How to Prevent Content Decay Right from the Start
When you blog for a decade like me you get increasingly bothered by all the outdated posts you have written years ago that need to get fixed. Broken links are just the most obvious issue.
Sometimes what was right years ago is wrong by now. Obsolete advice can even hurt your visitors and diminish your credibility.
Over the years I learned how to write evergreen content that doesn’t decay quickly in the first place.
Content maintenance vs longevity
When I started writing this blog in 2007 I didn’t plan for the long term. All that counted was now. It worked fine for a year or maybe even two.
By now it means work though plus a risk of getting caught with spreading nonsense or linking out to corrupted sites.
I don’t have much time these days for tending my blog here. I also publish on other blogs and write for clients.
While at it I also do outreach and offer social media management services. All of it takes time and effort every day.
At the end of the day there is not really enough time to fix and update the existing posts you have published.
I published five hundred articles here already. Yes, 500. No joke. Even though I deleted a dozen or two already because they were completely irrelevant by now.
It’s pretty simple: nobody wants to tidy up their old dirty blog all day.
Even in case you have enough time it’s not always the best possible way to spend it. After all don’t all these content marketers tell you to create fresh content as often as possible?
Restoring existing content is the probably least popular task out there. Many bloggers don’t do it at all. OK, long story short.
We have to find ways to make content less prone to decay over time.
Yes, it’s possible. I by now focus on evergreen content and links that can’t break too fast. How? Let me explain now.
One today but hundreds and thousands of yesterdays and tomorrows
You need to stop cover news. The problem with news is that they decay very fast. Yesterday’s news is old already.
It’s rather “olds” not news if you know what I mean. Google has changed this, Apple has introduced that, Obama said this, Lady Gaga sang that?
Today something is huge news, tomorrow just a note in a closed notebook lying in the attic. Thus before each post ask yourself:
will this matter a year, 5 or 10 from now or will it just be history at best? Will it even matter in an archive?
In some niches it’s easier to ignore one-day wonders than in others. When you’re dealing with technology you deal with fickle trends all the time.
You have often no idea whether “the next big thing” of now will exist at all next year. There’s a partial solution for that too. I will explain later.
In other niches like self improvement/personal development you can write for eternity. Spiritual enlightenment will be the same today and a millennium later.
Even cycling I deal with a lot is a better topic that search engine optimization for example. Bikes that have been released 5 years ago still exist even in case they do not get sold anymore.
Bike enthusiasts often even focus on restoring older models. The older the better in many cases.
Choose the topic of your post wisely. Will it be relevant in future too or just
- this week
- for a month
Will it contain some actionable advice and some intrinsic wisdom or will it be simply a description of outside events that may be completely off the radar soon?
Linking for long term integrity
Broken links can be discovered easily with a WordPress extension called Broken Link Checker. Rogue redirects or site changes are a bit more difficult to spot.
In many cases the links stays the same and the URL doesn’t even get redirected but you end up at a parked or worse hijacked domain. It can be a spammer or even a criminal who owns a domain now.
Sometimes it’s just a case of someone else letting his site rot and get infested with malware. You often can’t distinguish these links and have to check them manually.
Ideally you don’t link to one night stand website at all.
When you are dealing with “the next big thing” sites don’t link to them but to an article about them. Ideally the article has been published on a site that has a proven track record of staying online for a few years.
The New York Times and its “content farm” About.com, TechCrunch exists for ages. Some sites vanish quickly, others remain online for many years.
Yes, even Wikipedia might be a better choice than the latest start-up that will get acquired and “sunset” soon or that will pivot or get out of business even sooner.
Stop linking out altogether?
There is also a hard core technique to prevent link rot for the foreseeable future. You can save and download a copy of each page you link out to and the re-upload it once the original goes defunct.
I’ve tried saving local copies of webpages to some extent using a third party service but then it went offline itself. Oh the irony!
In other cases I have replaced the original links afterwards with link to the Internet Archive. Sadly not all content is saved there. Thus you need to take your own precautions.
Some people might argue that to ensure integrity of your content for years you’d rather not link out at all but that’s the same people who remove comments from their blog.
Yes, you can set up a static site and just publish selfishly without linking out but then you won’t get the word out there in the first place.
Without user engagement a few years from now your “blog” probably won’t exist anymore at all.
No wo/man is an island without connecting with other bloggers and publishers you won’t succeed on the Web unless you are already popular then the Web is just another outlet for you not a launchpad.
Do images become obsolete too?
Imagery can also become dated. Images are less prone to decay but still you need to update them for a variety of reasons. There are all kinds of images:
- screen shots
Screen shots are often the most prone to decay. When writing my SEO 2.0 ebook I added just a few of them. Once I was finished with the text part of the book two years later most of the images were obsolete.
Google tools or features I pictured didn’t exist anymore or have been redesigned significantly ever since.
Do you need to avoid screen shots? It’s similar to links. Avoiding them altogether will make less successful in the first place.
You have to try to make screen shots as timeless as possible. Screenshots only showing a particular feature may become outdated quickly.
Screen shots depicting a technique or strategy you use yourself are less time-sensitive. Make sure they stay relevant even when the look and feel of the user interface has changed.
- and especially infographics
date pretty fast in the worst case. A graphic unless it’s interactive only shows a particular snapshot in time.
The same applies to statistics. The most popular pop songs of 2009 do not matter that much anymore in 2017. Be cautious with visualizing data when you’re creating content for longevity.
Yes, even photos get older
For example on my cycling blog I started with images 400px wide. The a few years later I switched to a them that allowed larger images – 500px – wide. Now another few years later the standard images are 640px.
The posts where the images are still the original 400px wide ones almost look as if I had put thumbnails in them but forgot to make them clickable.
What I’m doing now is looking up the source links and re-uploading the bigger images. Of course you could
upload the largest possible images from the start and let WordPress do the math itself.
Then you can only show the resized versions. Do not put huge images on your blog and only resize the with HTML. That will of course slow down your site significantly and cost you lots of visitors.
The image size is not the biggest problem. Some photos, especially of people may be not true anymore. People age over the years but also change hair styles or even genders.
Your five year old photo may be completely outdated by now. When your blog post is saying something like “here’s the latest photo of x” you need to act.
Another major issue are Creative Commons licenses. Many photographers give their images away at first just to change the license later on to good old copyright. Rumor says that some of them even use this bait and switch trick to rip off bloggers.
They simply claim that you breached their copyright and demand you to pay. It’s not a myth. When updating posts I often encounter that issue.
Using your own images or buying them might be a better idea business-wise.
When your personal blogging budget is rather zero like mine you still rely on free photos though. By now I mostly resort to using “free to use” images like the ones curated by Unsplash.
These are often very high quality images. The number of photos there is limited though. You may find common motives all over the Web.
Dates are not always sweet
I love dates… and figs. They taste sweet and are very healthy. Dates or lack there of on blog articles can pose a serious decay problem.
In the past I’ve been arguing that you need to remove dates from your articles or people will assume that even a few month old articles are outdated and bounce. That’s true to some extent but
when you create content for eternity you can’t remove dates completely. An article without a date can decay faster.
Let me explain: When you read an article saying that Obama just won the election and became the first “black” president in US history you automatically know that the article is obsolete and stop reading it.
When you notice the date though and decide to read the article despite it you assume that some data might be obsolete but the overall relevance is still given. Then you ignore the outdated parts and focus on the timeless message.
Removing dates altogether is a mistake then. In the best case you would decide on an individual basis whether to add one or not. I often add a “last updated” date to my posts.
Last updated: July 4th, 2017.