How to Find and Fix Content Decay with Systems and Processes by Nate Turner (Ten Speed)

Bernard Huang

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Nate Turner, co-founder and CEO of Ten Speed, joined us for a discussion on how to find and fix content decay with systems and processes.

Nate shared the main reasons for content decay, including content age, internal competition, external competition, search intent shift, and topical depth.

He continues by highlighting why you should pay attention to content decay with his free content decay forecasting tool (linked below). His tool calculates the amount of new traffic you’d need to generate to replace the traffic lost from decaying content.

Nate wrapped up by sharing strategies for fixing content decay and a live walkthrough of an example from Zapier.

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About Nate Turner:

Nate is the co-founder and CEO of Ten Speed - a content marketing & SEO agency for SaaS companies. Prior to starting Ten Speed in 2020, Nate spent nine years at Sprout Social building and scaling the inbound engine to $100m ARR. He’s consulted for companies like Help Scout, Zylo, Hologram, & Popular Pays.

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Nate is the co-founder and CEO of Ten Speed at content marketing and SEO Agency for SaaS Companies. And prior to starting Ten Speed in 2020, Nate spent nine years at Sprout Social building and scaling the inbound engine to over a hundred million ARR. He's consulted with companies like Help Scout, Zillow, Hologram and Popular Pays. Nate, the floor is yours. You can go ahead and share your screen.


Awesome. Thanks for those of you who are on right now live and for anyone tuning in to the recording down the line. I'm excited to jump in, let me just hide my own camera here so I don't look at that and I would love to jump in. I have a little intro here, I'm going to kind of cover what we're going to cover today. This is a topic that I love talking about and of have been living and breathing for quite a while, but at the high level what we're going to cover today is quick overview of the content life lifecycle and where content decay fits into that. The reasons why content decay happens, why content decay matters, how to identify it, ways to fix it, and then I have a detailed walkthrough just showing that example. And then really the key thing that if you're in and out I want to implore you to tune into the last part, which is really the systems and process around it.

That's where I'm going to have the leading into that is the weight of all the experience that I've had and the things that I've learned of how you actually can do this continuously and at scale to make sure that you are taking full advantage of the growth that can come from addressing it. So I don't need to spend a whole lot of time on about me since Travis just gave nice intro, but as he said I was first a marketer at Sprout Social. I was there for over eight years, helped scale to a hundred million which is a great experience. And the context here is content marketing SEO is a huge part of that scaling the blog to a million visits a month and really being organic, being the number one revenue channel for the company was a massive learning from there. And then as he said, I have been consulting within other companies and then started the agency in 2020 and have had the privilege of...

I worked with a lot of great companies so far, so excited about that. And then also the host of podcasts where we explore the different ways that content grows companies. So I have some social stuff there, I would love to connect if you're interested. So jumping in I want to just define it I guess so we're all clear for anyone who isn't as familiar with the term. Content decay is essentially an ongoing decline in organic performance rankings for one or more blog posts or just really any kind of content. And the term decay is important because it's not necessarily a sharp drop outside of an indexation issue or something, it really is something that's going to be a slow decline over time and it really can cause it to go unnoticed if you don't have the proper systems in there to identify it. So this is a quick sketch I made on my iPad one night and that went into a post we did about content decay just to help visualize. So the interesting thing here is that you really can be talking about a single post.

From a timeline standpoint that could be a life cycle of a post over nine to 12 months, or it also could just be an entire program over nine to 12 quarters or whatever. So it's similar and interesting that the pattern here can follow that for both a single post as well as an entire content program. And so really quick to just define those. Early traction, we know that new content takes time to build up, get the traction and ramp up over time. Rarely do you post something new and it just jumps up. So a little bit of a building time for search engines to figure out what's going on and how you want to handle that. Growth is really do start to pick that up, gaining back links more rankings, matching to more queries, and really see that growth that you're going for. And then the peak stage is very dynamic, for some it could be there for just days or weeks before it starts to move into decay if it's a bit more competitive or it could just plateau.

There's a number of causes for what can actually cause that peak to end the growth. And then lastly decay and where we'll spend the time today. It's just when your content's less relevant, less competitive, it can move out that and start to decay. So some examples to really show some real data behind this. This is a client that we worked with that had slow long decay over a long period of time, we started working with them in spring of 2021. And had a lot of work to do to update it, but because there was so much to do there was a lot of opportunity to get that quick growth back into the right. So another thing and we'll talk about consolidation a little bit later, is from the decay finding a way to consolidate and really see some growth. Similarly, after a period of decay, making some improvements in that and really seeing other results start to grow again. And then lastly, one of the bigger ones of just a lot of content that was not well organized and not well optimized did require a pretty big consolidation project.

