When did you first start publishing content on your website? The chances are that it was quite some time ago, probably pre-dating both Panda and Penguin. You may have started publishing content on your website long before you started to worry about whether the quality of the content might cause Google to either fire warning shots across the bow, or shoot your website down in flames.

You may even have started writing content for your website back in the days when keyword stuffing was almost considered a positive characteristic of content writing, when people measured keyword densities that were close to double figures, and when website content was about the search engines more than the visitors.

Should You Ever Rewrite Your Old Web Content?

Thank goodness those days are over. Unfortunately many people still host content on their websites which predates many of the algorithmic updates Google has rolled out over the last couple of years. It’s easy to forget about that old content sitting on your site, and it’s easy to assume that because it’s never caused any harm before that Google won’t worry about it now.

But that’s like saying that just because you’ve never cut yourself while juggling chainsaws before, you never will in future. Where there is a risk, there is a way in which the risk is likely to be realised sooner or later.

So website owners are given a choice of three options;

  1. Do nothing, leave the content on their site and hope that Google either won’t notice it, or won’t penalise it because of the fact that the content predates their rather more strict algorithms
  2. Completely delete all of the old content, or
  3. Rewrite the old content in the light of current SEO requirements and recommendations.

So should you rewrite that content, delete it, or forget about it?

Absolutely, positively, categorically do not forget about it. I hope that wasn’t too ambiguous. Ignoring the problem is not going to make it go away, and don’t believe for one moment that just because your old content hasn’t resulted in you being penalised yet that Google won’t take action at some point in the future.

In fact while you are reading this blog post Google could already be making alterations to the rank of your site after having re-evaluated that old content. Forgetting about it is not an option, so really we’re left with the decision as to whether we rewrite that old content, or simply delete it.

The problem with deleting old content is that it can have unexpected repercussions. First of all you don’t know for certain whether part of your website ranking is actually dependent upon the fact that some of that old content is considered worthwhile. There may be a number of websites linking to your old content which actually helps to strengthen your website’s authority.

You may also find that within your website you have partly lost track of the links to the old content, and simply removing it could result in 401 error messages being generated, which can actually cause more harm than having some poor quality content. So whilst deleting old content is sometimes an option, it’s a process which requires far more than simply selecting the file and hitting the delete key.

So what about rewriting your old content?

This has to be done very carefully, because if all you’re going to do is to take your old content, remove some of the instances of keywords, and just tidy it up a bit Google could interpret that as being somewhat lazy.

The quality of your writing is unlikely to be scintillating, and a stilted, and rather limited rewrite could not only be no better than the old content, but by refreshing the content on a page you may highlight the old file, drawing Google’s fire towards a quiet area of your site.

At this stage you are probably thinking that I have criticised all three possible options. So what am I playing at?

My advice is simple. Ignoring the old content is not acceptable. Deleting old content is very risky. Rewriting old content can be extremely successful, but only if you accept that you’ve got to do far more than simply reducing the keyword density of your old content, sticking in a few extra words, adding in an extra subtitle, and throwing an image or two at it.

Instead of simply looking at the words, think carefully about the message. Think about what the purpose of that content is, whether that content is still relevant today, and if it is, think about how it could be tied in to the current issues, debates or concerns. If the content is no longer relevant, then perhaps it might be worthwhile noting why things have changed.

It’s not enough to simply rewrite old content, you have to re-evaluate it. Make sure that it is relevant to today’s audience, includes references to current issues, topics and subjects, and that it is written for today’s audience, not today’s search engines.

If in doubt I would always recommend employing the services of a professional copywriter, since they will be able to make sure that your content fulfils all of the criteria laid down by Google’s algorithms, reads well, appeals to the target audience, and stands the test of time.

After all, what you don’t want to do is to rewrite all of your old content and then find within a few months’ time it has to be rewritten again in light of the next set of updates to Google’s algorithms.

What do you think? Have you ever gone through your website to identify old content? Have you ever deleted old content on your site, or instead have you ever tried rewriting it? Have you found any success with rewriting old content, or suffered unexpectedly as a result of deleting old content? Please share your experiences and thoughts below.