Producing high-quality content regularly is very time-consuming and expensive. Nevertheless, content marketing is at the top of the list for many companies.
But does every company have the resources to implement their content strategy sustainably? Or is that also possible with less effort …?
Spoiler: Yes, it is.
Because different aspects define quality, we don’t always have to create new content; there are enough alternatives to reuse “old” content. However, we should rather speak of old ideas that we redesign creatively.
Through “content recycling” we reach new user groups and expand our audience by using additional formats and distribution platforms, but building on existing content in terms of content. The range generated in this way is only one of the advantages.
But let’s start from the beginning…
The central question: Do we prefer to invest in new content or in maintaining existing content?
To find out when it makes more sense for you to reuse the existing content or, better yet, to create entirely new content, you have to do one thing above all: Analyze your existing content and evaluate it with a view to its ROI and your content strategy.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to analyze all of your content at once.
Analyze existing content
Filter and prioritize your content based on the relevant key figures. Depending on what goal you have set yourself, these criteria can vary. Typical are, for example.
- Traffic: Which content has brought the most (qualified) visitors to your site in the past? The Pareto principle plays an important role here, see below.
- Rankings: Which content is visible in the search engines for which search terms or search phrases and questions (ergo at least listed on the first page of results) and what is the click rate?
- Backlinks & Shares: Which content has received the most (and high quality) backlinks or was most often shared, for example, via social media? To what extent can these serve as models for other content?
- On-page engagement: Sometimes, the goal is to activate users directly on a page, for example, to click a further link, filling out a form or maybe just providing feedback. It is worth taking a look at the sites that do it well and those that don’t.
- Leads: Is there any content that has unusually high or meager conversion rates when it comes to lead generation? Both cases are possible starting points for content recycling.
- Acquisition/sales: Content marketing is often linked to direct sales targets – either with the content as a product or with content as a platform to advertise products.
For a large part of my content portfolio, I have chosen the search ranking, as the central influencing factor on organic traffic, and the click rate in search results (CTR). What was of interest to me was the content that is visible in the search but not clicked on (solution approach. Optimization for featured snippets) and the reverse case, in which I expect an immediate increase in traffic through a better ranking with at least the same CTR can (approach: content refurbishing ). As soon as my new product is ready, I will also add the “Conversion” dimension and carry out the analysis again to determine which content sells my product best.
When considering this, you shouldn’t only pay attention to successful posts. You can learn from them and use them as a basis for derivatives, but above all, you should look at those whose performance you can increase “with a few simple steps”. This is often cheaper than a new production and also improves the quality of your entire content portfolio as well as the demands on new content (keyword: 10X Mindset ). In most cases, it is the complex formats such as e-books or presentations and the associated landing pages whose “value” you can increase through refurbishing and recycling.
What is the value of my content?
Regardless of whether you want to recycle old content or produce new content, you should define the expected return on investment in a tangible, at the best monetary figure when planning your content. You can do this, for example, with the concept of topic scoring by Mirko Lange or using a comparative calculation. To do this, you determine the potential traffic value and compare it with the theoretical costs for advertising based on click prices.
When is the production of new content more profitable than content recycling
Experience has shown that there are some content formats or page types for which content recycling is less worthwhile. These are mainly news items that lose their relevance over time, as well as entertainment items that often live from the moment and on a particular medium.
Depending on what your content strategy looks like, it makes more sense with such content formats to produce new content. This allows you to close thematic “gaps”, discuss current news or create new forms of entertainment (who laughs twice at the same joke … ?!). The position, for example, would probably not get by without new content, although republishing could be a tried and tested method now and then. 😉
It feels like the question of when it is worth revising existing content compared to producing new content is still open, but I’m afraid it is too individual to give a general answer here.
If you have decided against producing new content, you now have the choice between different revision approaches. They are all based on certain principles and processes that I want to explain to you before I show you the differences.
The basis of content recycling is proven principles and processes. Know them and use them!
The first principle is the Pareto distribution, also known as the 80/20 rule. This means, for example, that 80 per cent of the results are achieved with 20 per cent of the total effort. Or to use a marketing context: we generate 80 per cent of sales with 20 per cent of our products, and 20 per cent of our content is responsible for 80 per cent of our traffic.
Build, Measure, Learn – More than just a methodical loop
The second principle is Eric Ries’ Lean Startup Method . “Do, measure, learn” is the motto. This practice-oriented approach is of particular benefit to us in content marketing because little time is required for planning and conception or is “wasted”.
The artificially created need for a “strategy” – whatever it may mean in the individual case – only drives us crazy anyway. Or as Garrett Moon puts it so beautifully:
It has made us believe that we need to be doing more than we can handle to promote our business and build our audience.
