A Complete Guide to Content Pruning


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  • What is content pruning? It’s simply the practice of evaluating your content’s performance and eliminating or refreshing underperforming content.
  • Content pruning is important because underperforming content can lower your rankings and overall SEO health.
  • Two effective strategies for identifying underperforming content are the striking distance strategy and the content decay analysis.
  • When pruning content, consider whether the content needs to be expanded, revised, updated, re-formatted, consolidated with another piece of content, repurposed as a new form of content, or scrapped altogether.

Good content marketing requires that you publish regularly and frequently. Unfortunately, not all of that content will perform the way you want it to. As your blog or website accumulates more and more content over the months and years, your overall SEO health can be dragged down by content that’s taking up space without delivering value – i.e., clicks and conversions.

That’s where content pruning comes in.

So, what is content pruning and why is it important? Read on to find out.

What is content pruning?

Content pruning is the practice of evaluating your content’s performance and removing, refreshing, or repurposing content that isn’t reaching its goal. For example, a blog article that has lost significant traffic or is not ranking well for its target keywords would be a good candidate for content pruning.

In gardening, shriveling leaves and dying flowers suck up energy that could be used by healthier parts of the plant. So, we prune the dying parts so the healthier parts can flourish. This is the idea behind content pruning.

Content pruning has become more important than ever as Google continues to refine its algorithms to emphasize content that is fresh, relevant, and demonstrates E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness). Search Engine Journal recommends pruning your content at least twice per year.

Two important goals of content pruning:

  1. Low quality content hurts your rankings, so content pruning can gain back some ranking power.
  2. Cutting out underperforming content makes more room for your high-performing content to breathe and shine.

Identifying underperforming content

The first step of content pruning is to perform a content audit to evaluate your content’s performance. Our go-to is Google Analytics. In Google Search Console, pay attention to the following:

  • Rankings – What keywords was the content targeting? If the blog isn’t ranking in positions #1-30 for those keywords, it might be time for a reevaluation.
  • Pageviews – You can’t get conversions without clicks and views. Content that has declined significantly in pageviews might need pruning.
  • Time on page – If time on page is significantly low, it could mean people aren’t getting much value from the content (so they aren’t reading it).
  • Conversions – Content that isn’t converting readers to customers is wasting space on your site.

When pruning content, you have a few options: remove the content, refresh the content by revising and republishing it, or repurpose it by consolidating it with another piece or converting it to a new format. Any of these options can be effective – it just depends on the content.

Strategies for content pruning

Striking distance

The striking distance strategy is one of our favorite ways to win rankings quickly without having to create content from scratch.

In the striking distance strategy, you target content that is ranking within “striking distance” of page 1 of the SERPs. Typically this means positions #11-30, or pages 2 and 3 of the search results. However, you can expand the range to position 50 in some cases. The idea is that if a piece of content is already close to page 1 for a given search term, adding that term strategically throughout the content can push it even closer to or onto page 1.

Optimizing content for striking distance keywords presents a great opportunity to re-optimize the content for other SEO factors as well. We’ll cover specific steps for re-optimizing content later in this blog.

Content decay analysis

Another effective pruning strategy is to reevaluate decaying content, or content that has lost traffic over the past 12 months.

While the striking distance strategy focuses specifically on bumping up the rankings for a given keyword, refreshing decaying content can be a broader undertaking. Because content decay is a natural, unavoidable process and there are so many potential causes – not all within your control – refreshing decaying content typically requires a flexible approach. Each piece of content needs to be considered holistically.

Which brings us to our next point: how to go about revitalizing your content.

How to revitalize underperforming content

1. Refreshing content

Refreshing content is one of the most cost-effective and efficient strategies for maintaining good SEO health, because it allows you to capitalize on efforts you’ve already made (rather than scrapping underperforming content and starting from scratch). Each piece will require its own unique improvements, and often you’ll use a variety of tactics to refresh one piece. These include:

  • Expanding the content, especially if it’s very short but could be more comprehensive
  • Updating the information in outdated content (e.g., if cited statistics are several years old)
  • Re-optimizing for SEO – Make sure the content has proper headers, bulleted and numbered lists, quality images with small file sizes, and proper meta tags
  • Target new keywords, including long-tail keywords or striking distance keywords if applicable
  • Re-promote the content
  • Check if the content can be optimized for certain SERP features, such as a featured snippet

2. Consolidating and repurposing

When conducting a refresh project recently for a client, we found two very similar articles about the same topic. The only major difference was that one was longer and more comprehensive. There was no point in having both blogs published – in fact, if they were targeting the same keywords, they could actually be competing with each other, which defeats the purpose of content.

This is a perfect example of content that was better off being consolidated. The shorter blog contained one brief section with information not included in the longer blog, so we simply added that information to the longer blog and removed the shorter blog from the site. Consolidating content is a great way to trim the fat and avoid keyword cannibalization.

Similarly, a piece of content might be better off in a different format altogether. Our clients have had success turning white papers into blog articles, blog articles into infographics, and more.

3. Eliminating thin content

SEO best practices still include getting rid of thin content, or content that has no value. Search Engine Journal uses thin content to refer to:

  • Duplicate content
  • Content scraped from other sites
  • Autogenerated content
  • Low-value or no-value affiliate pages
  • Doorway pages

Thin content isn’t just low-performing content – it’s purposeless and bad for your SEO health. If you find thin content in your content audit, scrap it.

Content pruning is content marketing

Content pruning is crucial to good content marketing and, just like content development and publication, should be a continuous, iterative process. No one can escape the need for content pruning – but it does require time and resources. At RMG, our whole job is to keep an eye on our clients’ content landscapes so they can focus on providing great products and services. If you’d like to see how we can help with your content strategy, reach out today!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael was an in-house and freelance content writer before joining the team at Redefine Marketing Group. He is now the Content Manager at RMG, where he focuses primarily on content creation but helps with SEO and Social Media. Michael graduated from CSU Channel Islands with a degree in English.
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