My friend Barbara Nixon, who writes the Public Relations Matters blog, posed an interesting question recently. It seems that an older article of hers has recently shown an unexplained increase in traffic. Unfortunately the article has some broken links and a few missing images. Barbara was wondering whether or not she should take the time to update the post. I’m sure that Barbara is not alone in wondering about this.
The short answer is YES, you should absolutely update the page. The why’s and how’s take some explaining, and a little bit of sleuthing.
What is the Traffic Source?
Your first task is to determine where the traffic is coming from, and is it even traffic you want. Most analytics tools provide “referrer” info in basic reports. You should also be familiar with a free tool called “Open Site Explorer“, it lets you know who is linking to you and how.
Unfortunately, it is fairly common for link farmers, page scrapers and general web spammers to copy pages and/or create entire sites filled with bad links, just so they can get themselves a few extra clicks on their ad pages or send unqualified traffic to their unsuspecting clients’ pages. If this is where your new traffic is coming from, you don’t want it. I’ll explain why later, but you need to take steps to end it, and fast.
Emails requesting to have the links to your site removed will likely be ignored, but should still be sent. You should also submit spam reports to Google and Bing, and if necessary try to have the links “disavowed“.
After you have done all of that, you might be tempted to just leave the old page alone and call it “good enough.” Don’t. I’ll explain why later on.
If you determine that the traffic is legitimate, you should consider whether or not it is being sent to the best place on your site. Many websites focus on a specific theme and subject matter. Over time it is entirely possible that you may have written multiple articles that discuss the same topic. Is the source of your new traffic pointing to your best and most related article on the subject? If it is, hey that’s great! Send the author an email and thank them for the link. And then, promptly fix your content.
No, it’s not “good enough.”
If the new link is not pointing to the best place, reach out to the author thanking them for the link and offer the better page as a replacement. More than likely they will be happy to update their page, making the links even more useful to their readers. OK, the traffic is now going to a better place, so the old page is “good enough”, right? Wrong, go fix it.
A related side note: If you do have multiple pages that cover the same topic, you might consider doing a “301 redirect” from older, less useful pages to a newer, more useful page. Most blogging platforms have plugins available that make this a quick and painless process. If you use this method, then you qualify for the one exception and do not have to update the old page content.
Why Update Old Pages?
Bounces are bad.
If your new traffic is coming from a spammy site, chances are good that the people landing on your page aren’t getting what they expected, and will leave your site in a matter of seconds. How quickly somebody leaves the page after landing on it can affect your overall site rankings. Yes, really. Google, and other engines, consider “bounce-rate” a reliable measure of page quality. If you, or the linking page are running Google Analytics, they know about your page and its bounce rate. An increasing bounce-rate indicates a decrease in content quality and that will cause your site rankings to gradually decline. Unfortunately, when your traffic is coming from spammy sites, there isn’t much you can do to address bounce rate.
On the other-hand, if you have people following a good, trusted link to your site, they want to see something that looks and works good. Missing images do not give the impression that you know what you’re doing or talking about. Even this good traffic will not stay long when presented with poor pages. While not as bad an impact as a spammy site, this will also result in an increased bounce rate.
Don’t be a “bad kid”
When you were a kid, did your Mom ever say to you “if you hang around with bad kids, people will start to think you’re a bad kid too”? Guess what, Google does that. If you have bad sites linking to you (or worse, you link to them), the search engines will begin to associate you with them, the “bad kids”. Admittedly, there is some disagreement in the search industry about how much impact this could have on your site rankings, but there is no argument that it will have an effect. (OK, I admit, this has nothing to do with broken content, but it does lead to the next reason to fix it, so stick with me.)
The Robots are Watching You
You can be pretty sure that, thanks to the new links, the search crawlers will re-discover your old pages. Which means they will also discover that you are hosting content that is not good quality. The good news is that search engineers know that sometimes links have temporary issues, or people sometimes make code errors. Because of this, the crawlers tend to check and re-check pages multiple times before they pass final judgment on page quality, giving you a little time to fix the pages. Consider that the goal of a search engine is to provide the BEST POSSIBLE content for any particular query, not “good enough” content. If you don’t fix your broken pages, you will have a reduction in your overall quality score, which will result in the engines sending less traffic to your entire site, not just to broken pages. If your new link is coming from a “bad kid”, you now have a double whammy and even more reason for the search engines to start thinking you are also a bad kid if you don’t fix the problems.
Good Enough, Isn’t
The final, and biggest reason to update your old & broken pages is one you should already know. It’s the right thing to do for your readers. By presenting these new readers with a less-than-ideal picture of your work, you are devaluing your expertise, and your readers opinions of it. You’re also giving them a reason to leave sooner instead of staying longer and hopefully coming back again in the future.
You wouldn’t post a new article with broken links and missing images, why should an older one be considered “good enough”?