But you can see really unlocked a lot of the growth that they had been desiring, so really cool stuff that comes out of it when you figure out how to unlock it. So let's jump into a little bit more of what happens there. So you're probably familiar with some of these, I don't want to spend a ton of time here, but we know that search engines prioritize fresh content. Unless you're looking up something historical, you're really going to find results in the first few pages that are less than a year or two, maybe three old. You're not going to find stuff from 2012 very often. So we know it's there, but it's not just about the published date, it's the relevancy of the content, the cited sources, everything that goes into that. So really old content can be a victim of decay. Internal competition is another one, just having multiple URLs and a lot of content on the same topic, not providing a signal that's clear on what is the actual priority, and potentially some mixed intent in one URL.

So that could be another thing that starts to cause that decay over time when you get too much overlap internally. The one that I think a lot of people probably think of when their rankings and traffic starts to go down is just someone is beating me in the SERPs. And so here in this example you can see the folks here have very high domain authority, so some of the longer tail you may have been benefiting from that because you were there first. A larger site comes in, creates content on the same topic and they just have a higher domain authority so they outran you. Or someone else maybe they don't out have a higher authority, but they just create a better, more comprehensive piece or it may be more aligned with search intent. The search intent shift can also happen, an example I like to use is electric cars. If you searched that 20 years ago you would not have seen more of a retail shopping MSRP part of the search engine because that just wasn't a thing.

It would've been early days of what we were doing with electric cars like educational informational type of results, and so that's a stark example over a longer period of time, but it is something that happens. The search engines are constantly trying to figure out what's the intent and what's the best way to present this. So that is something to keep an eye on is that if intent is shifting or if you have mixed intent SERPs, that can also cause decay to some of the existing content you have. Then lastly of the topical depth, topical authority is also important. There's been a lot of growth and development since roughly that 2018 period, so any companies that have some of that older content that is really susceptible to not really understood the intent as well and being able to go fully cover the topic. So in general, just a very positive thing for both search engines and the user to be able to understand that when they come through and read this that it is fully covering the topic and giving them everything that they are looking for.

So I want to spend a little bit of time on why it matters. There's some higher level stuff so obviously your goal is to grow the traffic and results in a lot of different ways. And so when you constantly have this decay happening under the surface and working against the gains you're getting from new content, you miss out on some of that compounding growth or as high of a growth rate. Naturally as you're losing rankings on keywords or not matching as well, you just have less visibility. And then as well when the rankings are dropping, you're getting less of that click through, not getting as much traffic and then therefore fewer people coming to your site, less awareness, less traffic, it's harder to get. The real reason you're doing this is to get business outcomes and when you're missing out on those, you have less opportunities to grow the business. And then generally I think an area that not as many people talk about is the content decay can affect your ability to retain back links.

And so as your content gets older and less relevant, anyone who had linked to you prior if they're trying to stay on top and keep their content relevant are going to look at your source and say, this is no longer a good place to link to and they may link elsewhere and you lose some of the back links. Which just accelerates the downward spiral then and actually makes it harder to get some of those wins from updating the content. So this is a content decay forecasting tool that we built. First of all, you'll have access to it at the end of the deck and we'll send it out as well, but I wanted to walk through some examples here. So there's instructions in there if you want to calculate your own rate of decay per month and rate of new traffic growth per month. That's all in there and how to do that, but I just want to walk through some examples.

So if you're creating 5,000 new visitors per month from the new content you're creating it's really solid, but in this example if you had a higher rate of decay from a lot of existing content you can see that even though the green line, the new traffic is growing nicely, the net total struggles over a 24 month period actually declines. And then this is two different paths to doubling from a 100,000 so getting to 200,000. In this example, a lower rate of decay still not zero, but a lower rate and then in terms of new traffic per month around 8,000. So that gets you there and then the hard path in this example, a higher rate of decay requires almost three times as much new traffic. So again, you're looking at this like you can see why that makes such a big difference that if you think about everything you'd have to go into getting that much new traffic every single month is a substantial investment, substantial amount of time.

