Content Update vs Content Rewrite: Differences & Examples

Georgios Chasiotis

Georgios Chasiotis

A very important part of our Content Audit service is to make recommendations on a page level based on the past and current performance of a page. Two of these recommendations are a) Content Update and b) Content Rewrite.

The question that we hear most often after delivering a Content Audit that includes these two recommendations is:

What is the difference between a content update and a content rewrite?

That’s a fair question. Since we’ve heard it several times, we understood that it’s better to give an answer once and for all.

So, in this concise guide, we’re going to break down the differences between a content update and content rewrite, and explain when and how to use each content optimization type.

 

What is a Content Update?

 

Let’s take a step back for a minute and first define the word “update”.

Here’s what Google’s dictionary box returns for the term “what does update mean”:

As per the definition(s) above, an update is “making something more modern or up to date”.

Now, let’s reframe that definition, this time for the term “content update”.

A content update is the process of making a piece of content — regardless of its format — more modern or up to date.

So far so good, but what does that include?

In our experience, updating content may include any of the following actions:

  • Updating the title tag
  • Updating or adding a meta description
  • Updating the URL slug
  • Updating or adding a Table of Contents
  • Updating or adding internal jumplinks
  • Updating, adding, or deleting images and other media (e.g., video, graphs)
  • Adding or updating image titles and/or image Alt Text
  • Updating the heading structure and information architecture
  • Updating the whole body or specific sections (e.g., intro, main content, conclusion)
  • Fixing grammar errors, typos, and anything of that nature
  • Optimizing the whole body or specific sections for a search audience (with a tool like Clearscope)
  • Fact-checking
  • Adding or removing internal and external outgoing links
  • Updating, adding, or removing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
  • Updating, adding, or removing Schema Markup (e.g., Article)

We see an opportunity for a content update when all the following points apply to a piece of content:

  • It used to perform well organically but has declined in performance; OR
  • It performs well but can do better (e.g., it ranks on the 2nd page for its target keyword); AND
  • It’s going in the right direction and generally satisfies the searcher’s intent; AND
  • It hasn’t been created very recently (e.g., in the last month), so has had the time to perform; AND
  • It is important for some reason (e.g., revenue generation, topical authority, brand value, link acquisition).

So, as is evident, we’re talking about a piece of content that has potential to perform better, is in the right direction when it comes to search intent, and hasn’t been updated for a while

Let’s look at an example of such a piece of content.

 

Content Update Example

 

The following piece of content is the updated version of a guide on ‘app development cost’ that was published on one of our clients’ blogs:

Author’s Note: You can find the full case study of this update at this link.

Our client was ranking in position #90 in the US (which is the target country) for the target keyword ‘app development cost’ in July of 2021, a few months before the update.

At its peak, the page—which was originally at this URL—had visibility for 168 organic keywords, according to Ahrefs.

Worst of all, the page had backlinks from 84 referring domains, which weren't enough to move the needle.

Even though there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with the piece, it just didn’t perform.

At the same time, the fact that the page had some visibility for relevant terms and also had several backlinks gave us the confidence that a content update could improve its performance.

So, we performed a content update and used the following actions:

  • We updated the title tag
  • We updated the meta description
  • We updated the URL slug (redirected the page to this URL)
  • We updated the Table of Contents (removed and added sections)
  • We added and removed some graphs
  • We updated the heading structure which included both adding and removing sections
  • We updated specific sections and pushed important information to the intro (this is why we have the featured snippet for several variations of the target keyword)
  • We recommended a complete content edit and proofreading (although, we’re not sure if this recommendation was ever materialized)
  • We optimized the whole body for a search audience (using Clearscope)

What were the results of this content update?

Here’s an overview of the results a few months after the updates went live on our client’s blog:

As you can see, the piece ranks for more than 1.7K organic keywords, brings in 6.2K monthly visits, and has a staggering traffic value of $42.4K.

Also, as you can see below, it ranks #1 for the term ‘app development cost’ in the US.

This is, by all standards, a successful content update.

We’d like to note that other updates aren’t as successful as this one.

However, when you have a tried and tested framework for understanding what elements you should update, you can recreate results like the ones mentioned above.

