What is content decay? Five ways you can fix it so you don’t lose search traffic

Have you noticed that a page or blog on your website is losing its ranking on Google? Find out why content decay could be the reason, and five ways to fix it.

If there is one thing you need to know about SEO it’s that nothing is forever. You can’t ‘do’ your SEO once and then leave it. Getting found by Google for the right search terms, and maintaining your position on its search engine results pages (SERPs) requires continual effort. 

There are many reasons for this. The first is that SEO never stays still. For example, the algorithms search engines like Google use to find and rank pages are continually being updated. So what was a good SEO strategy one year, may not be the best approach the next. 

Another reason is that content is continually being generated. So while your web page or blog may be ranked as the best resource for a search term now, that’s not to say someone with better content or a higher domain rating won’t knock you off the top spot tomorrow. 

But one of the biggest reasons why you may find yourself losing traffic to a particular page or blog is content decay. And the good news is that there are things you can do to prevent and reverse content decay. 

In this article we will explore your options, but first let’s learn more about what content decay is, and how it happens. 

What is content decay?

You may not have heard of the term ‘content decay’, but when you understand what content decay is and how it happens, it makes sense.

When you produce SEO content, it goes through a series of phases:

  • Spike phase: A new blog or page will often see an initial spike as existing visitors find it, or you share on email or social media. 
  • Trough phase: After that initial spike, traffic will usually die down. 
  • Growth phase: Over time, your page mat start to pick up traffic from SEO as it climbs the SERPs. 
  • Plateau phase: Eventually it will find its place on Google and deliver you regularly, fairly consistent traffic.
  • Decay phase: Over time, you’ll notice traffic start to decline as your page ages and Google pushes other content ahead of it.

In practice, this is what the life of your content looks like. You publish a new page or blog and share it to your customers and followers. You might email it, add it to your newsletter and share on social media. This causes an initial spike of traffic that quickly tails off. 

As it does so, your content hits the trough phase. It’s not yet ranking highly on search, and it hasn’t got many backlinks yet, so not many people find it and click on it. 

After some time, if your content is good and optimised for SEO, you may see some growth in your traffic. This can happen by other people sharing it on social media and adding links to their websites. It can also start ranking on search engines like Google, giving your organic search traffic. 

Eventually, your content finds its place. Most people who might link to or share it have done so, and you’ve climbed as high as you can on Google. So, aside from any sudden changes in interest (and therefore search volumes) for the topic of your content, it will plateau

But plateaus rarely last forever. Over time, your content can date. Maybe statistics you included or examples you give have become old, or even irrelevant. Perhaps your backlinks have started reducing as pages that link to you disappear. And other sites might have created newer or better content that pushes you down the SERPs (search engine results pages). 

Five ways you can prevent and reverse content decay

So how do you stop your site traffic being impacted by content decay? You have two choices. 

Firstly you can invest time (and possibly money) in creating new content that will replace your dated pages or blogs. And this is certainly something that is important to do regularly anyway, to ensure your website continues to provide fresh value and demonstrate to search engines that you are worthy of ranking. 

But this doesn’t have to be the only way you can combat content decay. There is also a second, easier and quicker way to stave off a decline in your site traffic, and that is by updating your old pages. Done properly, this can help then to regain their SEO value for much less effort. 

If you want to prevent or reverse content decay, there are five things you need to do:

  1. Refresh and update your web pages and blogs
  2. Add related keywords and answer more questions to boost your SEO
  3. Build more authority links, internal links and backlinks
  4. Compare your content to higher ranking pages
  5. Check and change your keywords

Let’s look at each in turn and how you can use them to stop or fix content decay.

1) Refresh and update your web pages and blogs

You don’t need to wait until your traffic to a particular page or blog falls off a cliff to start saving it from content decay. You can help to prevent it in the first place by getting into the habit of periodically updating your high ranking content. 

One of the factors that Google takes into account when ranking pages is their freshness. And it makes sense: a blog written five or 10 years ago may not have aged well. 

The advice, statistics or information in it may be out of date. Web pages links to may no longer exist. And the business itself may have changed or not even be operating. The last thing Google wants is for people using their search engine to click on dated or incorrect content. 

This is why Google places an importance on ‘recency’ when ranking web pages. If a page or blog has been added or edited recently, it is a sign that the information in it may be up to date, and therefore safe to display in search engine results. 

This means even if you create the best resource in the world on a topic, if you don’t refresh it and generate new backlinks and shares for it, eventually it will start to decay. But if you keep older pages and blogs regularly updated, you can help them maintain their Google ranking. 

2) Add related keywords and answer more questions to boost your SEO

Another reason why your content may start to slip down the rankings is simply because other people are doing it better. A competitor for your search term may create better content. Or they may have a higher domain authority and creep past you thanks to that.

