Apr 17, 2024

Making Maintenance Part of Your Technical Content Strategy

Creating great technical content isn’t a one-time job. If you’re not regularly updating your content, you’re likely losing out on traffic - or, worse, losing your potential customer’s trust. Here’s why maintenance needs to be a part of your technical content strategy.

Why technical content goes stale

We’ve known for a while that search engines care about content freshness. Updating old articles tells Google and others that you’re working to keep your back catalog as accurate as possible. That can help you in search engine rankings.

However, there’s another, larger risk in not updating technical content: it can go out of date quickly.

While any content— even so-called evergreen content—can grow stale and inaccurate, technical content is especially susceptible to breaking down. This is because it’s written against a moving target. Technology doesn’t stand still but evolves year after year. Heck, sometimes month after month.

There are several ways technical content can go out of date - and each carries its own risks if you fail to address it.

Your product changed

Walking customers through your product is a great way to show them, first-hand, how it adds value to their technology stack. The downside? When your product changes—you change the UI, you add new features—this content either looks old or breaks entirely.

The risk: People who use the article won’t see the value your product offers. Worse yet, they may conclude either your docs are out of date or your product’s broken.

Your product positioning has changed

Your company has likely changed its product positioning more than once in order to widen its target market. Perhaps you have a tool for data engineers that software engineers can also utilize. Or maybe you’ve added features to your CI/CD tooling that will appeal to Site Reliability Engineers. This shift may require revisiting older content to make sure you’re speaking to this wider audience.

The risk: Potential customers may pass up your offering because they (wrongly) believe it won’t support their use case.

The industry has changed

A lot of content lapsed into oblivion when the cloud fundamentally changed the way we launch services and applications online. AI is now doing the same thing to a whole new generation of content. The evolution of other technical concepts—the shift from ETL to ELT, the way we think about services and “microservices”, the polyrepos vs. monorepos debate—can drastically influence what you’ve published in the past.

The risk: Potential customers could conclude that your software is part of the “old way of doing things” and isn’t relevant to today’s technology stack.

Your way of thinking has changed

To many data and analytics engineers, dbt is a technology that’s fundamental to what we call the “modern data stack.” So it took a lot of guts recently when dbt co-founder Tristan Handy declared this term had outlived its usefulness.

I don’t think I’ve been at a software company in the past 20-some years where such shifts didn’t occur at least once a year. When they happen, you need to ensure the content on your site reflects it.

The risk: You could leave potential customers feeling that your company isn’t innovative or forward-thinking.

How to build maintenance into your technical content strategy

Adding maintenance to your technical content strategy is largely a matter of making content hygiene part of your overall content management process. Our own maintenance process involves five steps:

  1. Identify content that needs a refresh
  2. Decide whether to revise, redo, or scrap
  3. Identify additional fixes
  4. Add to your content pipeline
  5. Publish and repeat

Identify content that needs a refresh

Are you planning a major product release? Did you make a major shift in your marketing direction? These are good times to review your existing content and assess the impact.

You should also track your existing content, independent of any major release, to verify that it’s still holding up. Good candidates here include:

  • Content that’s already performing strongly (should be regularly updated)
  • Content with high engagement but low traffic (can you brush it up and boost it on socials?)
  • Content that’s not performing well (does it need a refresh?)
  • Content that’s dropping in search engine traffic (likely needs an update)

You can cull this data yourself from Google Analytics. We’ve also built a tool - Ottimo - that helps you pinpoint which content needs your attention. Ottimo crunches your GA data and identifies which posts are stars (your top performers), declining (posts losing traffic), sloths (high traffic with low engagement), and wallflowers (high engagement posts).

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Decide whether to revise, redo, or retire

Next, decide how you want to change your content. At ercule, we recommend one of three paths to our clients:

ActionWhat to doWhen to do it
ReviseUpdate to ensure this content https://www.ercule.co/blog/how-to-increase-search-traffic-with-content-optimizationeflects the current reality of your product and the industry.This content is still valuable and generally in line with your thinking but needs some tweaks.
RedoKeep the same topic but rewrite from scratch.The topic is valuable but has been deprecated by a different approach or changes in the industry.
RetireRemove the content from your site and redirect to something more relevant.The content has gone stale and you have better content now that addresses this topic.

Identify additional fixes

Well-written technical content drives engagement. If you’re a year or more into creating technical content, chances are you have older pieces that don’t meet your current editorial standards.

This is a good opportunity to revise your outdated content to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward. These can include verifying that it is:

Add to your content pipeline

Add revision tasks to whatever tool you’re using to manage your content project - Asana, Notion, Trello, etc. Assuming you have the writing capacity, target publishing one or two revisions every week - more if you’re preparing for a major product push.

Publish and repeat

After making changes and reviewing with Subject Matter Experts, you can push your changes live. (There’s no need to update the publication date - search engines will track this automatically.)

Continue to track traffic and engagement to revised pieces to assess how much additional value content maintenance is driving. Then, repeat the cycle at least once every month or so. Identify topics to revise and add them to your content tracker so that maintenance becomes a weekly, ongoing part of your technical content strategy.

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