Now, let’s move on to the next type of content optimization, which is a content rewrite.

 

What is a Content Rewrite?

 

Similar to what we did for a content update, let’s take a step back and examine the term without the ‘content’ aspect.

As per the definition(s) above, to rewrite something means to “write something again so as to alter or improve it.”

Now, let’s reframe that definition, this time for the term ‘content rewrite’ and not just for ‘rewrite’.

A content rewrite is the process of writing a piece of content again — regardless of its format — to make sure it satisfies the searcher’s intent and serves its purpose.

So far so good, but what does that include?

A content rewrite includes all the actions we saw earlier for the content update.

The big difference here is that a content rewrite is performed when a piece of content was initially created in the wrong direction and doesn’t satisfy search intent.

We see an opportunity for a content rewrite when all the following points apply to a piece of content:

  • It doesn’t perform well and has never performed organically; AND
  • There is a search intent mismatch, meaning that the piece has been optimized around a certain target keyword but doesn’t satisfy search intent; AND
  • It is important for some reason (e.g., revenue generation, topical authority, brand value, link acquisition).

So, essentially, we’re talking about a piece of content that doesn’t perform well (and most likely never will) since it has the wrong direction and doesn’t satisfy search intent.

We know that this can be a bit tricky, so let’s try to illustrate it using an example.

 

Content Rewrite Example

 

An example of a content rewrite opportunity comes from our client, Mentionlytics.

As you can see below, back in 2017, Mentionlytics published a guide on brand marketing.

Taking a look at the piece…

…we can see that there’s an intent mismatch between what a searcher might have in mind when they’re searching for ‘brand marketing’ and what the piece is all about.

This is also reflected in the performance of the piece, as shown below.

Our assumption is that the right keyword in this case is ‘brand marketing’.

If that’s the case, then let’s try to understand what would be the right direction for a piece of content that targets that term.

We’ll do that by counting the number of occurrences in the top 10 search results for the target keyword in the US.

Here’s what we get from the process of classifying search intent:

If we’d like to outline a piece of content that targets the term ‘brand marketing’, we’d most likely have the following sections:

Based on the above outline, we can see that the example by Mentionlytics doesn’t just need improvement, rather it needs a complete overhaul.

Doing this will help the piece satisfy search intent and hopefully perform for the target keyword and its variations.

In the above example, we’d perform additional changes and optimizations such as updating the URL slug, changing the title tag and  meta description, but all these changes would be performed in the context of a content rewrite.

Author’s Note: We’ll update this section after the rewrite for our client’s piece of content goes live.

Even though cases like this are rare, we’ve encountered them several times through content audits we’ve performed.

We believe that the main reason why this happens is because of selecting a target keyword and not optimizing the piece based on the intent behind that target keyword.

This search intent mismatch results in a lack of performance from an organic standpoint and, in several cases, from a business standpoint as well.

 

Content Update vs Content Rewrite

 

So far, we’ve gone over what entails each of the two content optimization types and presented an example of each one. 

The main difference is that a content rewrite entails updating something that’s fundamentally wrong, while a content update entails updating something that has potential from both an organic and business standpoint.

The following diagram can help you make decisions about the pieces of content you either want to update or rewrite:

As we explained earlier, the actions you need to take for content optimization will differ based on the requirements of each case.

However, while a general refresh of the body of a piece of content may be enough for a content update, the same doesn’t apply to a content rewrite.

We don’t recommend deleting a piece of content that can be rewritten because we see some kind of value in it.

That’s a very important point because people usually think that a content rewrite could easily be handled by deleting the page and writing a new piece of content based on the assigned target keyword.

However, if you think about it, even if the page doesn’t have anything that would justify not removing it, it has one thing that new pages don’t have: time published.

This is enough to justify a content rewrite (from an organic standpoint) and help us get great results after rewriting the piece from the bottom up.

 

Conclusion

 

Even though the differences between content updates and content rewrites aren’t easy to spot, they have a big impact on performance and user experience.

We hope that you now have a better understanding and solid framework for making the distinction between opportunities for content updates and those for content rewrites.

On our end, we’ll make sure to update this guide as we experiment and learn more about what works best when it comes to optimizing content for a search audience.