“Strategy” is defined as a fundamental, long-term behaviour to achieve goals. The Lean Startup Method is nothing else because we work according to a fixed scheme:
- Hypothesis-based content creation: We produce content that we believe will work because…. In doing so, of course, we take our goals and target group into account, but we also have the 20 per cent of the Pareto principle in mind when publishing a kind of MVP in the form of “Minimum Viable Content”.
- Data-driven content analysis: We validate our hypotheses using specific KPIs (traffic/clicks, user behaviour, interaction/conversions, etc.), which we collect using appropriate measurement data from Google Analytics & Co. We have to be clear when our content is successful and when not – ergo whether the effort was worth it or not.
- Continuous learning: We derive concrete learnings and suggestions for improvement from the results, which we take into account in the next “loop” and thus increase the chance of success.
Also, it should be said that strictly speaking, other principles also play a role here, above all the iteration – in general, the approach to a solution through multiple repetitions – and so-called chunking.
The content recycling process
When it comes to reusing existing content, you proceed in a similar way to producing new content. The only significant difference (and advantage at the same time) is that you already have the first performance data in your hands, which you can base your optimization measures on.
- The relevance check is about checking the accuracy of the content for the search intention of the user as well as the topicality of the information contained. You should also make sure right from the start that content continues to contribute to your strategic and operational goals.
- The market analysis focuses on the competition. Tools like SEMrush or thruuu.com provide you with important information on keyword rankings or the link profile of your competitors. From this, SEO-specific requirements for revising the content can be derived.
- Also, I recommend classic (qualitative) user research methods such as on-site surveys or (customer) interviews to identify content-related, i.e. thematic potential.
- During the data review, all information on user behaviour is examined for both positive and negative anomalies. Particularly interesting for this are, for example, the length of stay, the bounce rate, clicked elements and the scrolling behaviour of your visitors. Is there any content that scores above or below average? Are there user segments that show different behaviour? What can we learn from this?
- The formation of hypotheses, as the term suggests, involves the formulation of one or more ideas. Although this is not yet common in content marketing, it is beneficial to understand better and implement the planned changes and expected effects. And then be able to evaluate correctly based on data.
- The content revision is based on both the insights and the previously established hypothesis. This step is about the actual modification of the selected content – but always with the option of restoring the original state should the performance deteriorate due to the change.
- The last (and first) step is to measure success. It serves to validate hypotheses and provides clarity about why which changes have had a positive or negative effect. You can use the documentation of these results as reference values for future optimizations.
Case Study: Blog meets YouTube – text becomes a video
I appreciate Andy Crestodina, CMO & Co-Founder of Orbit Media Studios, for his world-class blog articles and strategic approach. In this blog post, he explains in great detail a content recycling approach through “reformatting”. They created YouTube videos from existing blog content to 1) improve their rankings, 2) become visible on a new platform – YouTube – and 3) gain additional visibility in search engines through the new format. Not to mention the positive side effects.
The result: While rankings have practically not improved, the length of stay and the conversion rate of those visitors who viewed the newly embedded video in the blog article has quadrupled!
Once you have understood and internalized these principles and processes, it is time we turned to nomenclature because different terms are often understood synonymously but do not always mean the same thing.
What is the difference between recycling, republishing, repurposing & Co.?
There are numerous ways in which you can (re) use and recycle your content efficiently. Which approach is the best depends on what content you already have in your hands and what or whom you also want to reach?
- With content republishing, articles that have largely remained unchanged in terms of content and that have disappeared more profound and more in-depth into the archive over the years are republished. This can be useful, for example, when an “old” topic gains relevance again and interest in your target group increases. I only say “home office” during Corona times. 😉
- My tip: Store your content carefully and use this opportunity to offer your target group exactly what they are (again) interested in at the moment with little effort. Keeping your content inventory up to date is quite useful here.
- Content refurbishing (or remastering) is the slightly expanded form of republishing existing content, in which only minor adjustments are made. This mostly concerns the updating of outdated data or sources, the optimization of texts based on a semantic analysis (keyword: WDF * IDF) or the revision of the visual design.
- Of course, this primarily serves the topicality and general credibility but also helps to defend your Google rankings, optimize conversion and maintain your reputation. Take your time now and then and polish your content to a high gloss. Your target audience will thank you!
- Content recycling stands for the most common form of content recycling, namely the transformation of existing content into new formats. This can be, for example, combining several blog articles on related topics into an e-book or setting an article to music in a podcast. Similar to the bundling of individual contributions into a large one, a correspondingly large content asset can also be broken down into so-called micro-content in a modular manner. This represents the actual core of content recycling – always to be able to recombine it.
