How to Optimize Old Blog Posts for Search & Conversions – @pamelump

AOCP-Pinterest-Pamela-VaughanSo you’ve got yourself a blog, and like everyone else with a blog, you’re looking for ways to use it to increase traffic and generate leads for your business. Naturally, you keep pumping out new content and sending it out to your email list and other social channels. But is that really enough?

It’s true, new content is important. But what happens to the older posts you’ve written, do you just let them collect dust and keep moving forward? The answer is “no”! By revisiting and carefully optimizing your older posts, you’re taking advantage of the content that might still be generating traffic by invigorating new life into it, while at the same time providing great search results by updating information that very possibly has changed since it was originally written.

Pamela Vaughan is HubSpot’s blog optimization expert. Over the last year she has helped HubSpot double their conversion rates by optimizing their historical (older) posts. Her creative and innovative ideas on the topic can help your business’s blog do the same thing.


Rich: Pamela Vaughan is principal marketing manager of optimization at HubSpot, a leader in marketing and sales software. As part of HubSpot’s marketing optimization team, Pam is responsible for improving traffic and conversions for HubSpot’s marketing software.

While she has a background in blogging and content creation, she’s proof people with degrees in communication can be analytical, too. Pamela, welcome to the show.

Pamela: Thank you for having me, I’m really excited.

Rich: So what does the principal marketing manager of optimization at HubSpot’s day look like? What do you do on a day to day basis over there?

Pamela: Our optimization team was formed in November, actually, so we’re a fairly new team. It’s made up of currently three individual contributors and we are very project based. So I essentially own any project related to marketing optimization for our marketing software product. And then one of my colleagues is responsible for projects related to optimizing marketing for our sales products.

And so like I said it’s very project based, it’s data driven and analytical and we are essentially looking through our data and trying to find opportunities for us to either grow or fix or improve any of our marketing assets. A lot of our focus is spent on the website and our blog. But like I said we’re a new team and pretty small.

Down the line I think we’ll extend to doing email optimization projects, but it’s essentially conversion rate optimization depending on the goal, and search engine optimization. And then also we have a UX designer on our team and he kind of works across projects. And then we have a developer and a designer resource that we tap into who aren’t directly on our team, but we have a creative team that we can tap into for that.

So at any given time we’ll have a number of different projects running and they could be in various stages of, you know, if we’re redesigning an entire page then  maybe the wire frames are in design and then they move over to dev. A lot of my work is kind of figuring out what projects would be impactful for the business, figuring out what that potential is, and prioritizing them based on those goals. And then it’s project management but also using our CRO and SEO expertise to figure out the vision and execution of that project.

Rich: Sounds like you have a full plate over there.

Pamela: I do, it’s fun. Project based work is fun because you don’t have a daily grind, it’s something new all the time and you get to see the results of it and basically own those things, so it’s cool.

Rich: Alright, so today on the show we’re going to be talking about optimizing blog posts, specifically optimizing older blog posts. What makes blog optimizing so interesting to you?

Pamela: I actually started out kind of in a more content role, I went to college for public relations because I knew I loved to write, I was good at it. When I started here at HubSpot I was doing PR and then kinda realized at the time that blogging for business was a fairly new concept. It’s not as huge as it is today, it was just kind of taking root. So I transitioned over to our blogging team, I was managing the editorial calendar and writing and editing and doing more of the content production side of things. And then as our team grew I kind of realized that I had this interest in analytics and figuring out why was certain content performing better than others and what can we learn from the data to improve the way we approach our editorial strategy.

So as the team grew I had more time to kind of dabble in that and play around with that and it kind of evolved into a blog optimization role specifically for me. That’s kind of how the whole project of optimizing historical blog posts came about, and now I kind of have transitioned to doing more optimization projects outside of the blog.  I’ve worked on the blog for so many years and there’s so much opportunity there – especially for us – our blog gets quite a bit of traffic, so we have a lot of data to work with. I think for a lot of companies the testing and experimentation is difficult because you don’t’ have a lot of traffic and you really need that to run a statistically significant test and we have the ability to do that here, which is a nice thing to have.

Rich: Cool. So you talk about historical blogs – some of us might call them old blog posts – but whichever you choose to go with, it seems to me that some people are so focused on creating new content for their blogs and exactly what time of day and what day of the week that they should publish for the biggest bang. Why should we care about historical blog posts at all, shouldn’t we just be cranking out new material?