It's a big operation when really just having that focus here and understanding how to tackle the decay and stay on top of it can really get you the same result without having to do nearly as much on the new side. And then lastly, in this example staying with the same top line of a 100,000. If you think about 10% decay, if that feels like oh 10%, that's not bad, it could be a lot worse I want to just show what the real impact is. So if we look at the table view from that same data and what feeds into the chart, the alarming thing is that if you look at over a 24 month period you basically have a net gain that's 10% of what you created. So you're actually losing 90%. So you spend all that work to get over 300,000 new visits in traffic only to net out about 38,000. So it helps speak to not just that you aren't getting the compounding growth, but really that you're swimming upstream and working against yourself just to try to get the same results because you're not addressing decay in the way that you need to.

So this part I just want to talk through first some of the tools and how you can do it. So there's a number of ways you can identify decay and then later we'll talk about how often and some of the systems around that. But a few different tools and we'll move quickly. This should be pretty straightforward. I think Google Analytics is possible, obviously you don't have the detail on organic as much, but you can see all channels and it's pretty easy to tie to conversion impacts. So just seeing that traffic's going down, conversion's going down pretty straightforward. Search Console I think is probably one of the most common, but really taking advantage of the detail on the keywords and the queries that are matching to the pages and losses there I think is highly insightful. But also you can see technical, core vitals, back links, all of that. Third party tools, it certainly helps to be able to do stuff for other companies where you don't have access, but can also be helpful at times just as a different place or maybe a starting place before you get into Search Console.

Just to be able to see I think a nice condensed view of a number of stats all right next to each other. And then I also wanted to call out, Travis gave me permission to highlight a beta feature that Clearscope has right now and we've been playing with it a little bit and pretty excited, but fits very perfectly to what we're talking about. Is an option of how you're staying on top of or monitoring or digging into content decay and this you're able to add the pages. And I think a couple things that are intriguing here is that you can see some of the content grades at a glance and how they're changing as well as the trend of clicks in that post. So I think those are both really valuable to see, and even in the example here you can see what's going up, what's trending down. Some of that I think is very helpful. So then lastly with this one if you're already using Clearscope as we are, then that's a very logical place that's just integrated in your workflow working inside the same system and accomplishing multiple things.

So with that, an example here in terms of where would I even start if that's your question. One place would just be a Search Console. An easy way would be just pulling data that compares the last six months to previous six months, filter in to a blog or whatever sub folder or section of your site that has your content and then export that data. And then it's pretty easy to then organize that data by clicks and by impressions, and then we always do is just make an additional column for each one that shows the difference in clicks and the difference in impressions so that we can see what gained and what declined in that time period. And then really just sorting those from highest to lowest. So starting with impressions and looking at where have we lost the most impressions? Did we also lose clicks? And then repeating that process of where we lost clicks did we also lose impressions? Just to get a shorter list of where I would maybe want to focus for where there's been some of the greatest changes there.

And then a few things that that really can show you where you would start is if you have a loss of a lot of impressions, but clicks are steady then that probably means that you've lost or had a number of queries that stopped matching to that post potentially because the content that's there wasn't quite relevant. But you can identify which of those queries there were and create new content that's more focused on that topic. If you lost a lot of clicks but not as many impressions then there could be just a little bit of that ranking CTR intent issue you want to dig into. And then obviously ones that lose a lot of impressions and a lot of clicks, you want to dig in and understand what's going on there and figure out how to fix it which we'll go over in a minute. So ways to fix decay. So there's six ways that I've bucketed and I really want again move a little bit quickly.

There's a decent amount of text on these slides so that if you want to recap later and look through it there's a little bit more detail there as well. First of all, when you come across some of these that have lost a lot of traffic there are times when you'll see it and say, that's fine I don't care about that piece of content because it's not relevant anymore or we've moved in a different direction. Totally fine and that's a good way to keep your site clean and stay healthy is just to be pruning some of that content that you're finding along the way. So not as much that you would gain traffic back, but just find to eliminate it and not have to keep having that come up in your analysis. Expanding I think is quite common in an area where again, you don't have that topical depth or some of these pieces are missing a little bit of what's needed. You need a little bit more detail, you need to just round out some stuff that's desired in that.

And it could be a few extra 100 words or maybe even a 1,000, 2,000 so expanding I think is quite common and something we do quite a bit and just there's a lot of good stuff there, it just needs a little bit more. And then the updates I think a bigger one and probably one of the things that people talk about the most is content refreshes, content updates, and this I think is across the board. You can have some lightweight stuff that's updating headers and restructuring a little bit or in some cases just a full rewrite, full fresh take on the topic basically and a full update. So that's then moving into consolidation, which I think is really important. Again, when you have a lot of that internal competition you have a number of posts that are kind of touching on some things, really just being able to pull that all together, give a clear signal to both search engines and visitors, this is the piece, this has everything you want and brings a lot of opportunity there.