Or simply you managed to get in early on a search term and the competition has hotted up since. 

If this happens it’s time to beef up your content. Can you refresh and improve it? We know that Google looks for related keywords today – something that may not have been the case when you first created the content. 

Google is also looking for content that answers more than one query for people, in an attempt to make search easier for them and give them everything they need in one click. 

This means one-dimensional content that just answers one question will struggle to rank against an article that covers more information on that topic. 

To give you an example, if you have written a blog on the best time to visit Barcelona, and all you talk about in it is literally the best time of the year to go, you won’t rank as highly as a page that also covers off other questions, such as:

  • Where is best to stay at different times of the year
  • What culture and entertainment happens when
  • Best places to eat around the year

So an easy SEO win can be to look for opportunities to expand on your content and include more information. Add explanations of terms and more detail that someone visiting that page may naturally be curious about or need to know. 

3) Build more authority links, internal links and backlinks

Also check your links, both inbound and outbound. Does your page or blog include authority links, especially if you cite sources or data? Are you internally linking between pages? And do you have a good number of websites linking back to your page? 

If you do link out to external websites, do those links still work, or are they now linking to 404 error pages? And are they the very latest versions of the relevant data? If your links no linger link to live pages, remove or change them. And if you can find better and more up to date sources, link to those.

It is also important to keep adding new backlinks to your high ranking pages. Pages or websites that have linked to you previously may no longer exist, may have removed your link, or could have slipped down Google’s rankings themselves.

So make a point of linking to your pages when you create guest posts for other websites. And add these pages to your backlink building strategy so you are continually refreshing your links.

4) Compare your content to higher ranking pages

If other pages have overtaken yours in Google’s SERP for your search term, take a look at them and see if you can see any opportunities you are missing. What does their content have that yours doesn’t?

Is their content more in-depth? Does it cover more related terms, or answer more questions related to your topic? Does it quote and link to newer or better authority sources? Does the website have more content on that topic than you?

Sometimes the reason why your content starts to decay isn’t because it’s not good or outdated, but simply because someone better has created content for the same search term. Or someone has published better content than you.

In this case, your only option is to make your content even better. And, if this page is particularly important to you, then to work at your website as a whole and increase your authority on this topic.

5) Check and change your keywords

Sometimes the trend for search terms can change. Or your content is actually ranking for different keywords than the ones you write it for. (This can happen if your article is actually a better match for another term.)

This is an excellent opportunity to update your content and give your traffic a boost. And in this case, the changes you will make will be keyword-related.

Let’s say you optimised a page for one term, such as “toxic people”, but over time the language people use has changed, or you notice that it is ranking highest for the keyword “malignant narcissist”.

In this case you, can re-optimise your page for the new keyword. This means targeting the following with your new keyword:

  • Your title tag
  • Your page header
  • Your meta description
  • Your H2 tags

Making these changes can make a big difference to the performance of your content. So if you have content that has stopped performing as well, or even isn’t ranking as well as you hoped or assumed it would, it is worth checking whether keyword changes will make a difference.

Let Google know your page is a valuable resource

Google’s sole aim with organic search is so show people the very best results for their search term. So if you want to hit that top spot on Google’s SERP for your search term – and stay there – you need to let Google know your content is the best.

And that means creating a valuable resource that you know people will love and find helpful. If this is your motivation, you will naturally create better content which, in turn, will naturally rank higher.

And once you create that content, you need to keep working on it to let Google know that it is STILL the best, most relevant and up to date information on that topic.

As you know from reading this article, half of the work in this comes from creating and refreshing great content. And half comes from practicing good SEO as a rule. Because great SEO doesn’t magically happen in just one page or blog. It comes from understanding how SEO works and practicing it throughout your website.

Get this right, and make a habit of checking and refreshing your high ranking content, and you can help to prevent and fix content decay.

Need help with your SEO?

If you’d like to improve your SEO and help your web pages and blogs to rank on Google for the right search terms, we’ve got you covered.

We’ve created online classes and courses for beginners that teach you in easy terms what SEO is, how it works and how you can use it yourself:

  • Buy our SEO Masterclass if you are a complete beginner and want an easy explanation of how SEO works and want DIY practical advice you can use immediately. (Click on the link for a special, time-limited offer if you buy now.)
  • Buy our SEO Kit if you are a beginner, or have some SEO knowledge but don’t know how to put it together to do SEO well. Our SEO Kit walks you through everything you need to know and do for SEO in easy steps.

Our SEO Kit will show you how to create content that Google loves and how to rank for the right search terms – and how to build backlinks to help prevent content decay.

Photo by Jonathan Borba