Six Factors to Consider When Removing Old Content

  • Evaluating content performance is crucial to content marketing, and one important part of the process is content pruning.
  • The longer a website has existed, the more content it will have that is underperforming and dragging down your overall SEO health.
  • We use a combination of quantitative metrics and qualitative factors to determine what content should be removed.
  • Some underperforming content can be reoptimized rather than removed.
  • Always redirect removed pages to relevant existing pages to avoid the dreaded 404 error code.

Evaluating content performance is a central part of every content marketing strategy. Content that doesn’t bring the traffic or conversions you want only drags down your site. By taking stock of what’s not working, you can shake off the dead weight and create more of what helps your site succeed.

Often, a content audit will reveal content that is not achieving its goals. A common solution is to eliminate this type of content from your site. We call this tactic content pruning, and it’s something we recommend for all our clients at least once per year.

Content pruning is normal

It’s important to note that all websites will need to shed underperforming content regularly. Content naturally decays over time, meaning it experiences a decline in traffic after an initial peak and plateau. The longer a website has been publishing content, the more content it will have that has decayed for one reason or another.

Sometimes, decay can be reversed by refreshing the content. This could mean updating it for accuracy, expanding the word count, or re-optimizing it according to the most recent search engine trends. Other times, a piece of content is so thin or outdated that it’s best to simply eliminate it, i.e., prune it.

So how do you know when it’s time to let a piece of content go? In this blog, we’ll provide an in-depth guide to identifying content that should be removed from your site for good.

Metrics to check when pruning content

1. Pageviews

The first metric we look at when we begin a content pruning analysis is pageviews. We typically consider content with fewer than 50 pageviews over the past year to be a good candidate for pruning.

This does not mean that we automatically eliminate anything with fewer than 50 pageviews. Rather, we use this metric as a starting point for our analysis. Once we have a list of pages with <50 views, we take a closer look at each page and evaluate it according to the metrics discussed in the remainder of this blog.

The exception is pages with 0 pageviews. We almost always eliminate pages that have no views during the previous year.

2. Rankings

After evaluating content by pageviews, the next metric we typically look at is rankings. If the page has fewer than 50 views over the past year and ranks for very few to no keywords, it’s clearly not performing very well in search.

Don’t just look at the quantity of rankings, but also the quality. Sometimes a page ranks for several keywords, even on page 1. But if these keywords are irrelevant to your content or your target search intent, they aren’t doing much for your site. So, consider eliminating content with few to no quality rankings.

3. Backlinks

Finally, check each page for backlinks. A page with few to no pageviews, rankings, or backlinks is not doing much of anything for your site.

Like rankings, backlinks should be evaluated according to both quantity and quality. A few high quality backlinks or even no backlinks may be better than a page with lots of spammy backlinks.

While these are three of the most important metrics you can consider when considering removing content, they aren’t the only ones. You may also want to track time on page and conversions.

Qualitative factors to consider when pruning content

The metrics discussed in the previous section are cornerstones of content marketing and are therefore commonly tracked with SEO tools like Google Analytics. But there are also qualitative factors to consider when considering removing existing content from your site. These require the unique brand knowledge, SEO expertise, and critical thinking skills of a marketing team or agency.

Once we evaluate a page for pageviews, rankings, and backlinks, we also review the content with the following in mind:

4. Evergreenness

We talk a lot about evergreen content because it is crucial for any successful content marketing strategy. Evergreen content is content that is essentially timeless; it stays “green,” or fresh and relevant, forever. It is the opposite of trending content, and we recommend that it make up at least 75% of any brand’s regular content calendars.

One of the most common types of content we prune for clients is content that has become outdated. For example, a blog about teen fashion trends in the spring of 2021 will become irrelevant after – well, spring of 2021. A less obvious example is content that contains lots of statistics, which may become inaccurate if newer research comes out.

Sometimes, clever tweaks can transform timely content into evergreen content. However, outdated content is sometimes better off being removed.

5. Length

There is no hard and fast rule for how many words a piece of content should contain. However, we consistently see longer-form content performing better in search. A good content marketer can also often tell pretty quickly whether a piece of content is too short to sufficiently cover a given topic. Content that contains little to no quality information can be a form of thin content, especially if it is also stuffed with keywords or contains information that is better covered elsewhere.

6. Search engine optimization

One of the most common types of content that turns up on our content pruning analyses is content that is not properly optimized for search engines. It may lack any or all of the following SEO elements:

  • Meta tags
  • Engaging images
  • Alt text for images
  • Headers
  • Relevant, wisely placed keywords
  • Internal links

Similarly, it may contain any or all of the following elements that are unhealthy for SEO:

  • Broken links
  • Slow-loading graphics
  • Long, dense blocks of text
  • Incorrect information
  • Spammy links or CTA’s

Can underperforming content be saved?

There are lots of ways to salvage underperforming content. The trick is to refresh or re-optimize content that still has potential.

The more boxes the content checks off in the list discussed above, the more you should consider removing it. However, it is unlikely that you will decide to eliminate all the content in your analysis. That’s why we take the trouble of evaluating content based on so many factors, rather than simply cutting everything below 50 pageviews.

The following scenarios may warrant reoptimization rather than removal:

  • The content is accurate and well-written but needs to be optimized for SEO
  • The content is accurate and well-written but is very short
  • The content has striking distance rankings
  • The content is evergreen but lacks rankings or SEO best practices

These are just a few common examples, but each brand’s situation differs depending on its audience, vertical, and organizational history. To learn more about ways to refresh stagnant content, read our blog on the subject.

Remove and redirect

There is one final step to content pruning that you should never forget. When you remove a page from your site, its URL doesn’t automatically go away. If you don’t implement a redirect, users who enter that URL (either manually or by clicking on a link containing the URL) will receive a 404 error page. This is bad for the user experience and for SEO. Always redirect deleted pages to relevant existing pages.

We’ll get the shears

It’s not always easy to wrap your mind around removing old content. After all, you or someone at your organization worked hard to get it created and published. At the same time, remember that getting rid of dead weight only improves your site’s SEO health.
If you’d like some moral (or strategic) support in getting your existing content into shape, the RMG team is happy to help. We have the tools to make the process as painless as possible, and we’ll help you pull actionable insights that you can use for even better content in the future. Get in touch with us today!

Author avatar
Stephanie Fehrmann
Stephanie was an SEO content writer before transitioning to a management role. As the co-founder and Head of Content at RMG, she oversees everything from the development of content strategies and content creation to day-to-day office operations. She graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in Journalism, and enjoys showing clients the power and versatility of content.
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