Creating new as I said earlier, you may find some things that are like, wow, we matched for these queries or we were matching for these queries and then we look at the content on that post and realize there's only a couple sentences and that's why you weren't ranking well. And it's a clear opportunity that you could go do some research and create a full new piece on that. And that's actually something we did a lot over the years at Sprout Social and helped drive a ton of growth for us in that respect. And then lastly again kind of overlooked, but there will be cases where you have great content, it's in depth, it's up to date, it's aligned with search intent, it just needs some back links compared to some of the competitors. Or in some cases you're just missing a lot of opportunities to build more internal links from your own content to give more signals to that and priority to that content.

So a lot of different ways you can approach it, and every situation and every point of decay is a bit different. So again, more there and then I wanted to walk through now... Let's do a quick time check so we're good. So this is really an approach of how would we go about this from beginning to end? So take an example from Zapier who has a ton of content on their site. So just dropping that into a third party tool because we don't have access to their Search Console or anything like that. And just basically saying, hey, if we were to look here and find an opportunity, go through the processes that we've just talked about of identifying it and then figuring out the way to fix it, how can we do that? So I will move a little bit quickly because you probably could do a full session just on this walkthrough in greater detail, but I want to make sure that we have time to get to the systems and processes and stuff that's really going to be where you can implement a lot of that.

So starting out pretty obvious in this case we use HERFs for this, but any tools would work. So dropping in the domain and going to top pages. And so here we just look and we want to sort and maybe sort by a few different things, but what we're looking at here is just a traffic change over time, over a six month period. And so we can see this post down below about creating PDF has lost 5,000 monthly visits compared to six months prior. And then similarly in the box above has also lost a substantial amount of traffic value. So it's a good one, it jumps out, there's a lot of interest there and one that we can check out and see what we might want to do with that. So first step would just be actually go make sure that URL is still on the site, it's there, make sure it hasn't recently been updated in which case we can see a date from early 2021.

So then dropping back into the tool, put the URL for the specific post into there and really look at like, okay, where's back links, referring domains make sense, and then click into the actual organic keywords which is 3,700 for this post. And then here we want to just spend a little bit of time looking here. So you can see the ones with the red bar next to them up top are the highest volume, and they also are all on eight to 11. So end of first page, beginning of second page and so it can make some assumptions that maybe that's where some of the bigger drops happened. But then also can see some that are here in the four or five are a bit longer tail and maybe matching a bit better. So obviously if you had access this is where you would want to validate in Search Console yes, this is actually where the loss came from is from some of these higher volume ones that are at the end of the first page. But in this case we'll just assume that we have validated and we're going to move forward.

And then really from here it's that question of do the ones that are ranking better and the ones that we may have lost are they similar enough that we need to update this and expand it, or are they different enough that it warrants splitting out and creating something new? And so one quick check is the create PDF query on the left example is one of the high volume ones and how to create PDF on the right is an example of one it's ranking for. So you do this for a number of queries, but really just a quick glance of are they relatively the similar results or are the SERPs quite a bit different is what we're trying to understand. In this case, they're very similar. The how to create a PDF one does include video, so if we have some video asset to be able to put into that post that's a good idea to embed that there. And then also if you don't it could be an opportunity to suggest creating one as a way to enhance that.

And then similarly, I know this is a tough visual, but the create PDF side the thing we're looking at here is that there's a mix of tools that are coming up and also how to. So again, there's a bit of a mixed intent SERP here, but quite a bit. So generally what we're trying to do then is say based on this I think some could take a different approach and say we want to split the separate ones, but with enough of the SERPs looking similar we think there's a way to optimize this, expand on it to really be able to say, hey, there's a way to cover how to create a PDF and cover both of the instructional and the tools side of it. And then again, if we really wanted to go after it and had developer resources it could be interesting. I don't know how much development time would be required, but to actually create a tool to be embedded on this page as well.

So next we want to just go and look at the competitors and analyze everything that's going on and actually click into all the results in some of those SERPs to see how does this post stack up? So obviously you want to use Clearscope for a number of the queries here to see that from the natural language standpoint and some of the competition, but then I also want to go and look like the visual waiting, the priority sections of some of these posts. What's happening here? This is just of a collection of some of those posts in the top spots and understand what's happening here, and so that can give us some direction too on how we want to structure the post and where to prioritize. And then we also want to look at the featured snippets and the PAA section to gain even more context on what we're interpreting as intent. So at this point we understand that we've identified a post with material loss, we've looked at the queries that seem like they have the most potential to gain.