Pamela: I think that kind of everyone’s approach is more and more and more. And now that blogging has become such a critical part of a lot of people’s marketing strategy there’s just so much. Content saturation is a big problem. There’s so much out there so you’re competing with a lot of other business’s content. The reason we realized that we should stop and look back at those old posts is because a lot of the benefit of having a blog is that over time you accrue a lot of sustainable traffic, specifically through organic search. And that means that at any given moment a number of people are visiting your old content and if that blog post that they’re visiting that happens to rank well in Google was published 3-4 years ago and things have changed, that‘s not really a great experience for searchers.

The posts that are ranking well are typically older because they need time to rank, but that means that the content within them is also old, so that’s one of the great benefits of going back and revisiting your old content, because it’s already it’s already getting traffic, but it’s not necessarily the best content anymore.

Rich: So HubSpot may have its own tools, if you don’t want to have HubSpot you have Google Analytics at least, and we can find out which of our blogs might still be pulling in a lot of traffic just basically by looking at our analytics. What do we do once we’ve discovered them? For example, I found a blog post recently that was still pulling in a few thousand visitors a month. It was several years old, I hadn’t done anything with it. What do you do at that point when you discover one of these gems?

Pamela: So we found that there are kind of two things that you can do with it, and they kind of play hand in hand. If you identify the posts that are old and are pulling in a lot of traffic, and then you look and see if they’re converting into business leads for you. One of the big benefits of our blog is that it is essential responsible for 40% of the new leads we generate every month. If you can identify posts that are generating a lot of traffic but aren’t converting to leads for your business very well,then what you should do is try to conversion optimize that post.

Rich: Alright, let’s pause there because that sounds really interesting. So I definitely have a few posts that I’ve looked at – in preparation for this I took a look at some of my traffic reports – there are definitely some posts that are doing well in terms of search. They’re bringing a lot of traffic to the website but the bounce rates are high, there’s no conversion or very low conversion there, so what’s the recommendation in that situation?  

Pamela: There’s a bunch of things you can do in a blog post to generate leads from it. The big thing that we propose that companies do is have gated offers. For example, ebooks or templates that essentially you’re using the blog post as bait to pull them into this topic. If they’re interested in this topic and they want to learn more about it, maybe then they’ll want some more premium content that is gated behind a form on a landing page. So the blog post has a call to action that could be in the form of many things, but it’s essentially a link that takes that person to the landing page where they can decide to download that offer, which involves inputting their contact information and essentially opting in to our sales cycle. And that’s essentially how the whole blog to lead gen engine works.

So the whole thing here is figuring out what the best type of call to action for your particular blog is. I’ve done a bunch of analysis of this on our blogs recently. We found, for instance, that for a CTA at the bottom of the post on the marketing blog doesn’t work very well because our blog posts are typically so long. That’s probably why they’ve ranked in search and people don’t make it to the bottom of them, so they never even see the call to action. So we realized that testing placement of our calls to action has become really beneficial for improving conversion rate of our blog posts.

But there’s different types of CTA’s that you can try, like I said. You can do a slide CTA that as the visitor scrolls it kind of slides out from the side of the post and promotes that offer. Or we have a lot of good luck with what I call “anchor text” CTA’s, which are essentially very text based links that say “download our press release template to help you write a better press release”, for example. Those have worked really well for us. We really encourage a lot of our customers and our marketing audience to test stuff for themselves to see what works for them. We found that things that work on our marketing blog don’t really work on our sales blog because of the different type of offer we’re trying to promote, so it really kind of depends on your blog and your audience.

Rich: Now I went through your slide deck, Pamela, on the subject because I wanted to kind of bring myself up to speed. One of the things that I really liked is when you have a high traffic web page that isn’t converting, one of the things you can do is find out what search terms are actually driving people to that page and then make sure you use the customer’s language in your CTA.

Pamela: Yeah. To be perfectly honest, that’s definitely a part of it, the relevancy of the offer you’re promoting to what the searcher was originally searching for definitely contributes to better conversions. We actually have created offers for specific types of posts that we didn’t have. We found posts that were generating a lot of traffic but  weren’t converting well, and realized we didn’t really have an offer for those posts and have created offers for those posts just for that purpose of solving for the conversion need. But I actually think that while relevancy is really important, the reason a lot of times that those posts converted better was because of the placement, like I was just mentioning.

Rich: Interesting.

Pamela: At the time – that slide deck was about a year ago – we hadn’t done any testing about which CTA’s within the post were actually the ones that were performing well. Coincidentally when we started doing this historic optimization – that’s when we implemented those anchor text CTA’s that I talked about – which tend to be in the first couple paragraphs of the post. So I actually  think there’s a combination of definitely relevance but also placement that contributed to the success of those posts.

Rich: That’s awesome. I love the fact that you had some good information and it has been updated. So we talked a little bit about blog posts that have a lot of traffic but low conversions, but I’m sure you uncovered some pages that weren’t getting a lot of traffic but were really converting well for you. So what do you do in situations like that?

