in the field. 

In addition to these substantive edits, you’ll want to make sure you’ve proofread the content and fixed any grammatical or spelling errors. This won’t be the final edit, of course, but it’s important to get the content as close to publishable as possible before you move on to adding links and formatting the text. 

Identify Improve Links

4. Identify and improve links

After you’ve fleshed out the content, consider your linking strategy for the newly optimized piece. Each link, whether it heads to another page on your site or some other site entirely, helps build your content’s profile and trustworthiness. 

Start by looking for three or four logical places in the content for links to existing content on your site (or the brand’s site). Adding internal or editorial links can help increase a visitor’s time on site and improve the UX for new and repeat traffic. Summarize those linked-to pages and then link to your other content for further reading. 

Next, carefully review any sites you link out to verify that they’re authoritative, trustworthy, and the best possible sources to support the point in question. You should also check and identify all broken links and either fix or replace them. 

Use keywords to anchor links to both internal and external pages. You may also want to keep a separate, running list of other sites to which you’re linking for promotional purposes after you republish the optimized piece. 

5. Optimize for search 

If you’ve followed this content optimization strategy step by step to this point, your content shouldn’t need a lot of work to optimize for search engines. 

To ensure you’ve done what you can to improve rankings and increase organic traffic, do a little keyword research to see what keywords might be missing from your piece. You can also use SEO tools to analyze your content for potential added keywords. 

Once you’ve identified new keywords to add, make sure they align with the customer intention that drives the newly optimized piece. Also, ensure that these keywords match the stage of your buyer’s journey that the piece targets. Add those relevant keywords where it makes logical sense to do so, but don’t overdo it. 

6. Proof and format for digital readers

Pieces optimized through this method will likely be longer than they were when they were originally published. Consequently, you’ll need to make sure you’ve formatted your optimized post for scannability to keep users on the page. 

The first step is to carefully review the content and remove “fluff” or unnecessary verbiage to help streamline your piece and increase scannability. Once you’ve finalized the substance of your piece, take a close look at its formatting and make changes that’ll help users scan the piece while still grasping your message and arguments. 

  • Lists (both bulleted and ordered) help create additional white space, order minor points, and make your content more persuasive. 
  • Bold and italic formatting add stress and emphasis, helping call more attention to new concepts and terms. 
  • Highlighting can help stress longer strings of text for added focus, such as when you’ve included a quote from an expert that neatly summarizes your main point. 
  • Sentence and paragraph length should be varied to create visual interest on the page, but make sure they’re not so long that a reader will lose interest before the end. 
  • Finally, consider removing or changing the publication date to reflect the fact that it’s been updated. 

Promote Your Newly Optimized Piece

7.  Promote your newly optimized piece 

Finally, give some thought to how you’ll promote your optimized content. While not technically part of the optimization process, it will help your piece gain traction and momentum. At a minimum: 

  • Send the link to the published piece to anyone you either linked out to or interviewed. Thank them for their contribution and ask them to share it with their networks, if they’re so inclined. 
  • Email the link to your email list along with a brief explanation that you’ve taken one of the most popular articles on the site and made it even better by updating it. 
  • Encourage social media shares. Make sure the page is configured with social sharing plugins to make sharing as easy as possible for your readers. 
  • Finally, consider sending the link with a polite outreach email to industry leaders or experts and ask for their feedback if they have time (and a share if they’re so inclined).

Timely content makeovers can yield great results

Optimizing content may seem like a lot of work (and it is). Yet, it’s nowhere near the effort you’d put into creating this piece from scratch.

You can build on search engines’ known preference for authoritative and useful content to outperform the competition.

It’s like adding many more layers and frosting to an existing cake to create something that’s exponentially more attractive to the people who already loved the first iteration.

It can help build your brand profile and draw in more qualified leads. That’s as close to a sure bet as you’ll find in content marketing. 

Talk to a content specialist today about refreshing your existing content.

Optimizing your content can help you improve or maintain search rankings, keep your credibility and trustworthiness high, and keep your target audience coming back for more.