- Content redistribution stands for the process that is necessary to actively promote both old and “newly” created content/formats. Also, redistribution increases the effect of the actual content revision.
- Content repurposing is discussed again and again and cannot be defined as clearly in this context. The reason for this is that the understanding of this is on the one hand strongly influenced by the topic “Purpose” in the sense of the attitude of brands to a specific topic and on the other hand by a “Reason Why” underlying the content.
- My definition of repurposing is: “Repurposing can be understood as the realignment of individual contents, on the one hand to correctly reflect one’s own changed opinion or attitude or to address a new target group or other needs.”
- Content restructuring describes the structuring of a website with a focus on the internal linking of thematically similar content offers (blog articles, white papers, newsletters, tools, etc.). In doing so, we should also optimize the findability of unique content, e.g. using the search function or filter options.
The change away from individual keywords and towards holistic topics
A few years ago search engine optimization was all about keywords. However, since the Hummingbird Update 2013, Google’s algorithm can also analyze entire phrases and not just simple keywords. With the RankBrain update two years later, Google also managed to understand the context of the search queries for the first time. Thanks to machine learning, the intelligent algorithm optimizes itself and regularly changes how our content can be found in the search engine.
The pure keyword-driven texts have long since had their day, and the focus is on authentic, exciting and user-centred content. The primary goal of content is no longer necessarily the visibility in search engines, but also branding and positioning.
This results in new requirements not only for individual texts or pages but for the entire website in terms of its (content) structure, usability and user experience – see also my explanation of various structural concepts in content marketing. In particular, I want to take up “Topic Clusters” again at this point and expand them in the context of content recycling.
Topic cluster for more structure, more comfortable operation and a better user experience
The term “Topic Cluster” comes from the English and describes the bundling of thematically related (existing) content or the compression (through the new production) of content on a specific topic.
The structure is just as simple as a mind map and consists of at least one core topic (“pillar content”) as well as several sub-topics that are served in the form of individual contents (“cluster content”). The connections, primarily through hyperlinks or other control elements, ensure the necessary structure and findability and network all related content with one another.
The core topics can be presented in the form of so-called “pillar pages” – or in a blog post, but structurally this no longer makes sense at some point.
How exactly you design such pillar pages in terms of content and visual appearance is up to you. This can be a very compact format like a linked table of contents, a typical blog feed, or a very detailed discussion of the subject with links to deep dives. This gives your website and, above all, your content a clear structure so that both Google bots and your visitors will find it easier to navigate through your website.
Case Study: Recycling brings more than restructuring
I have been restructuring my website for some time based on the three core topics mentioned above. There are several reasons for this:
- I mostly make it easier for new users to find their way around. Above all, older, but still relevant content can be seen more quickly, and the user can discover thematically pertinent articles that might interest him more quickly.
- Both in the background (e.g. Google Analytics) and in the foreground (e.g. by selecting specific topic newsletters) I can segment visitors based on their interests and thus offer even more targeted content in the future. This is the first step towards personalization.
- The two previous points will hopefully lead to higher engagement (length of stay, page views or clicks/conversions) and thus also signal to search engines that good content can be found here. That’s why I also set myself the goal of improving my rankings (at least slightly).
- Last but not least, this clear communication of “my” topics naturally also serves the purpose of branding and positioning.
In parallel to this restructuring, I revise articles that are “getting on in years” (refurbishing, repurposing) and partially publish them again (republishing). On the outside, it looks like new content, but it is essentially an old topic or an old/existing idea.
However, it should be said that I also take some older articles offline because a revision for strategic reasons or with a view to the necessary optimization effort is not worthwhile. Some items also require more polishing than others. So I prioritize here very firmly based on my currently available resources or time-critical aspects.
As far as results are already available, I can say one thing: Refurbishing has a positive effect on rankings, and the restructuring leads to increased engagement. Using the example of my article on social media managers are
- the average order increased by 23 positions,
- the length of stay on the page by 170 per cent and
- the bounce rate has dropped 38 per cent.
So both are already paying off!
The nice thing about it is that this structure can be expanded almost indefinitely. You can pick up new core topics as well as delve deeper and deeper into a topic. There is also the option of assigning individual content to several core topics at any time, provided that there is overlap in terms of content.
Wherever the journey goes, this structural approach is designed for growth – assuming an underlying content strategy and intelligent content management, of course!
So you can do a lot for your users, your visibility and your brand even without new content.
It’s all a question of strategy.
Just so that it is clear: I would never recommend this structure across the board for every content-driven website. Whether this form is suitable for you or not, you will have to evaluate yourself based on your content strategy.
