How to break free from the publish-and-forget-it content management cycle

By: Chris Thompson on September 20, 2017 Categories: Content Marketing, Content Strategy
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How many times do you edit a piece of content before you publish it?
Once? Twice? Five times? Ten?

How often do you edit it after it’s been published? Or optimize it after it’s been published?

That’s not a crazy question. It’s actually a best practice. You see, many content marketers have learned that when something is first published, in a sense it’s really only a first draft.

Content can get better – can perform better – than it did when it was first published. Keeping our old content current and optimized can have some very nice results, too. Including:

  • Higher conversion rates (i.e., more leads and sales)
  • Higher engagement rates
  • More search engine traffic
  • More inbound links
  • Faster audience growth

Here’s how one page’s traffic improved after an update:


Econsultancy has also had success with a republishing test they did. For this test, they didn’t just update their old content. They went whole-hog and republished it as if it was entirely new content. The results were good enough that they say they’d do it again.

Many of you who’ve been around content marketing for a while will think of a “content audit” as soon as someone mentions updating old content.

That’s a very good reference point, but what I’m suggesting is a little different. Content audits are traditionally very large undertakings – like a month-long task. They focus on high-level strategy and performance, like which content formats work best for you, if you’re serving all your content personas well, and which platforms and tactics deliver the best results.

They’re basically a massive inventory check of all your content, with an eye towards shaping your content strategy. Some companies do audits once a year, some twice a year, and some every other year. I certainly support doing an annual content audit, but it would be better if we didn’t manage our content so infrequently.

As Noz Urbina, the Founder of Urbina Consulting, says in our on-demand webinar, “Playing to Win with Intelligent Content”:

“If we handled the physical production of products the way we handle content products, and you asked your inventory manager how many widgets they had, and they said, “Uh, I don’t know – A LOT.” [And you asked them] “Where are they?” “Dunno. I guess they’re in the factory somewhere,” – that would never fly.” (14.30)

Indeed. If we managed widgets (much less dollars!) as haphazardly as we manage content, most businesses would be out of business.

We got away with this for a few years when content marketing was a relatively new practice. But now the industry has matured. Content teams and budgets have gotten larger. Strategies are more sophisticated. It seems like it’s well past time to “up our game” in terms of how we manage the content itself.

So, in a sense, what I’m suggesting here is more like a strategic but continuous content audit.

This will dovetail nicely if you’ve made moves toward “intelligent content”, sometimes called “chunkable content”.


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If your content pieces are all up to date, and you know how well they’re all performing, you’ll be better also to repurpose content more strategically.

You’ll also avoid more errors. If you’re using an intelligent content system where different chunks of content get automatically organized into different content formats, you’ll need to be sure those content elements are up to date. The trouble is, when we talk about intelligent content, or “chunking” all our content, or optimizing all our content… many marketers start to feel a little sick.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there’s a lot of content.

Going through each individual piece of content to optimize it or to modularize it is a massive undertaking. It’s got the same problem as content audits have – it’s such a massive task, it gets put off. You only attempt to do it once a year or less.

If you’ve got only 100 distinct pieces of content (blog posts, ebooks, videos, white papers, infographics, podcasts, recorded webinars, etc), simply rotating through your content to optimize it might take only two weeks or so. (If you did ten pieces of content a day).

But if you’ve got more than 1,000 content pieces (which we know many of you do), rotating through that becomes a problem. Now you’re looking at 20 weeks or more. You’d be spending nearly half the year optimizing your old content.  So don’t.

Instead, 80/20 it. As in, apply the 80/20 rule (aka “The Pareto Principle“) to how you update your content. The 80/20 rule is basically the idea that 20% of your work results in 80% of your efforts. It’s not always 20% to 80%, either: In some systems, 10% of the input will result in 90% of the output. Or 30% of the work will result in 70% of the output.

Like when 10% of the roads in your town support 90% of the traffic. Or when 75% of the office cookies get eaten by 25% of the staff.

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Basically, the 80/20 rule encapsulates the idea that not all of the elements in a system are created equal. This applies to your content marketing because – if you’re like almost any other marketer– a small portion of your content is delivering the lion’s share of your results.

So instead of getting buried in updating all your content, focus on the top 20%.There are two powerful reasons to do this.

The first is simply because of resources. We all have limited resources, to one extent or another. You probably can’t be updating and optimizing everything you’ve published in the last few years. You still have to publish a steady stream of new content.

But if you could find the time to optimize just the top 10% of your content – and if that would deliver 30-40% more results for you – I think you’d find a way to pull it off. Even if you couldn’t pull it off, you could make a powerful case to your CMO to get the resources to do it. CMOs tend to like scenarios when a few extra resources can deliver majorly outsized results.

So that’s the first reason. The second is about results.

Outsized results. Let’s say that your 20% best-performing content creates $2 million dollars worth of profit every year. The rest of your content – the remaining 80% – produces only $1 million dollars of profit per year. Which group of content would you like to get 30% more results from? I’d say the top-performing content. Because 20% of $2 million = $400,000.

But 20% of $1 million = $200,000.

That’s why your top-performing content is so valuable. It’s a group of proven winners. They’re already driving most of the results for your content marketing, so optimizing them even a little bit will deliver outsized results.

So the next question is, how to do that? What’s the best way to strategically optimize our old content, given how profitable it could be? To answer that, stay tuned for our next post.