How to detect and improve underperforming content

You invest a lot of time and resources into your content creation. It’s a huge part of what will help you rank in search. It will help you get more people to invest in your digital marketing. It makes sense to prioritize and improve underperforming content. But, what happens when your content isn’t reaping the rewards that it should?

We call this underperforming. There are a lot of reasons why your content might not perform as well as it should. It’s easy to simply write this off as chance or the fact that there is a ton of competition out there.

However, there are certain variables that you can’t control. Other businesses and content creators may simply be doing a phenomenal job. You might not be hitting that intangible thing that helps boost you into viral status.

The mistake would be in thinking that you can’t control any of it. Most of the things that keep your content from performing well are fixable. You just need to know how to identify the problem and improve the content.

Signs your content is underperforming

The best way to determine whether or not your content is underperforming is to conduct a content audit. This is the best to understand how to improve your underperforming content. A content audit looks at all of the content, past and present, and helps you see the pieces that are performing well, which are not, and those that may have started high but dropped off.

Most pieces of content won’t continue to perform at a high rate forever. Older content, especially pieces in an industry that changes quickly, won’t be useful a few years later.

You can choose several tools to help with a content audit and identify your uniform resource locator (URLs) and how they perform. Building out that automated list is a start because it gives you an easy way to highlight pieces of content that are not performing; however, it won’t tell you exactly why it’s not performing. For that, you need to take a bit of a deeper dive.

What to look for in a content audit

There are a few things that you want to look for in each piece of content.

Keywords and keyword phrases

It’s called search engine optimization (SEO) for a reason. Your keywords and keyword phrases should be carefully chosen, and the content needs to answer the questions those searchers are asking. This is a more common mistake than you might think.

You might use a keyword phrase that seems to work in terms of your content, but the searchers who use the term are looking for something entirely different. You may be targeting the wrong keywords, and that will often show up in your bounce rate. If you’re seeing visitors hit your site and leave right away, they’re not finding content that answers their questions.

Keyword density

Keywords play a big part in your content in terms of SEO. Not only do you need to use the right keywords, but you can’t use them too little or too much. If you use the same keywords too frequently, the search engines will penalize you for keyword stuffing.

Your title and headlines

As you might guess, your keywords play a role here, too. You want to use your target keyword in the title and, either that same keyword or a secondary keyword phrase in the headlines. You also want to make sure you’re following best practices for headline length (currently 10 words or less).

Meta descriptions

Make sure you’re following good practices for your meta descriptions. They should give the searcher a good idea of what the content does and you should, again, use the keyword phrase here.

Your content needs to provide value

Those are a few of the on-page issues that you can easily identify by reviewing your piece of content. Less tangible, but just as important, are some of the things you won’t see at a glance.

Your content should provide some value for your target audience, and it should answer the question that they are asking when they search. If the piece of content claims expertise, there should be some citations or sources that back up the premise and any mentioned statistics.

In truth, your content can do all of those things but still not perform well, and there can be several reasons for that. This is where competitive research comes in handy. If you research the top-ranking content for those search terms, you can get a great idea of what they’re doing differently and what the problem might be in your content.

How to improve underperforming content

Once you’ve highlighted the content that’s not performing well, you need to determine whether to cut it or fix it. You can remove content that no longer fits your brand’s direction or, more often than not, you can refresh it.

This is especially true for fast-moving industries. Marketing, for example, is an industry that changes quickly. A marketing guide from three years ago is virtually useless today.

That doesn’t mean that you need to throw away that massive and carefully constructed guide or blog post. The better option is to update. You can do this by going through the entire piece of content, adding new sections where applicable, and updating information and statistics that have changed.

In addition, you should always include a note and change the date at the very top of the post that makes it clear that the page has been updated.

Don’t recreate the wheel to improve underperforming content

There’s no reason to re-invent the wheel. Much of your outdated content was probably painstakingly written and well researched. All you need to do with these pieces is to add to them.

There might also be some pieces that are counterintuitive to the way that you currently do business or go against current trends in a meaningful way. With pieces like these, you can weigh the options to remove them. For other pieces of content that should be performing better and are not, you should first look at good SEO criteria.

  • Do they check all the boxes?
  • Did you hit all of the on-page best practices?
  • Are all of the links and functions working properly?
  • Are you using the right keyword phrasing for the searcher?

If all of those things are taken care of, the next question to ask is whether your content meets or exceeds the competition. If your content isn’t formatted well or doesn’t offer enough value, you can see that with greater clarity when you compare it with the content that has ranked well in the search engines.

This guest blog post was written by Alyssa Anderson. She is the content manager at Zero Gravity Marketing (ZGM), a digital marketing agency in Madison, CT. ZGM is known for developing marketing strategies and specializes in pay-per-click (PPC), search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, social media, development, design, and eCommerce services. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.