I recommend highly to the effect the article Your Blog Is Not a Publication of Jimmy Daly. He describes the difference between a “publication” and a “content library”. The former lives from always new, current articles (keyword: news portals) whereas the latter is characterized by evergreen content.
What is your approach?
Suggestions & tips for the smart use of content (ergo content recycling)
Not all content is suitable for recycling; a systematic approach is critical. Over time you will develop a sure instinct for adding a “gut feeling” to the results of your analyzes. This is important because numbers alone don’t tell you anything before they are interpreted, and optimization ideas are worth nothing before they are tested.
Here are some suggestions and content recycling ideas for implementation:
- Curate content, whether it’s your own or someone else’s. Weekly or monthly roundups with the best articles on a specific topic are popularly read and shared via social media because the information density is very high.
- You could do the same – but at longer intervals, please – with your contributions. For example, by taking a critical look at which articles have been exceptionally well received over a year and which have not … A look behind the scenes is not only interesting for yourself.
- Create a slide deck for SlideShare (or even LinkedIn directly) based on an article, podcast or video and use a call to action to direct the viewer to your website to find further information there (keyword: conversions). One step further (see below) you could use such a presentation as the basis for a webinar, video or maybe even an infographic.
- Publish more detailed posts on LinkedIn – no full blog posts, because you ultimately want to link to these for further reading, but you should give your readers direct added value. According to a study by OkDork, it can be almost 2,000 words.
Post micro content from your posts in social networks (such as headlines, key messages, quotes, questions or lists). The chance that some of your followers simply didn’t see the post is relatively high. And anyone interested will want to learn more and access the full article.
It is not an outrage to promote an article (or podcast episode, video, etc.) several times in different (!) Ways. The results from an analysis by CoSchedule speak for themselves, at least with regard to the generated clicks:
- Transform your best content into a whitepaper or e-book and use such an attractive offer to generate backlinks or social shares (keyword: pay with a tweet) in return. This creates an additional buzz in social media and strengthens your rankings. Alternatively, you can also use such formats well for lead generation, for example, by combining them into an email course or placing them behind a form. For this to work, the user must be aware of the value of your content!
- Bundle articles into an email course and offer it in “snack” form. Especially with pieces as long as this one (3,000 words and more) this can be quite attractive for one or the other reader.
- Write guest articles for other blogs, using your content as a basis. Or published posts that you have written for other blogs on yourself, as long as they don’t mind. Additions or changes are also an option.
Does removing content also make sense?
My answer is almost always “It depends!”, But there are some advantages that cannot be ignored:
- The volume reduction reduces Google’s “crawl budget” and helps to focus the content relevant for organic search. This is especially important for large websites with 10,000+ pages.
- The fewer, but well-ranking pages you have, the better your entire domain authority. Because consistently high quality is more important than “some good content” amid a lot of mediocre content.
- Remember the Pareto distribution: 80 per cent of your traffic is likely generated from 20 per cent of your content. This is what matters; the other 80 per cent can go.
- The less content you have, the lower the risk that individual pages cannibalize themselves about keywords.
But: Before you delete content (or take it offline), you should answer two questions in particular and then do one thing:
- Has the site been visited in the last year? Is it easy to find (via Google or Site Search)? A combination of a crawling tool, e.g. Screaming Frog, and web analysis such as Google Analytics are sufficient to answer these questions.
- Is there a link to the page – internal or external? If so, are there sites that offer an alternative / better link target? A backlink audit via SEMrush, for example, provides quick information about this.
- If a page has neither traffic nor backlinks, it can go (take it offline, remove it from the index, cut any internal links). But always set up a 301 redirect to the next better page.
And here, too, I recommend the iterative approach: Do not delete 80 per cent of your content right away, but carefully select “the worst” and start with them. If you notice an improvement in the remaining range, move on to the next chunk. If you don’t see any improvement, it may not be worth the effort.
Because if no one sees your “bad” content, then possibly no one will be bothered by it except yourself. Then it is more a question of the opportunity costs about what you could have done in the time instead.
My view of things
I hope you have now understood how diverse the possibilities of content recycling are. In the long term, you will benefit from an even higher return on investment, as the effort is often less than when producing new topics.
In my opinion, the maintenance and use of existing content should have at least the same priority as the production of new content – and should go hand in hand with a view to the planning and production process. With the increasing degree of maturity and a rising amount of content, the relationship may shift even further in the long term in the direction of the various “re” of content marketing.
Anyone who not only publishes but also analyzes content, optimizes it and develops it further (read: tests), learns faster than the competition and is ahead in the long term.