Content Decay

Content decay is a term used in the SEO community and also known as content rot or content drift.

The content decay SEO term is a continuous decline in SERP organic traffic over time.

In this Content Decay guide, we explain in the content lifecycle where traffic takes a downturn why this has happened and how to prevent this from happening in July 2024.

What is Content Decay?

Content decay is an ongoing decline in organic traffic and rankings for your content.

The word “decay” is the important detail as explains a gradual decline over time.

The term “Content Decay” is is not used when there is a sudden drop in traffic or Google rankings.

The 4 Stages Of Content Decay

Content that begins to “decay” often follows a pattern, this usually looks something like this:

Early Traction

In the initial stage of content creation, you’ll find that your article will likely take a while to start getting traffic. This is because it’s very rare for a site to start ranking for your chosen keywords straight away, especially if your keywords get a lot of monthly search volume.

Because of this, new content almost always lands in an “early traction” stage, unless you’re lucky enough to already have a large social media following to post it out too.


The growth phase begins as your article begins to generate more backlinks and rank higher in the SERPs.

Content growth is also accelerated based on the quality of the content you create, and the overall quality of your website in general.

Because of this, the rate at which your content grows will differ from article to article, as well as the competition of the keywords you’re looking to rank for.


The peak stage is when the overall performance of your content online begins to decline.

There are several reasons why this may happen, which include the loss of fresh backlinks, your content has been outranked by a newer article or you’ve simply hit the natural ceiling your article can reach based on the keywords you rank for.

This particular stage can differ in length, sometimes it will last days, sometimes months before your content goes into the final stage of content decay, which is decay itself.


When content becomes outdated, less relevant, less fresh and less trusted, it will begin to decay.

In this stage, it will become apparent that your page is performing significantly worse in the search engine results pages than it was previously.

Content decay on mass can be extremely detrimental, which its why its so important to not neglect the articles on your website.

Why Does Content Decay Occur?

Content Decay happens because over time content or web page loses its relevance and ranking on the SERPs.

When content is creating a few years ago then the relevance might no longer be correct in today’s world.

Google wants to see fresh up to date content on a subject and not be sending traffic to outdated articles.

Here are all of the main reasons why content decay occurs:

Content Freshness

If your content lacks freshness, ie has not been updated in a long time, you run the risk of the content becoming outdated, and in turn less relevant to the topic in Google’s eyes.

We’re all aware that information changes overtime, and what may have been relevant 2 years ago may not be relevant at all today.

Because of this, it’s important you try to update your articles when needed.

Content Cannibalisation

Content cannibalisation, sometimes known as internal competition, is the problem of having too many articles on your website that are roughly covering the same topic as one another.

When this happens, individual articles can drastically underperform as a result, leaving Google confused as to which website to rank for the targeted keywords.

It’s very important you address this if you have this problem, as it can help mitigate content decay across your entire site.

Other Competition

A lot of the time, the cause of your content decay will simply be down to the competition in your niche being high.

When this happens, it’s important to analyse the URL or URLs that are outperforming you, and work to ensure your article is better than theirs, both from an on page perspective and an off page perspective.

Doing this will also help you learn how to create better articles in the future, to eliminate as much content decay as you can.

Search Intent Changes

Overtime, you may find that the search intent you originally created the article for has changed, which can therefore influence the performance of your content in relation to the SERPs.

Keeping up to date with changes in your industry and the factors that may affect search intent is the best way to monitor this, ensuring you then tweak your content accordingly.

Doing so will not only bring freshness and added relevance to your content pieces, but also more accurately match them to the search intent Google is looking for.

Topical Relevance

And finally, the topical relevance across your site for a chosen topic can also lead to content decay.

Overtime, if you haven’t considered your topical relevance for a good amount of time, it may be the case that your competitors have more topical relevance than you.

This can obviously be improved on your end, but if left for too long it can lead to your content underperforming in Google.

How To Fix Content Decay Problems

Thankfully, many content decay issues can be fixed using various different techniques. Take a look below at how to deal with some of the content decay problems you may be faced with:

Content Expansion

Content expansion is an excellent way to combat content decay on your website, as doing this will help you cover the topic in its entirety on your article and even break the SERP when you can.

There are many different ways to carry out content expansion for various niches, so be sure to take a look at our page to learn more about this.

Freshness of Links

For some keywords, it’s not enough to just build links when the page is first set up.

Sometimes, having new, powerful links built to your existing page is a great way to send some power and relevancy to your pages, and in turn help your content perform better in the SERPs (so long as the content is high quality).

Alter The Intent Of The Article

Sometimes, you may find that the intent of the article you wrote about does not match that of the SERP itself, and in turn it may have suffered in ranking as a result.

By changing your content in order to meet the intent of your search engine results page, you’ll stand more chance of your content being successful.

Internal Linking

Internal linking is another great way of improving the performance of your page and helping with content decay, and doesn’t take long to do either.

The thing with internal linking is that it’s often just forgotten about by many, so simply remembering to do this every now and then will improve individual pages, and your site’s silo as a whole.

How Content Decay affects your SEO?

Content decay affects your SEO much worse than many blog owners realise.

When web pages start to take a downturn in the content lifecycle the articles need updating to maintain rankings.

If the web pages lose all traffic this can go on to cause site-wide quality problems.

SEOs should consider improving the existing content or looking to prune the web page when carrying out a comprehensive content audit.

We strongly recommend having a content SEO audit service every quarter to give a strategy for your editors.

How To Identify Content Decay

The best way to identify content decay is using SEO Testing Tool.

Here are the steps to identifying content decay on your website:

  1. Login to your account
  2. Choose the domain in launchpad to analyse
  3. Click on content audit “reports”
  4. Under content reports click on “Content Decay”
  5. Identify the main web pages suffering from drops in traffic

The Results show all the web pages that have had more clicks within the last 12 months, compared to the latest full month of July 2024.

The highest number of clicks are shown in green, clicking one will take you to the compare queries report comparing the peak month to the latest full month.


Content decay can be a silent killer for organic rankings in Google SERP.

If your performance is slowly eroding the knock on affect this can have for your whole website rankings is big.

Once you implement preventions of content decay it can become a really exciting and effective part of your SEO content strategy.

Content decay is a real SEO problem that affects every website with content, whether they realise it or not.

If you are unsure of the extent of decay impacting your organic search performance or have identified it but don’t know how to address it, get in touch today.