In today's world, we pay a lot of attention toward ways to minimize waste of any kind. The 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, and recycle) have become rallying cries for those hoping to maximize our use of limited resources.
In the offline world, when we no longer have use for a product, most of us try to find some way to reuse or recycle it. Consider the example of children's clothing. Once the child has outgrown it, clothing is often passed along to a relative or donated to charity. Families just do not have the extra space to store outgrown clothes indefinitely in the event someone in the family will eventually find a new use for them.
Online, however, space constraints are minor to near limitless. Accordingly, we leave old and outdated blog posts to wallow in obscurity, and feel no particular pressure to take action. Blogs become virtual landfills. Many of these old posts are ultimately forgotten, never surfacing in site analytics reports, and not really contributing to the cause of the company.
What a waste! In reality, there is exceptional value finding way to make better use of these old and outdated blog posts? While they appear to offer no value on the surface, we may unlock hidden value by taking action.
In some cases, we can aggregate and focus the link power of numerous posts into one page, resulting in better rankings for specific terms, and providing opportunities to rank for more competitive terms than otherwise possible. In yet other cases, we can tweak or rewrite the piece to perform better against specific objectives, such as driving newsletter sign-ups or product sales.
The Blog Recycling Process:
STEP 1: Set Goals for Blog Posts -
The first step is to set goals for each post, even old ones. This means some soul-searching to determine exactly what you need each old blog post to accomplish for you on an ongoing basis to continue justifying its presence. Keep in mind there are really only two types of costs:
- opportunity costs, which are the costs of opportunities lost by not making changes to the blog and leaving it as is.
- The second are the costs of making changes, which include losing the benefits already realized by the post as it currently exists.
These two are competing costs. Accordingly, great care must be given to determining precisely what the objectives are.
Example of objectives include having a post attract at least 20 visitors per month, and at least 3 new RSS subscribers per month (track Feedburner Signups Using Google Analytics), or generate a minimum of 3 sales per month. The possibilities are numerous - the key is having a measurable objective to judge all blog posts against.
Different types of posts may have different objectives, especially relating to the realm of SEO. Some posts may be designed to attract links from external sites, which helps the post and entire site rank better for specific terms. Other posts may be designed to secure more RSS feed subscribers, or to spike ComScore or Alexa rankings and ratings. This means being flexible enough to consider that more than one objective may exist.
STEP 2: Identify Underperforming Blog Posts
Once objectives are set, the second step of the process is to identify which blog posts on a site do not meet one or more of the objectives. This can be a time-consuming and arduous task. It means compiling a list of all blog posts, digging into your site's analytics data, assessing each post on the merits being measured, and determining which posts are performing below standard.
If you have set more than one objective, all posts will also have to be measured against each objective individually. If one of your goals is that each post needs to generate 100 visitors, then list all those that do not generate at least 100 visitors per month. If the goal is 3 RSS subscriptions per month, then list those that do not meet expectations. Then, and only then, can you consider taking action.
STEP 3: Redirect, Reuse, or Recycle Old Blog Posts
The third step of the process is to determine what actions to take with the posts that you have determined are underperforming. As in the offline world, there are essentially three options. Online, however, the terminology is slightly different (although the purpose is similar) - redirect, reuse, or recycle.
1. Redirect - Redirecting a post involves employing a 301 redirect, or permanent type of redirect (here's a simple 301 Redirect Plugin for WordPress). In essence you are saying "this page no longer exists, so we will redirect you automatically to the next most relevant page." This type of redirect is particularly useful when an old blog post receives less than the target level of monthly traffic, yet has a number of good inbound links.
Alternately, if a post has a limited shelf life, as many stories do, but has some good inbound links, it's also a good candidate for a 301 redirect. The inbound links hold the key to better rankings. In this way, posts that are already attracting adequate traffic can perform even better.
Please note: we have recently released a brand new WordPress plugin (called Blog Link & Traffic Analysis Plugin) to simplify this process. The plugin indexes all blog posts on a site, tracks how many visitors each gets over the previous 3 month period, the number of inbound links to each from external sites, which then helps you measure the ongoing success of each post. Finally, the plugin then gives you the option to 301 redirect each post to another post. This is a very powerful tool!
2. Reuse - The second alternative is to reuse a post. In fact, any and all posts can be reused, unless their content is incorrect or out-of-date. Posts about to be 301-redirected, underperforming posts, adequately and exceptionally performing posts, and even those being recycled - all can be reused.
In essence, it's best to make slight modifications to the article to ensure it is up-to-date, but then to syndicate the post via article directories and related sites looking for content. These sites will then place the article in the appropriate spot, leave credits and links in place, and expose this content to their user bases. This approach will increase the number of relevant links pointing back to a site, improving its ranking. This approach will also raise awareness of your site, increase its readership, and you may even see the article pages ranking for a few longer tail terms. It's a win-win situation.
3. Recycle - The last alternative is to recycle old posts. As with plastic bottles and cans, this means melting posts down to their core elements, and reassembling them as something new and productive. Use this approach when your analysis shows that a post is attracting reasonable traffic, but is not meeting other conversion-type objectives. In such cases, you can surmise that the topic is adequate, but the content needs work.
Begin by tweaking the contents, adding a call to action, changing images, and so forth. If the post still does not achieve the desired objective(s), then progressively make more encompassing changes. Ultimately you may find yourself rewriting the post from the ground up. This is the essence of recycling - "the act of processing used or abandoned materials for use in creating new products."
In the end, the same principles that guide us offline are often those that can be used online. Yes, the "3 Rs" have a slightly different meaning, but the core concept is the same - don't let anything go to waste. Find ways to make use of all the blog posts at your disposal, rather than tossing them into a virtual landfill. Many of us have been practicing this mentality offline for a lot of years - even if it's as self-serving as cashing in your pop cans for a mocha cappuccino at your favorite coffee bar. Moving this 3Rs mentality online should be as easy as shaking some cinnamon on the top!
end Note: This post is a reused variation of the article I wrote for the Search Marketing Standard, Spring 2009 edition.