Content Optimization: A Quick And Easy Step-by-step Guide

You’ve put a lot of time, effort, and budget into creating content. Don’t let it whither and sink down the pages of Google. Content optimization helps you boost your rankings while keeping your blog relevant and up-to-date. Here’s how to do it.

7 Steps To Do Content Optimization Right

1. Gather a list of all your content

First, compile a list of all the posts and pages on your site that you might want to update. These are primarily your blog posts, but they can also be content hub pages or in-depth guides you’ve published as resources.

There’s no need to do this manually. Simply open your Google Analytics account and make sure you’re in the general view for your domain if you’ve set up different views.

In the left sidebar, click “Behavior” > “Side Content” > “All pages” to get a list of all of the pages on your website.

If you know that you’ll only be looking at blog posts, you can use the search box to filter for urls containing, for example, /blog/. To get more granular, click the “advanced” option next to the search box. Alternatively, you can also filter out any irrelevant content once you’ve exported your list of urls.

To do that, click the “Export” button in the top right corner. I recommend exporting either to Excel or Google Sheets as I find those the easiest to work with.

Now that you have a list of all (if you haven’t pre-filtered) urls on your site, sort them alphabetically. This allows you to easily remove any irrelevant rows, which could be:

  • urls that aren’t part of your /blog/
  • any urls with parameters in them
  • automatically generated category pages
  • automatically generated search result pages
  • blog pages

2. Discard anything that can’t be evergreen

Next, we want to remove all articles that are no longer relevant and can’t be turned into evergreen content. Examples are:

  • an announcement for an event in 2016
  • feature updates
  • press releases
  • company news

We are looking for content that still has value today. That can be anything from a short blog post that needs to be expanded upon and completely updated, to an already strong article that can be further optimized to rank even better.

3. Prioritize ranking opportunities

While there are lots of factors at play – such as who posted the competing articles – articles that are ranking on pages 2 to 4 of Google tend to be the easiest to give an extra boost so they end up on page 1. That’s why you want to prioritize those pages when you start your SEO content optimization process.

A handy tool to help you find your best-performing pages is the “Top Pages” report in Ahrefs. This report ranks the pages of your website based on the organic traffic Ahrefs assumes these pages get, but what is maybe more interesting, is that it ties that traffic to the best-performing keyword for each page and its position in Google.

In other words: it gives you a list of which of your keywords are ranking on pages 2-4.

[Copyright Ahrefs.com]

Good to know: there are currently two versions of this report in Ahrefs. The old one can be found as “Top Pages” under “Organic Search” in the left sidebar and still works perfectly. The new version, which is still being further developed, sits in the left sidebar at the top under “Site Explorer 2.0”.

The benefit to the new version is that it allows you to easily compare the rankings of your pages now versus, for example, one year ago, and optimize content that has started to lose positions. Check this post on the Ahrefs blog for more on how to use the new version of this report.

If you end up with a long list with pages that are ranking on pages 2-4 and want to prioritize further, here are some other factors to include:

  • how many keywords an article is already ranking for. You can use Ahrefs’ “Site Explorer” search bar to find out.
  • which target keywords have the highest search volume.
  • what the difficulty score is for the keywords you’re going to try to rank higher.
  • how many quality backlinks these pages have.

In regards to the latter, another handy Ahrefs report is the “Best by links” reports under “Pages” in the left sidebar of the tool. It allows you to rank all of your content according to how many backlinks it has. Alternatively, you can also check this number when you’re running your pages through the “Site Explorer” to check how many keywords they’re ranking for.

4. Run an on-page SEO audit to find more areas of improvement

Now that you’ve determined which pages are worthy of a content refresh, you’re almost ready to start optimizing. To make sure you don’t leave any opportunities on the table, run each of your pages through an on-page SEO audit tool such as Surfer SEO or Page Optimizer Pro.

While you can spot which parts of your content to update so that all the data, information, and examples are relevant again today, tools such as Surfer and Page Optimizer Pro make more granular recommendations for improvement. These can include:

  • how often to use your target and secondary keywords.
  • how long your article should be.
  • which topics to include and/or questions to answer.
  • how many media elements (images, video, …) to use.

Note that I don’t recommend running this type of audit for all of your pages at once, since 1. you’ll run out of credits quickly and 2. These tools base their recommendations on the SERPs and so it’s best to run an audit not too long before you start optimizing the article you’re running the audit for.

5. Save the old version of your post somewhere

Alright, you can start optimizing now!

Or can you?

Before you excitedly start making content updates, you may want to make a backup. I’m a bit paranoid when it comes to these things, so I suggest that even when you use a plugin or other system that keeps version histories of your content in your CMS, you take two extra minutes to copy/paste the old version of your article in something like a Google Doc or a Word file. 

It’ll give you peace of mind and you can always delete the backups again later when the new version of your post is performing better.

6a. Optional: create a new content outline

Unless you need to rewrite the majority of a post, you can skip this step and go straight to the next one. However, sometimes, your article will be so outdated/short/badly written (it happens) that you’ll want to keep its core information and rework that into what is basically a new article. 

In those cases, create a new content outline for it in a Google Doc or Word File and use the old article as a source for the new one. Just make sure to still include all the keywords it’s already ranking for.

6b. Update and optimize the content

Start optimizing your post by updating the actual information in it. Update outdated statistics, screenshots and other supporting data, rewrite the content so that it’s accurate again, and add images, quotes, and stories if needed.

Once you’ve done that, your post will read like a quality new article again, but your work isn’t done yet. You’ll now incorporate any relevant keywords that your article was already ranking for but didn’t have included in its content yet, as well as any Surfer or Page Optimizer Pro recommendations.

Do be careful and make sure to look critically at the recommendations of these tools. While they’re great for calculating things like keyword density, they aren’t perfect. If, for example, each of the competing pages mentions that the images on those pages are “rights reserved”, the tools may recommend you to use that phrase as well. You know better.

7. Publish and optimize the meta data

You’re almost there! Now that the body of your article is fully optimized, all that’s left for you to do is update its meta data and republish it with a new date. If you haven’t updated the post directly in your CMS, you’ll want to copy it over first.

Then, do the following:

  • make sure the meta title is clickable and contains your target keyword. A tool like CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer may help. You can even include something like “Updated for 2021”.
  • check that your meta description is enticing and also contains the target keyword.
  • rewrite the H1 if you can make it better.
  • optimize the alt text of your images, but only if it makes sense.
  • republish the article so that the publishing date becomes the current date.

Use What You’ve Got

Optimizing existing content can often lead to quick wins and has the additional benefit that it keeps your company blog up-to-date and relevant. The steps in this guide are all you need for your content optimization process.

Rather not do this yourself? Get in touch to discuss how we can help you push your old posts to the top of Google.

Author: Sofie Couwenbergh

Sofie is an SEO-savvy content strategist, consultant, and writer. She helps brands generate more leads and keep customers engaged through clear, no-fluff website copy and in-depth articles like the one you’ve just read.