We've analyzed the intent behind those queries, determined a path forward to refresh and expand the content, studied the Clearscope reports and manually reviewed competing site. I've mapped out some of the headers and studied the featured snippets and PAA. So all that's gone into this, and so next I'm not going to walk through a bunch of screenshots here, but we're going to update the content or we're going to update the H1 to fit the new direction and the new angle of this. We want to expand the number of H2s to really cover all of the ways to create a PDF, and we want to build out inside of those more examples of tools that people can use. We want to make sure we format and structure some of the more informational stuff correctly to be able to compete for the featured snippet. We're going to actually write the new content and adjust all of the formatting and layout of the posts and update title tag and meta description. So there's a lot there and I'm breezing over a good chunk of work, especially on the writing side.

But then lastly, you want to jump in and see what does this have for internal links and what do we have? And so we could do that in this tool, you could also do it in Search Console and we can see there's basically two meaningful internal links. So an easy way just do a site search including your blog structure and the PDF term, and really just try to quickly highlight what's indexed that has some similar content and look for ways that you might be able to build some internal links to this that we're going to update. And so then lastly, where we're at is we want to make sure that as we're doing all this update work, we build internal links to it to give it the most paths into that and the most signals for search engines. We also want to make sure we update the published date. So that's again, for search engines and for people landing there to know that you've spent time in updating that recently. Definitely want to put a good amount of distribution behind this.

You've spent time updating it, it's still highly relevant, it's not repetitive to people just because you had written about it before So please distribute as much as possible. And then with anything, bigger changes you certainly want to monitor performances and understand what's happening. Did we get it right? Do we make a few little tweaks once we see some of the data coming in? Because you don't always get it right on the first shot so that would be the last piece there. So now I want to get into the systems and processes because we've gone through quite a bit of the elements of decay and the important part here is to understand how to turn this into something that you're going to be able to address regularly, know how to do it, build it as part of your entire content program. And something that feels just as much a part of it as anything else, and not this thing off to the side that's a nagging task that you have to do. So one of the contexts I want to provide before jumping in this was a post at Sprout Social that was conceived and created by my now co-founder at Ten Speed, Kevin King.

And so this was an area that identified a ton of different image size queries, and really saw an opportunity to build in a consolidation standpoint, even though we didn't have a lot of content. Just a massive resource that would be easy to use, a big asset for social media managers as social networks are constantly changing that. So this ended up being a highly traffic post. So this is just some HREFs data on it, but one of the big learnings... I mean, this particular piece was called Always Up to Date and so by nature we had to update it, but outside of that we would have anyway because it had such substantial amounts of traffic that we really had to update it about quarterly. Otherwise we were losing anywhere from like 70, 75,000 visits per month if we would've let it decay. So you think about that on a quarterly basis, losing that much monthly traffic and how much you would have to create new to offset that. And you can even see in this chart, even past the time when I've left Sprout that there's some big swings up in some decay and then some work and some big swings up again.

So that is one example of many of the things we did and a lot of the learnings that I've had from the time of scaling Sprout, even some of the consulting work I did, and then very much a part of a process that we have for our clients to be continuously addressing content decay. That's where all these learnings are coming to place, but the reason that teams struggle with this and everything we've gone through is that I think there's a lot of talk about being too much focused on new content. You're on that new content treadmill or hamster wheel or whatever you want to call it and I think that's true, but I think the bigger challenges are it keeps happening. So in that example I just gave from Sprout, it can feel frustrating to have something that is such a big part of your traffic and your lead generation and revenue that just keeps having to have focus on it. But really thinking about that over dozens or hundreds of posts can be overwhelming. So it's tough for teams because it keeps happening on a monthly, quarterly, semi-annual basis. The process is time consuming.

I've went very quickly through all over the last 20, 25 minutes, but even that you can just see that's one post so there's a good amount of work that goes into it. And even if you do have in-house expertise again, the in-house folks who understand how to do this have a lot of other stuff. If they're in-house SEO, they're probably dealing with technical and other onsite and just all kinds of stuff that they don't necessarily have the time to fully focus on what this takes so it's really tough. So this framework we came up with is really focused on decay and the operations around addressing it so the apps framework, analysis, planning, production, and standardization. So one of the things is at the very minimum set a predetermined cadence for analyzing decay. It can be the first of the month, first of the quarter, whatever it is for you pick a time, put it on the calendar, just make it a regular thing that you're going to commit to doing that. If you're not, that's where you start to have the decay that you aren't seeing happen, but it's happening under the surface.

