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Legacy Content SEO – Trash or Treasure?

Legacy Content Search Traffic

Photo Illustration © Mike Valentine

Legacy web site content that generates consistent, quality traffic from search engines (which converts visitors) is golden and should be treasured. I’ve been involved in a dozen or more conversations in which the fate of “Old” content was to be decided. Many times, that legacy content was among the most trafficked pages on the site and nobody was aware that it brought consistent, valuable, converting traffic.

This ignorance is often due to an understandable focus on fresh, current and “New” content that is being added continuously. If there are no eyes on the traffic stats and the awareness of evergreen content that brings a steady stream of new visitors – its value can be unknown.

And it’s not only evergreen content that can bring that search visitor, but visitors interested in historical information. Those visitors may have sought old information, but are then exposed to your fresh, new stuff via “Related content” modules or featured content in the shoulder – now that you have them, you have an opportunity to convert them.

Another time legacy content can be forgotten and may be at risk of abandonment is when a site is being refreshed, redesigned or relaunched. The existing content is sometimes discarded like yesterdays trash when there is no attention focused on how many new visits from search enter on that old stuff. When that old content is well integrated into site hierarchy, has significant external inbound links and has some long-term authority, new search visitors can quickly become customers.

SEO Trashpile

Sometimes upon review, it is discovered that the legacy content is outdated and needs a refresh with new images or more appropriate headlines. Just add a little polish to make everyone proud of what may have been previously tired text – the old stuff may only need a slight make-over to continue being relevant. The updates will also make them appropriate for social media posts highlighting historical information and encourage more links to increase authority further.

SEO Trash

Photo Illustration Copyright © Mike Valentine

There is no doubt that some content needs to go to the trash heap when it is no longer relevant or has become inaccurate or outdated. But it is imperative that the content dumping process is done in an orderly and efficient manner by either 301 redirecting to more relevant content or if none exists, 301 redirecting to category pages which generate javascript overlays explaining that the content is gone. More on content cleanup.

There is an often overlooked area of content that is both old and at the same time, potentially new. Publishers that own historical print archives of their magazine, newspaper or industry information who earn advertising revenue from their online content – should consider having that library content digitally transcribed to post online.

Old content is potentially lucrative if the archive has significant demand. The New York Times has content from mid 1800’s in their online archive. That content is monetized by a pay wall – but is fully indexed by Google to attract search visitors. It’s unlikely that most sites have access to old print publications they can put online for incremental ad revenue, but it’s possible that there is forgotten legacy content quietly generating search traffic on a dusty corner of your server. Analytics and a good crawler will highlight that dusty content and alert you to the need for some updates and interlinking via related content modules.

NYTimes Spiderbites HTML Sitemap

The image above is a screen capture from Google of the HTML sitemap of the New York Times showing that early content in the Google index. I strongly recommend HTML sitemaps to get all content indexed in much the same way – including everything of quality that could conceivably attract search traffic.

Don’t throw away strong content that delivers excellent search traffic when you refresh your site design or because you discover old content when checking Google randomly. Rewrite a few headlines, freshen up a few images, add historical notes and share that updated old content on anniversaries of company milestones. Build value and retain that legacy content.

Mike Valentine does enterprise SEO consulting and start-up SEO internationally.