Do you have an old website that’s seen better days? Or a site that’s been offline for a few years? In this post, we’ll explain what you should check to get it up to modern standards, and how to update your SEO at the same time. We’ve tried to cover all the main things you need to look at. Of course, you can skip some steps if you already know that part is up-to-date. (If you simply want to update your SEO knowledge with the latest best practices, you might want to try our SEO news course instead). Now, it’s time to brush the dust off those pages, refresh your content and, if you’ve got them, plug in your Yoast plugins!

Table of contents

  • Check the site set-up
  • Check your content
  • Check technical SEO
  • Start publishing and sharing

Check the site set-up

Want to make any big changes? Do that first

Before we start delving into the depths of your old website, it’s worth thinking about any big changes you want to make. Maybe you’ve always wanted to change your domain name or your URL structure, but it was too much work when everything was up-and-running. Or perhaps you could benefit from changing to a different CMS, such as WordPress. If you do want to make sitewide changes, you’ll be far better off planning this from the start.

Is your domain still active?

You will have registered your domain when your website was still live, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s still available now. Check whether your old domain still belongs to you, or if it’s still available. If it’s not, you’ll need to choose another one.

Bear in mind that changing your domain name comes with several drawbacks:

  • If your website was popular in the past, you might have built up some domain authority. This is a kind of value that your whole site can earn over time, and many people believe it has an impact on SEO. So when you change your domain name, you’ll lose any domain authority you’ve gained previously.
  • Your old URLs will no longer work, and you’ll need to come up with a plan to migrate your old content to your new domain. This can be a lot of work, so don’t underestimate it!

Is your CMS up to date? What about your plugins?

The next thing you’ll want to check is whether your CMS is up to date. Depending on how old your site is, that could mean all kinds of things. As new trends and possibilities arise in web development, a good CMS will adopt these and implement them for you (mostly) automatically. So it’s well worth keeping your CMS up-to-date! Make sure to back-up your site and test the changes first, though.

The impact of out-of-date plugins really depends on which plugins you have installed. But whichever plugins you use, you should check these too. The same goes for themes; these can stop functioning if they’re too old, or not supported anymore. On the web, the older your technology is, the more vulnerable it is to hacks — so keep everything updated!

Tip: If you’re using WordPress you can use the site health section or install the Health Check plugin to make sure your site’s essential parts are all fit-for-purpose.

Check your robots.txt / indexing settings

Some people prefer to noindex their site while they make big changes to it, to avoid leaving users with a bad impression. Whether or not that’s something you want to do depends on what state your site is in currently. To noindex your site, you’ll need to make changes to your robots.txt file. But you shouldn’t really play around with this unless you know what you’re doing. If you’re a Yoast SEO user, you can manage your indexing in your configuration settings without ever touching your robots.txt file. An easier way to update your site behind the scenes is by using the WP Maintenance Mode plugin.

Check your data privacy set up

If your site is more than a couple of years old, there’s a good chance your data privacy setup isn’t good enough for modern standards. For instance, if your site uses cookies and tracks user behavior, it’s now a legal requirement to ask users’ permission for this in most regions of the world. Similarly, if you have user data stored on your site, you absolutely need to make sure that you’re storing it securely and using it in a legally compliant way. If that data is old user data, the safest option is probably just to delete it all.

Check your content

Refresh your keyword research

When it comes to updating the content on your old website, refreshing your keyword research is a good place to start. The words people use in their search queries change over time, so the longer your content has been out-of-action, the more likely it is you need to do this.

When checking your keywords, you should see if you’re still using the most suitable keywords for your site and your audience, and whether you can still compete in the rankings for those keywords too. Aside from changing the keywords themselves, you should also check if you’re still using keywords correctly in your content. Keyword stuffing is very much a thing of the past, and doing so nowadays is bad for SEO. So when you go to update your content, make sure you use keywords in a natural way.

Tip: The Yoast SEO plugin can help you to check if you’re using the best keywords, and whether you’re using them correctly.

Does your content need updating?

It’s important to update your old posts and pages to keep them fresh and relevant. Old content can face various issues:

  • Is the quality still good enough? Modern internet users expect useful information, provided in an easy-to-read format.
  • Is your information accurate and up-to-date?
  • Is your content optimized for SEO according to the most recent guidelines?

Take a look at each page, and be critical. What could be improved? Do you really need to keep each page? Will you need to rewrite the whole thing, or will some small adjustments be sufficient? It could take a while to get through all of your content; if some pages need a lot of work, you might want to set them to noindex until you can improve them.

Tip: Use the readability and SEO checks in Yoast SEO to get your content in tip-top condition. Our analyses will give you loads of guidance for making high-quality content that Google and users will both love, and save you a bundle of time too! Plus, don’t miss out on our handy Duplicate Post plugin — the Rewrite & Republish feature makes it much easier to update your content.

