Case Study: The ROI of Re-optimizing Content (Plus Bonus How-To)
We’ve been re-optimizing Brafton’s blog content consistently since 2018. It’s been one of the main SEO strategies we’ve used to increase our blog traffic from 20,000 to 200,000 monthly visitors over the last three years, and we’re continuing with this strategy into 2022 (and probably beyond).
For the purpose of this study, we wanted to answer the question, “How well does content re-optimization work, and is it worth your time?”
But first, let’s back up and get some definitions out of the way.
What is content re-optimization?
In its simplest form, content re-optimization is the process of updating existing content with new material in order to add value to the original piece.
There are many ways content can be updated. Here are some methods we’ve used over the years:
Adding new visual content, like an infographic, to an existing blog to appeal to readers who are more visual learners.
Adding a video tutorial to help elaborate on a topic we’re covering.
Replacing outdated examples featured in a roundup blog post with better, more recent examples.
Adding missing topic gaps that our competitors are covering but we aren’t.
Completely re-writing the content in favor of a better target topic (a very drastic measure).
In all instances, we’re adjusting existing content in some way to make it better for our audience. Ideally, that content will also perform better in organic search.
Why re-optimize content?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably invested significant time and energy into creating awesome content for your brand — and just like me, you know exactly how much effort goes into every single word published. There’s the planning, the research, the writing, the rounds of review, the copyediting, the proofing, the curation of helpful visuals, and finally clicking “Publish” once you’re done. All of this takes time and participation from multiple stakeholders.
It’s exhausting. And expensive.
It’s in your best interests to protect the time and monetary investment you’ve put into every single piece of content you create for your brand, and make sure it keeps performing at or beyond your expectations. This is why we re-optimize our content at Brafton. Because we’ve found it’s an incredibly cost-effective way to keep our content competitive and generate the business results we expect from our website.
Why this study was conducted
We know that our content re-optimization efforts can take credit for a portion of the organic traffic results we’ve seen on our website. For this analysis, my goal was to calculate the exact impact content re-optimization was making on our blog performance.
Let’s get into it!
I focused strictly on written content updates that had been made to our blog posts between January 1, 2021, and October 31, 2021. Using this timeframe, I was able to use all 16 months’ worth of Search Console data for the metrics analyzed:
41 articles were analyzed.
The articles had been republished with written content updates — their publish dates were updated at the time of the re-optimization.
Each article had a unique keyword target.
- Primary tools used:
Search Console. I compared the three-month timeframe before the republish date with the three-month timeframe after the republish date.
Ahrefs. I took a snapshot of the data from three months pre- and post-re-optimization.
Each article selected had been indexed for a minimum of three months before being re-optimized, with a subsequent three months of data to evaluate.
- Metrics evaluated (and which we were looking to improve with re-optimization):
Clicks to the URL from the target keyword.
All organic clicks to the URL.
Total number of page-one keywords each URL ranks for.
Target keyword position for the URL.
Total organic impressions for the URL.
Results: More clicks to URL from target keyword
Our primary goal with re-optimization is to increase the number of clicks each page is generating. The first thing I wanted to look at was how well this works for each blog’s specific target keyword (with the understanding that these aren’t the only keywords these blogs will get clicks from — more on that in a bit).
Using Search Console, I looked at how total clicks have changed/improved after each individual blog’s republication:
According to the data pulled from Search Console, 41.46% of the articles had more clicks to their URL for their target term after being re-optimized. In aggregate, all articles saw a 5.89% increase in clicks to their target keyword after we re-optimized them.
Results: More total clicks to re-optimized content
re-optimized blog posts also rank for more keywords related to the target keyword — and I wanted to track that change not only for our target keywords, but for all the keywords these blogs rank for. This is because, when we do written content updates, we are often filling in topic gaps to make the piece more comprehensive. With more mentions of these related topics, there’s more chance to rank for related keywords as well. This then drives up the total number of clicks to the page.
Here’s an example of what that looks like:
Data from Search Console showed that 85.37% of the articles had more total clicks from all keywords in the time period after they were re-optimized. In aggregate, the re-optimized articles received 29% more clicks after they were updated and republished:
Bonus: The data shows a 0.96 correlation between re-optimization and total clicks generated — a near-perfect correlation.
I could end my study right here and walk away perfectly happy with our decision to continue with our re-optimization strategy in 2022. But there’s more to the story…
Results: More page-one keyword rankings from variant keywords
As an added benefit, many of the blogs we re-optimized started ranking on page one for other terms related to our target keyword:
Our data shows 43.9% of the re-optimized articles had more page-one keyword rankings after their republish date. In aggregate, all articles ranked for 36.45% more page-one keywords after they were re-optimized.
Results: Target keyword position changes
For this part of the analysis, I looked at how the blog’s ranking position changed for its target keyword — comparing the timeframes from before and after the article’s republication.
With Search Console, I can see a three-month average position for our target keyword and can compare those numbers pre- and post-re-optimization.
73.17% of the articles had a better average ranking position for their target keyword after being re-optimized, according to Search Console data:
56.1% of the re-optimized articles had improved target keyword positioning after the re-optimization, according to Ahrefs:
Results: More organic search impressions
As far as results go, I’m more interested in the clicks coming to the blog, but it’s important to look at changes in click behavior in the context of search impressions. After all, a searcher can’t click on your result if you’re not even appearing in the SERP.
By looking at the change to impressions from before and after the re-optimization, we can get a better understanding of the impact of ranking for more of these related keywords.