So this is step one, just to make sure you're looking at it on a regular basis. I always recommend that you have some sort of scale, create it to whatever makes sense for you. Example would be if you market as a one, it's like, hey, we need to update this, there's issues. We got to do it. Two, I'm going to investigate this further. Three would be defer. The next time, whatever your cadence is you come back to check, you start with your threes and see if it is actually gone down further or if it was fine. And then four would be no issue. And the other aspect in how you create your scale is to understand that fluctuation is normal. Content decay, it's not always decaying if it's going down because rankings fluctuate, traffic fluctuates. So I would recommend figuring out how to calculate your standard deviation benchmark for some of your traffic. And if you have some posts that are really, really big maybe calculate specifically for that, but use some sort of if it's greater than one standard deviation as part of the math in your scale that you create.

And then lastly in terms of analysis, I recommend having a way to flag frequency. So again, the example I gave on that a post from Sprout. We flagged that one this is quarterly and eventually it became monthly because it was so competitive, but we didn't have to go looking for it every time and duplicate that analysis work. We just knew over time, hey, this one's quarterly or this one's monthly, we got to just throw that in a column in a spreadsheet and now we know. So as you get going and make it more and more of your process, highly recommend that that becomes just a data point that you have in the spreadsheet or somewhere that you can reference that first without having to do the analysis work. Next, content planning cannot be in a silo. You can't have content decay be this other thing that gets addressed once in a while, but content planning is here. It has to be something that's integrated into the topic roadmaps you're doing.

I also would recommend as you said, you figure out what are some of the posts that need to be updated more frequently because they decay faster, it's more competitive. I recommend that your content planning meeting is that it matches the frequency of your most updated cadence for content. So if you have a post that needs to be updated monthly but you plan your content calendar quarterly, that becomes very challenging to figure out. You start to have issues where it's competing, you have to bump stuff down, it just gets a little bit more clunky. Whereas, if you're most aggressively decaying stuff is semi-annual, then you have a lot more flexibility in when you plan. But if you have some aggressive stuff, I would recommend making sure you match your planning cadence to that. Also, if you have a fixed capacity each month you got to determine what's the ratio that you want to approach. So at Sprout it changed over time, but I think we had 14 new six updates per month and then we were trying to prune 10 to 20 posts per month as well.

And so that helps as you go into planning. As you're doing your research, you understand roughly the ratio you're at. The example I gave earlier where we had that client with a steep decline and then we built it back up, we did nothing but fixing decay and working on existing content for I think six months before we really even got into new content. And then over time that ratio can shift depending on what you need so it's flexible, but it really just helps to make sure you have that instead of building an entire content calendar of new content and then fighting to try to get content updates done. And then lastly, and I'll go into more detail on this in a couple slides, but I highly recommend that you insist that content decay research is done ahead of planning meetings. So you can't come in and just say, hey, this one's dropped whatever, X percent or we've lost so many clicks. I want to put this on the roadmap without having done the process of understanding what's actually going on and what needs to be done to fix it. So that work has to be done before planning, and I've lived some of the pain to say that that's an important one.

On the production side, I recommend having a different content brief template for updating existing content. So we do this at Ten Speed, we do this at Sprout. There's just the differences here and the instructions you have to give writers in what you're keeping, modifying, deleting, rearranging. There's just some differences there so I recommend having a different content brief template. Also, you want to work with writers who understand how to do content updates. It's not like it's overly complex, but again, if you're taking some of these different directions it's just different. If you've ever had to come into a piece and try to rearrange it and work it, it's just different than starting from scratch so having writers that understand how to do that work is helpful. And also, just whatever terms you have with this contractor or agency or whatever make sure it's favorable to be able to do smaller updates and that you don't have to pay that full new content rate every time they work on something I think is also important.

You should ideally have some publishing checklist. For some of you it may just live in your head, but when you're publishing a new post you have a checklist of things you do. I recommend having a unique one for when you are publishing any content update or consolidation just because there's a number of things that you have to do to make sure there's potentially three or one redirects, any changes made updating the publish date, all that stuff I want to make sure you're accounting for that. And lastly, you also probably have some process of how you get images for posts unless you're doing it all yourself, even then you kind of have a process. Make sure you also are accounting for how you get new or different images for this. So you don't want to have everything ready to be updated, but it's outside of your creative team's workflow and all of a sudden you don't have the images you need and you're held up from publishing it. And lastly in the standardization, this one very closely tied to the planning portion of it, and I highly recommend that you over time develop a menu of predetermined ways to handle decay.

