I’m in Content Debt, Now What?

06-02-21 Kaitlyn Nielsen

Let’s explore both how you know what to update or delete from your site through a ROT analysis and how to update your outdated content.

So, you are in content debt. You have work to do because of your initial content strategy that did not focus on longevity. Now what? Well, don’t panic: you’re not alone.

Here at Sparkbox, we have over 650 articles on our blog as of November 2020, The Foundry. A number of these are outdated or superfluous content from as far back as 2011. Back in 2011, Sparkbox was just a small, scrappy team trying to publish regular content. As we’ve grown, we’ve developed a dedicated content team and standards for publishing. So over the past year, we’ve been revisiting that older content from Sparkbox’s early days and working to update it and ensure that it’s valuable to our readers.

Here are the steps we have been taking to dig ourselves out of this multi-year content debt hole.

Step 1: Organize All the Content

To be able to sort and make decisions for a large number of articles or pages, you first need to consider an organization system. For our 650 articles, we pulled three months of Google Analytics data and sorted our articles in a master spreadsheet by the number of pageviews.

This allowed us to prioritize our decisions. That way, we could quickly work on our highest trafficked articles so that the largest number of users were seeing valuable, up-to-date content. Then we could work on the more seldom viewed pages later.

Step 2: Evaluate Existing Content

After we had everything organized in a spreadsheet and prioritized by pageviews, we were then able to analyze all of our content. We decided the best strategy was to perform a ROT analysis because this involves categorizing posts so you can easily determine what action needs to be taken.

To perform this ROT analysis, we had to ask ourselves if the content was redundant, out-of-date, or trivial. Here is how we defined each of these categories.

👯 Redundant: We marked articles redundant if their content was repeated somewhere else on our blog or website.

Out-of-Date: Because a lot of our content covered specific technologies that can change quickly, we actually marked almost all articles over 2 years old as this “out-of-date” category. We then contacted the author or another subject matter expert to determine if the content was indeed out-of-date, and if so, what needed to be updated or cut.

🤡 Trivial: Our team defined trivial articles as content that did not provide value to readers at this time and did not have many pageviews (typically under 10 pageviews over three months). On our blog, some of this involved old year-end wrap-up posts or old content that was just meant to be funny.

And of course, there were some articles that fell in a fourth category that we simply dubbed ✅ good. These were articles that were still highly relevant, valuable, and did not require changes.

After our team categorized the articles, we gave them some further consideration. Did they need to be updated or removed from our blog? We often decided to update redundant and out-of-date articles while we decided to remove trivial articles (though there were certainly exceptions to this principle). Note that when removing an article from our blog, we always asked for the author’s approval before removing it and redirecting the URL to related content.

Step 3: Update Old Content

You now know which content needs help, and you have an order in which to tackle it all. But how should you actually update the content? There are many benefits to updating old content, including the fact that it is usually easier than creating new content. For our blog, we looked at updating a few key areas.

Content

It goes without saying that as you are updating old articles or pages, you actually will update the content (which includes fixing old grammar and spelling errors). We encourage the author (or if the author is no longer present, another individual with knowledge about the content) to update the article. Even if the article needs almost a full rewrite, we want to update it on the existing URL, especially if that URL is still ranking in search or getting significant traffic.

With updating content, it is important to also update any broken links on existing articles. We check this monthly across our entire website. There are many tools available for finding broken links, including brokenlinkcheck.com, deadlinkchecker.com, or ahrefs.com. Fixing broken links also gives you the opportunity to link to newer or better resources, which can improve your SEO rankings.

Date

Once an article is updated, we change the article’s date to reflect the time of the new information. This has many SEO benefits and helps readers know right away that the content is up to date. To be transparent, it’s also a good idea to have a reader’s note on updated articles that informs readers of its history and current relevance.

Consistency

Our blog has had 60 different authors and a handful of people managing it over the past 10 years. During that time, we have also refreshed The Foundry’s design many times. These situations created inconsistencies across our articles. So updating our articles is creating more consistency:

  • Reviewing keywords for the meta title and meta description
  • Checking accessibility in images and alt text
  • Tagging articles for easier findability
  • Editing content to fit our current voice and tone guidelines

So far, we have updated consistencies on about 50% of our old content. There is still a long way to go, but updating these areas can take time.

Step 4: Create New Content The Right Way

The last and most important step is creating a system for the future. For Sparkbox, this means

  • Outlining writing processes with built-in steps for feedback
  • Identifying ownership for The Foundry and its content
  • Updating and implementing a writing and tone guide
  • Creating a system for updating articles

Happy Updating!

Updating old content is easier than creating new content, and it has many benefits, including improved SEO ranking, site authority, and users believing you are giving them the best content possible. Here are some other great resources that can help you update your content. Enjoy!