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Pruning website content to keep Google happy

by | Jun 24, 2021 | Content Marketing

If, as we’ve been telling you, content is king, why would you remove outdated content from your website? We’re glad you asked! There are a couple good reasons to prune old content from your site. You may have blog posts or web pages touting details of your services or products that are outdated or no longer accurate. And, even if some content is accurate, it may not need a forever home on your site. It’s important to remember retiring content, like many aspects of your website, is not one-size-fits-all.

How do you determine which content to retire?

It’s a good practice to look at your content at least once every three years. One process is: 

  • First, perform a “crawl” on the website. (A crawl can be used to index all of the content on your site.) Through the crawl, you may be able to see a timestamp when the content  was published or updated. From that time stamp, you can start with the oldest content and determine its relevance 
  • Second, evaluate content and its relevance to your audience (and therefore Google)
  • Third, retire content as needed

Content bloat is not good for a website. Google and other search engines have principles around pruning your content, keeping it up to date and keeping it relevant. If you’ve never thought about pruning/retiring content, now’s the time. Either you’ve got old content (like those press releases from 2012) that’s bloating your site, or you may have content that is completely irrelevant to your business that is ranking high and skewing your traffic. 

That content may be harming you. Case in point, Savoir Faire wrote a delightful little blog post about pet marketing, and then found we quickly ranked for keywords irrelevant to what we do as marketers. That post brought a lot of traffic to our site that wasn’t relevant to our goals. And our site wasn’t relevant for the people who were looking for the pet-related topic. That post messed with our analytics because it was an outlier. So, we put the post back in draft mode for posterity and redirected the URL to our main blog page. That way users attempting to access the post are not taken to a “404 page not found” message. 

We’re working with a client right now that has diluted its site value with a lot of content and a lot of rankings across the site for keywords that are completely irrelevant to the business. There’s a lot of whimsical and anecdotal content that works for a lifestyle blog, but isn’t so useful for a professional services blog.

The closet analogy

Let’s say you buy some new clothes. (And if it’s all stretchy knits and elastic waistbands, we won’t judge.) But, if you don’t get rid of at least some of the old stuff, you won’t have enough room for your new stuff and then the closet becomes a jumble, which makes getting dressed in the morning difficult. If we kept every piece of clothing we ever acquired, not only would most of them not fit, they’d also be the wrong style. 

Over time, you prune your clothes so your best stuff is most visible and most accessible. Continuing the analogy, if you never clean out your closet, you could attract moths and other crawly things. Eww.

If you have a lot of blog posts, the potential for your site to have performance issues, errors or other types of site health issues grows as well. Super old content is also content you don’t monitor. But Google does, and it could cause issues with your site. Further, Google may penalize you for not removing outdated content.

Determine your overall strategy

Let’s say your strategy is after three years, you get rid of old posts if they don’t have merit anymore. Then, you need to decide what to do with that content. You can: 

  • Remove outdated content and redirect the URL, so that old content goes to a different landing page.
  • Bolster the content and update it, so it’s still relevant to your audience
  • Combine that content with other existing content and turn it into a landing page or a downloadable asset

If you have never retired or pruned content from your site, a part of your strategy is using Google Analytics to see the Top 100 pages on your site over the previous three years. Look at which of those pages are blog posts and see what percentage of site visits those posts add up to.

Say you get to page 75 and every blog post beyond that is only .5% of your site’s traffic. That’s a good indicator that the blog post beyond that number should be looked at for possible retirement/pruning/recycling/reusing. However if a post is in pages 75-100 and holds a good rank for keywords in your library, we don’t recommend removing it. In that case, you could update a post to improve the keyword’s position so that it retains more value.

The 100 pages tactic in Google Analytics is a good step for small- to medium-size companies that don’t have tons of content. A site like Huffpost with hundreds of thousands of pages will have a different strategy for retiring/pruning. 

One of your top goals should be developing a way to qualify, target, and segment your audiences in order to be more strategic, and get more conversions or engagement.

Another thing to remember, if you do have a content strategy and it has changed over time, look at your older content. If it no longer fits that strategy, remove it from the site. Keeping your site clean is important for its health and maintaining a good relationship with Google and your users.

The tactics we describe here may not be fast and simple, especially if your content has been dormant for many years. We’re happy to take a look at your site and provide guidance on where you could do some prudent trimming.

Keep your site healthy!

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