So you could say this is a small one, medium, large update, consolidation is its own beast, whatever it might be. I don't remember what terms we used, we eventually developed this over time at Sprout and it was substantially helpful. And so you could get an idea of okay, a small update is we're going to change these three or four things and then understand those and your team may have a rough idea of how long those things take. If not, I recommend just tracking time for a short period just to get an idea and then you build those. And the reason this is so important is that it gets folded into your planning process because... And this is why you have to have that research done ahead of time to know what is needed. So when you come in, say you're doing 10 posts per month, so you're coming with a plan for 10. If you know you've already done the research and you say, hey, look, these just need some small updates, there's two of them, we do that. And you'll know, hey, this amount of time for two small updates is equal to one new post or one full slot of the 10, and you could plan accordingly.

And then on the flip side, the consolidation project could be pretty big and that could require two of those slots in that month. So it's just really important that you have that level of research done ahead of time so when you go into planning you can come in with convictions, say, I've done the research, this needs to be consolidated. I need to dedicate two slots to this so that we can get it done. And this just helps your team to not be over committing to stuff or stretched or you're constantly bumping stuff to the next month. It just really makes everything flow much smoother, and make sure you're getting to the things that you need to get to. And then lastly, the same can just be true for design development resources. So as you start to understand for each of these updates what may or may not be needed from different teams, standardize that and make sure you have some process for lead times and what you're requesting and all of that. So that's the gist there. So just to wrap up and then we'll get into Q&A.

I think what we went over and what is helpful across the entire topic of content decay is just knowing how and why it happens, understanding how decay affects your growth rate, being able to utilize the various ways to fix it. Taking the time to create the systems and processes that are going to support the work that's needed to keep growing and doing this on an ongoing basis. And then my parting words would be just embrace the opportunity. As I said before, it can feel like this nagging thing that's frustrating and you want to work on the new stuff that's fun, but you got to fix this old stuff. And honestly it is a huge opportunity. I don't know how competitive the folks in your space will be, but I'm certain that if you are focusing on it it will be a differentiator at least for some of your competitors. And the really fun thing in some of those charts that we saw is that when it's been performing in the past and you're able to update it or fix it or consolidate you get those gains typically much, much faster even within two to five days.

So again, content life cycle, we talked about like the early traction and the growth and that takes time. When you do the updates they really can pop and sometimes pop quite a bit and that's exciting and it's fun and it helps you get some of that growth back pretty quickly. So I just highly recommend that you embrace the opportunity. So I have these resources here, just a number of things that we've covered on this that'll have that. And I think Travis is going to send some links out in the email as well, but with that we can jump into some Q&A.


Fantastic. Great job. Very thorough and actionable as well. We've got couple of questions, one from Jamie. What tool are you using on the external competition slide to see the DA and other metrics like you used on couple of your SERPs?


That was the HEFs Chrome extension, it just automatically drops that into there.


Cool. And then we got another question from anonymous. In your experience, is there an average amount of time that content tends to go through the content life cycle?




I think what they're asking is from beginning to decay how long should they put on a calendar to review?


In average, no. I mean, there's certainly posts that you could get to a good place and it'll stay pretty steady for a really long time, but then others that are up and down in that full cycle in a month. So I wouldn't want to put an average on that, but I do think as you go into that and start to learn that in your own content, that's where you start to see the average amount of time. This post is quarterly because every four months or whatever you start to see the average on some of your best performing content, but I wouldn't put a blanket average on all of it.


Got you. And then a question from Elizabeth, do you need to say last updated or just change the date and erase the original date?


That's a good question. I think either one works well. Sometimes the last updated is a work around because of how the CMS works or what's available, like the front end design of the blog and someone's working around that. Other times I think that it can show this is something we've been working on for a long time like, hey, we originally did this in 2014, this was last updated three weeks ago, we're actively on this. This is a living, breathing piece of content for us. So I think this can show that, but even that Sprout example, I mean that's a seven, eight year old piece of content that just shows the published date shown in the blog design is the most recent update.


Cool. Nice. And then a question from anonymous, do you have things you look at to understand if something has decayed versus a topic is no longer as popular?