Pamela: So that is the second part of the project here, it’s updating and republishing those posts. So, like I said, a lot of these posts that are old are outdated. The information is stale or at the time that we wrote it our quality bar wasn’t as high, and now we can go into that post and make it better. Basically make it the most comprehensive piece of content about that topic, that particular angle of the blog post on the web.

Essentially we’re trying to find posts that kind of rank ok in Google. Maybe they rank at the bottom of page one or on page two for a keyword that generates a good potential monthly search volume. And so if we notice that a post ranks 8th for a keyword that gets 10,000 monthly searches, if we were to get that post to rank near the top of page one, we’d get more of the pie of that monthly search traffic.

So what we found essentially across the board – and we’ve incorporated this into our weekly strategy –  is identifying those posts, updating the content of them, doing also some purposeful on page SEO optimization to get to rank better for the keywords that it kinda ranks ok for. Republishing it, promoting it to our subscribers, that amount of traffic that we get to the post always elevates that post in search.

It has been amazing. I actually pulled some data over the last 12 months – we’ve been doing this for about a year and a half at this point – about 2 times a week we do a post update and our traffic from organic search has doubled. Our monthly traffic that we get has doubled for organic search.

Rich: Wow.

Pamela: And some of that I’m sure is just a natural lift, and we also do create new content just like everybody else.

Rich: Sure.

Pamela: But if you look at the growth from the year before, it’s nowhere near as substantial. And then also leads, as well, because we’ve incorporated the conversion optimization component into all this, too. We’ve essentially doubled our leads from organic search in the past year.

Rich: So when you say “update and then republish” the post, what does that mean to you? Because I obviously understand updating and saving the post, but when you say “republish”, is there something different that you’re doing in this situation?

Pamela: So by “republish”, we’re keeping the URL exactly the same. So we’re basically taking the search authority that the post has already accrued and building off of that. And we are updating the content of the post and  essentially changing the publish date so that it appears fresh at the top of our blog and then it gets pulled into our subscriber emails and repromoted to our new subscribers. But yeah, it’s essentially taking a static web page, updating the content, and then promoting that again.

Rich: And again, so you’re keeping the URL the same but you’re changing the publish date.

Pamela: Correct.

Rich: Aright.

Pamela: And we’ll change the title a little bit to reflect any of the keyword research we’ve done and what keywords we’re trying to target. But we leave the URL be, just because I’m scared.

Rich: I definitely wouldn’t change it either, I think that makes a lot of sense. So you mentioned that this is best used by blogs that have been established for a while or have a certain number of posts. Is there any rough number that you would recommend before people really start investing heavily in their historic optimization work?

Pamela: Yeah. I would say your blog has to be at least a few years old. You have to have old posts that are ranking, you have to have some sort of search authority that helps you to do this, you have to have posts worth updating that are out of date, and you have to have posts that are ranking ok at least for keywords that you have the potential when you increase the ranking get more traffic for them. So it’s really hard for me to put a number on it.

I know a lot of other companies have been doing this and even some of our customers do it – that don’t have traffic nearly as high as we do – that  have really benefited from it.  And it’s also that you’re just elevating the overall quality of the content on your blog by updating stuff that is still getting traffic. So even aside from boost and search rankings and conversion rates, it’s still a good practice and it improves the overall health of your blog.

Rich: Cool. Now I know that you’re an analytical type person so I’m just kind of curious, I know that back in the old days not every blog post we might have put up had an image and it wasn’t really a conscious decision to what that image would be. These days it seems like the popular thing is to create an image – often with text on it – so when it gets shared on Pinterest or Instagram, people know what it’s all about, it’s more interesting and likely to get more clicks. So when you’re doing this historical optimization, do you put any time and effort into updating images that are on these blog posts? 

Pamela: only if the post was published at a time when the formatting of our blog was different and the image is not optimized for the existing design. We haven’t really done a ton, to be honest, with images. 

Rich: Alright, interesting. So Pamela, this has been great. Where can we find you online?

Pamela: You can find me online, I think Twitter is the best place, so

Rich: Awesome, thank you so much for your time today.

Pamela: Thank you for having me, Rich.

Show Notes:

  • Check out Pamela’s insightful and creative blog at HubSpot for valuable information and ideas.
  • Follow Pamela on Twitter and tell her you heard her on the Agents Of Change podcast!
  • Have you bought your tickets to the upcoming Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference? Early bird tickets are still available. Don’t miss your chance to see Rich Brooks and his carefully selected, highly respected cast of speakers on the topics of search, social and mobile marketing. AOCP-FB-Pamela-Vaughan