Check your internal linking and site structure

Making sure your content is high quality and well-optimized is only half of the story. It needs to be findable too. By linking related pages together you make your content easier for your users to reach. And on top of that, if you make sure your most important pages get the most internal links, it helps Google to understand your site structure. As a result, those central pages (we call them cornerstone content) are likely to rank higher in the search results!

Tip: We have loads of tools in the Yoast plugin to help you link your content together and build a great site structure. For the best results, get Yoast Premium and do our internal linking SEO workouts. The workouts help you work through your internal linking in a few easy steps, so you can be sure you’re getting it right.

Check technical SEO

Mobile-friendly is a requirement

More and more people are using mobile devices like cellphones and tablets to access the internet. As a result, Google switched to mobile-first indexing (for most sites) starting in 2019. This means that if your site doesn’t work well on mobile, it won’t rank as highly in the search results. Things like switching to responsive/adaptive web design and checking mobile usability are more of a requirement now, rather than a nice extra. Make sure everything works, and that it looks good on all kinds of screens sizes.

Core Web Vitals and page experience

Back in the days of dial-up internet, you always had to wait patiently for pages to load. But that’s a thing of the past; pages that load quickly are a basic expectation nowadays. And loading quickly isn’t the only consideration — your pages need to actually work well once they’ve loaded. In 2021, Google introduced a new ranking factor to measure things like this. So you need to make sure you’re meeting expectations for the following aspects:

  • Loading performance (how fast does stuff appear on the screen?)
  • Responsiveness (how fast does the page react to user input?)
  • Visual stability (does stuff move around on the screen while loading?)

The details behind these factors are quite technical, but it’s worth delving into to make sure your technical SEO isn’t holding you back.

Read more: Learn about the three Core Web Vitals: LCP, FID & CLS »

Clean up bad backlinks

One or two bad backlinks aren’t a big problem. But if there are a lot of bad backlinks pointing to your site, Google might notice a pattern and flag your site as spam. So do check your backlinks, and if there are a lot of low-quality sites showing up, clean them up!

Check your media usage

Another thing that changes over time is the best practice for using images and videos on your site. Nowadays, high-quality images are expected by most users, and they’re expected to load quickly too. Meanwhile, since Google’s Panda update in 2011, so-called ‘thin content‘ has been an issue for SEO. And that means it’s no longer an option to have a page containing only an image or a video (at least not if you want it to rank). Don’t forget to optimize your images for SEO as well.

Accessibility

As more and more people have started to use the internet in recent years, you have to accommodate the needs of different types of visitors. Accessibility means making small adjustments and additions that let everyone enjoy your content. You don’t need to redesign everything; there are simple improvements you can make, such as adding alt text to your images.

Structured data

If you want to have the best-looking search results in Google, you’ll need to start adding structured data to your site. Structured data is a way of telling Google about the context or purpose of different types of content. You can label your news items as news, for example, and Google can identify that and add your content into its News section. Or you could label your products using structured data and have a chance of getting listed in Google’s Shopping results. There are loads of ways that structured data can give your content a boost, so give it a try!

Tip: If you’ve got the Yoast SEO plugin, we’ll automatically add structured data to your pages. All you need to do is select the content type, and the plugin will take care of the rest.

Start publishing and sharing

Check your robots.txt / indexing settings (again)

Give your indexing a final check and make sure the pages you want Google to index are crawlable. You can start by checking your robots.txt or your indexing settings. Google Search Console can be a great help at this point. Submit your sitemap — it will let Google know your site is ready for indexing again, and help it to understand what’s changed. Search Console will flag any crawl errors, so you can easily check whether everything is set up correctly.

Start (re)publishing and sharing content

And now for the final step in updating your old site: start publishing content again! Publishing content regularly and sharing it on social media will help you to build awareness of your site. Plus you might be able to gain some new fans and followers! If your social media pages are outdated, give them a refresh to let people know your site is back and ready to welcome them!

Tip: We’ve included a handy preview feature in Yoast SEO to manage how your posts will look when they’re shared. Want to share everything you publish automatically? Use the Zapier integration in Yoast SEO Premium!

Update your old site’s SEO more easily with Yoast

As you can see, there’s a lot to check when updating SEO and refreshing your old website. Once you’ve got your site back to its former glory, make sure you maintain your site and your SEO. Otherwise, in a few years, you might be doing it all over again. Luckily our Yoast SEO plugins can help you update your old site — and maintain it, too! You can do our SEO workouts regularly to stay on top of things, and keep an eye on our Stale Cornerstone Content Filter to find articles that need some attention. Remember: keep your Yoast plugins up-to-date and you’ll always have access to the current best practices in SEO!