That's a good question. I mean, I think generally on the topic if it's less popular you would see the search volume declining over time. With an SEO tool you should be able to see that. At a higher level for certain things, you could see potentially Google Insights or whatever the trend of a certain topic, but if you're talking about a more granular long tail keyword that tool's not going to do anything. I would say that's probably the biggest variable would just be the trend over time in the search volume for that topic.


Cool. And then Jamie asked, how can you analyze decay when your site has been hit by an algo update?


Oh yeah, good question. I think there's a lot of nuance to that and obviously even an algorithm update can impact individual URLs differently, but I would probably want to just look at the baseline. Overall what's the impact from the algo update? So if say you lost 20% of all of your organic traffic, that can become your baseline. You're looking at call it September 2022 versus March 2022, we've lost 20% and now on an individual URL basis if you've lost 80% on a URL then that may be a signal that you have decay on top of an algorithm update issue or it's just that that one was particularly hit. So I don't know that you're going to get as clear of an answer. It's similar to what I've been through when you've update pricing as a SaaS company and you're like, is this different because the price is different? Is this different because something else? There's a lot of things that you're never going to fully get that clear answer, but that would be my suggestion look at that top line drop as a baseline and then compare individuals to that baseline and see if they have declined even further than that average.


Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. That's a pretty good strategy. And then we have one more question, how long does it typically take for your content updates to impact performance?


I touched on that. I think it can be really quick and it should be. Typically, for things that were getting traffic before you should see that pretty quickly because there's already that established history, there's ideally links to it, all that stuff. So I'd say if you update something and it's not moving at all even within a couple weeks, then I don't think you updated it the way you needed to to really recover that. So you should see it quickly, and that's where it's a ton of fun to work with people on that and just get some of those jumps quickly. I love it as a Q4 strategy right now, that's just where I love that because you're like, hey, if you haven't been doing this, do it now because you're just going to push all of your traffic back up and you're going to head into the new year more traffic, more leads, all that stuff. And it's just a fun momentum booster at the end of the year and heading into a new year to start out on a higher note.


Nice. That makes a lot of sense, and I would agree with all of that. And you briefly mentioned it when you talked about new pieces of content you create, content you update, but what's the ratio you typically aim for as far as new content generation versus content you want to update or prune as far as your capacity from your team?


It's purely an opportunity thing because say you're going to net gain on average 500 new visits per month from a new piece, whatever it may be and each topic's going to be different and that's just a blanket statement, but you really want to understand okay, of these topics if I did all new, well what can I gain from that? And then how much have I lost over here? And really, it's just that balance of why would I spend time creating new when I have opportunity here and it's also working against me, it's declining? And so I think a standard ratio is helpful if you do two new and two updates per month or whatever it is to start, but totally be flexible. I mean, you may have a month where you're like, we've addressed most of decay, there's not really much opportunity to update, let's go all new because that's where our opportunity is to keep building, expanding the net. But if you have opportunity, be willing to shift more into the decay for that.


I like that. Yeah, be flexible. I actually just got another question from Elizabeth. How important is pillar content and should I repair my old content first?


So generally I think that the pillar content is highly effective. If you're looking at topic clusters, it's that topical depth and the authority. It's certainly an area to make sure you are fully covering that, and so I think the pillars are highly important. When we come into a company that has existing content, the first thing we're looking for is, is there a lot of the good content? It's just missing a pillar. In which case we create a pillar, connect everything that's already there or maybe round out a little bit and you almost have a ready made topic cluster. Or alternatively one of these pieces is close to being the topic pillar, let's update that one to be the pillar, shift it and then build a little bit more around it. So Elizabeth, I don't think it's a matter of choosing between one or the other, I think I would make that to some extent part of your process in looking at that. And maybe you don't have any that would be updated into that, but you can still prioritize updates to be if you know you're going to create a pillar on X let's look at the stuff we can update that will then fit into that topic cluster and really prioritize that as an update potentially.


Awesome, very helpful. Well, thanks again for a wonderful talk Nate, super insightful. I think you're right, attendants has really enjoyed it as well and we'll send out the recording plus all the links and a copy of Nate's slides tomorrow. But is there anything else you wanted to share Nate before we get everybody their time back?


No, I really appreciate you having me on. and folks on I appreciate you spending some time with us. Like I said before, I think it's a super exciting topic. It's one that I think plagues a lot of growth for a lot of teams and just prevents them from quite getting the results and outcomes they want. And so I love it, I would encourage you just to really embrace it and love it and treat it as a huge growth lever for your company in an ongoing basis.

Written by
Bernard Huang
Co-founder of Clearscope

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