Older content a bridge to new thinking

The best (and worst) way to handle out-of-date articles on your website

In providing website analytics to professional services firms over the last few years we refer internally at Magnifirm to the Rule of Revamps – surprisingly website visitors often decline after you re-launch a shiny, new, mobile-friendly website.

There are a number of reasons for this visitor decline which we’ve covered before but a big contributory factor is decisions taken about migrating old articles.

Even for firms who are not trying to keep their migration costs down or to meet a tough re-launch deadline, micro-decisions are taken all the time about removing individual articles – just on the basis that out-of-date analysis might reflect negatively on your firm.

However with most of your new website visitors hitting an article first and three quarters of your visitors coming from search engines, removing older articles is not the thing to do if you wish to preserve your website’s traffic. It’s tough to establish good rankings in search engines these days!

Older articles are a bridge to your new articles. Here’s what you should do with older articles (from best to least-worst option):

  1. Leave the old article in place and insert a paragraph at the top along the lines of “this article has been superseded by the following new article on [link] court instalment orders [end link]”. This preserves your search traffic to the old article (and visitors to it from other websites like Mondaq) and feeds ranking to the new article from the link.
  2. Leave the old article unedited and rely on showing related more recent articles adjacent on the same page  (hopefully close to the top of the screen). So people can see your most recent articles on that topic automatically. And if you’re not showing topic-related articles you should be – not everyone who arrives at an article will want to read what you’ve written in that particular article.
  3. Edit the article on the same url. But bear in mind that if the old article ranks say for the phrase “court instalment orders” and you inadvertently change the wording to “court orders for instalments” that may negatively impact the great search ranking (and traffic) you used to get from the first phrase. In the good old days you knew the keyphrases each article ranked for but now Google replaces 90%+ of this keyphrase information in your analytics with ‘not provided’ where a logged in user is concerned.
  4. Redirect the url. This is a webserver instruction to visitors and search engines that the article that used to be at www.lawfirm.com/old-location is now at www.lawfirm.com/new-location. However this option suffers from the same problem as the rewrite option (keyphrase changes negatively impacting ranking) and our experience is also that somewhere down the line redirects are often either forgotten or just plain messed up for law and accountancy firms.
  5. Delete the article. Just don’t do this if you can possibly avoid it. Even more sophisticated strategies we’ve seen (‘we’ll keep out of date articles with over 100 pageviews’) create unexpected issues: what if a keyphrase delivers very little traffic but the traffic is very important? Or in revamps where you decide articles with less than 100 pageviews which are over 5 years old will not be migrated – will you find that large numbers of articles (each with small amounts of traffic) have big cumulative impacts in the post-revamp visitor numbers? Additionally the costs of article migration from an old database to a new database tend to be more fixed versus variable: once you create a decent database load script it doesn’t matter whether it’s used for 100 articles or 1000 articles (if you need help with either tagging or analytics around a big content migration talk to us).

Photo by CanadaPenguin