This is also where we saw the most impressive return for our efforts — every single article we re-optimized had more organic search impressions after it was republished.
100% of the re-optimized articles generated more impressions after they were updated and republished, according to Search Console data. In aggregate, the re-optimized articles generated 62.35% more impressions after their updates.
Insights: Why re-optimization matters for SEO
The main reason for re-optimizing content is to drive more qualified traffic to your website. By re-optimizing existing content, you’re enhancing a blog post or a landing page that’s already working for your audience.
1. Google rewards fresher content
Each time we re-optimize a blog post, we update its publish date to reflect the time the changes were made. We also manually submit the article to Google for reindexing so there’s a higher chance Google will notice our content updates as quickly as possible.
Now, I’m not saying you can achieve the same results simply by changing the publish date to an article and not changing anything else, but a more recent publish date is likely a signal to Google — and searchers — that your content is fresh and probably contains useful and relevant information. They may be more likely to click on your content.
From a behavioral standpoint, when I perform a Google search, out of habit, I change the search filter to only see results from the last year (and sometimes I’ll only look at content if it’s published within the last month). I’m picky, and I can imagine other searchers are, too. Have you ever glanced at the publish date of the top results and chosen to click on the newest one?
Updating the content’s publication date at the same time we re-optimize it is our attempt to better serve the behavior of searchers and encourage more clicks.
2. Topic comprehensiveness (not word count) leads to more clicks
When we set out to re-optimize a blog post or a landing page, we’re not just looking to beef up its word count and call it a day. A longer word count doesn’t always equal more clicks.
Instead, we strive for topic comprehensiveness, and often that means we are building on what’s already there. But not always. Sometimes we’ll remove sections that are no longer relevant.
What’s important is that we’re comparing our content to competitors in the space, and finding ways to improve on what we’re missing. And we’re doing all this to serve our audience with the best content we possibly can. As a result, our content covers more ground and gets more impressions and then, ultimately, more clicks.
By honing your message around a target topic and adding value to your content with a re-optimization, you’re giving Google more reasons to serve your content to its users.
In a perfect re-optimization scenario, Google notices you’ve provided more useful information, your content will rank higher in search for your target keyword, and you’ll get more clicks to your page. And best of all, those clicks will be visitors that are highly interested in what your business has to offer!
Adding more information to an existing blog post or landing page makes your content more comprehensive. You cover a broader range of related topics, and therefore there are more chances to rank for those variant keywords. This is what helps extend your reach beyond just that initial set of target keywords.
And the more chances you have to rank for these variant topics, the better. The more often you show up in search, the more users will start recognizing your brand. They might even start searching for your brand name directly.
Bonus: Re-optimize your own content and analyze your results
Checklist: How to determine which content to re-optimize
If you’re sold on content re-optimization — great! — but you’re also probably wondering where to start.
I’ve created a checklist that I use for the Brafton blog to help me decide whether or not I should spend time (and money) to re-optimize a piece:
1. Look for pages that have had a dip in ranking position or estimated traffic. This will be the first flag that you might want to re-optimize your content.
2. Check the current content’s score in a TF-IDF tool (I recommend MarketMuse or Clearscope) to see if there is room for improvement. If your content score is lower than the tool’s recommended score, it’s a hint that you probably have some missing topics to cover.
3. Check ranking changes/SERP-rank volatility to see what’s changed on page one. Take a look at the top 10 ranking positions and how those results have changed over time. A SERP with a lot of volatility or new competitors coming onto the first page is a good sign that you’ll need to improve your content to stay competitive.
4. Look at the current results on page one and determine if you can still realistically rank there. If you’ve been outranked for a SERP and you can’t reasonably get back onto the first page, your efforts might be better spent elsewhere.
5. Estimate the traffic you might gain from your page-one ranking. Don’t forget that clicks decline the farther down the page you rank.
6. Ask yourself: Is this good enough? If yes, then proceed to the re-optimization!
Walkthrough: How to tie content re-optimization to ROI
Now for the fun part — diving into your own data to find out if your updates made a meaningful impact on your business goals.
Speaking of goals, you’ll want to make sure to determine the goals that make the most sense to your business and what you’re trying to accomplish with organic search before starting on this re-optimization strategy.
More clicks to the blog, year-over-year.
More website conversions from organic traffic.
Better brand awareness in search.
If you’re just starting to re-optimize your content, I recommend bookmarking this article and coming back to this section later. While it’s true that performing updates to your content may have an immediate impact on your content — a jump in keyword position, perhaps — you’ll want a decent chunk of data to perform your analysis. And the only way you’ll get that is with time.
Step 1: Choose content to analyze
Once you’ve got a few months of data to work with, you can start your analysis. Say you re-optimized a few blog posts three months ago (and these blogs have been live on your website for at least six months). Add those URLs to a spreadsheet. Here’s the template I used for my study if you want to start there.
Step 2: Note publication date, and determine timeframes for analysis
Log your republish date for each article in the sheet. Then determine the timeframe for three months before your republish date and three months after (not including the actual republish date).
Tip: You can search this in Google Search for an accurate answer, no calculator or calendar required:
Step 3: Pull your data
For each metric you’re looking to measure, pull the data from the two separate timeframes:
Step 4: Analyze your data
It might look like steps 1-3 are quick and easy, but they’re surprisingly time-consuming and tedious. Once you’re done you’ll have a lovely block of data to analyze. Calculate the changes for each article individually, and in aggregate, to see how your optimization efforts paid off.