While you’ve been busy filling your website with lots of content or blog posts, you are likely making tons of clutter in the process. Just like dirty laundry, your pile of outdated content may be doing you more harm than good.
In that case, we say it’s high time for you to do some digital spring cleaning. But don’t throw everything in the wash, we mean trash, just yet. A systematic clean-up might be your ticket to much-needed organic traffic and better rankings.
How Can Outdated Content Affect Rankings
OK, but first things first: can old website content hurt your website SEO? The answer is a resounding yes. Here are a few reasons why:
- It impacts the search engine crawl budget. Search engines like Google have limited crawling power. It will be a waste of time and effort if search engine spiders crawl your old onsite content and not your search-relevant articles.
- It causes keyword phrase cannibalisation. This one happens when you use focus keywords on duplicate content. It can confuse Google and may result in a loss of rankings for one or both articles.
- It competes with your best articles. Google can only display a select few on the SERPs to answer specific search queries. Most domains only get a maximum of two results. And so, there’s a high chance for an old blog article to show up instead of your fresh content.
- It affects user experience. Imagine landing on a website that looks old and neglected. We’re probably thinking the same thing: this owner neither cares about quality nor credibility. Or worse, is this business still operating? Remember, core web vitals are crucial to Google and your ranking fate.
- It makes your rivals look better. If your website contains unkept or inaccurate articles, chances are users will have a look at what your competitors have to offer. A considerable bounce rate can throw your SEO strategy and overall performance off balance.
With all these factors combined plus Google’s ever-changing algorithm, it’s not hard to see how old onsite content can pull you down. Good thing there are ways to turn the tide.
How to Handle Outdated Content
The creation of new and original articles should not be your default solution. Sometimes, you need to weed out or refurbish obsolete stuff instead. In digital terms, we call this content pruning. This process helps you spot and do something about your low-performing articles.
Now, pruning content is not as easy as putting things in the bin and clicking delete. The truth is, it is reckless to remove old content without mulling it over. It’s essential that you assess its view and linking status first. How is the article fairing in the SERP? Has anyone read or shared it in the past month or so? Are there credible outbound links? Will there be internal links affected if I delete it?
How to Start Pruning Content
Here’s a guide to make the most of your content pruning time and get the best results.
1. Conduct a content audit
Doing a full audit is your best starting point when pruning content. Its primary goal is to list all your web articles and show you how each is performing. In the end, an audit gives your pruning efforts direction.
When auditing your articles, you need to group them into categories. Manually identify which works for your website and which does not. Check your outdated content’s ability to address your current customers’ needs, reach out to targets that convert and keep readers engaged.
If you’ve accumulated hundreds of contents for the past years, crawling tools like Screaming Frog, Botify and DeepCrawl can simplify the process. After crawling, review your oldest articles’ titles, URLs, word count and links to see if they meet current SEO and search engine standards.
2. Evaluate articles for quality
High-quality articles are original, accurate, informative, easy to read, inspiring, shareable and mobile-friendly. In Google’s eyes, quality content also means having the EAT factor, which stands for expertise, authority and trust. This metric is also one of the SEO trends for 2021.
Some website owners may also assess content quality through page views, links, traffic and conversion rate. There may be several other quality metrics out there that you can use. But generally, your focus here should be how your articles are affecting user experience.
3. Act on low-quality or outdated content
With objective data on hand, you can decide on what to do with your old website articles or posts with ease. Here are possible courses of action you can take.
Leave your content as is if it’s giving your site good traffic and engaged visitors. Old articles with accurate details, a high conversion rate and a ranking position of 3 and up are also worth retaining. Retention is perhaps the easiest and best pruning move of all. Hopefully, you will be doing this more while pruning so you can attend to more problematic articles.
Consider refreshing an old article if it used to give you good traffic or earn links and shares. You can update it if it’s showing up on Google’s first page results, giving some to no conversion or creating low-level engagement. There are several ways on how to update outdated content:
- Make it accurate. Check if the details of your article are still valuable to your customers or visitors. Refine it to match search engines’ updated algorithms as well. Make sure you are still meeting users’ search intent.
- Check its links. Fix broken links or find better and relevant links. Also, update your calls to action, and see if you can add inbound links for your most recent articles.
- Keep it visually appealing. Go for media quality and diversity. Add images, audios or videos wherever applicable. Position them strategically to keep readers interested. If you have a WordPress site, make sure to apply image optimisation, too.
- Give it keyword focus. Keywords and search trends change constantly. And you likely failed to conduct a proper keyword search in the past before publishing. Use keyword-generating tools this time to help you align your updated and relevant content to today’s readers.
- Promote it. Let the world know you’ve written something new and better. Post it on the proper media channels, and add the appropriate buttons to ensure shareability.
Rewrite or merge
A complete article overhaul is best when it fails to make it on Google’s first page results and gives little to no traffic. Consider rewriting outdated content when it’s not generating shares, links or conversions either.
When writing from scratch, follow the same tips as you would when updating an article. More importantly, you need to create a 301 redirect for your newly optimised URL to avoid sending readers or bots to a 404 not found page.
A merge, however, is advisable when you have multiple articles discussing the same topic. Consolidating pieces of content is also best if one gets some traffic while the rest get none.
What you can do is create one fabulous article, delete and redirect the old ones, then create a 301 redirect for your newly optimised URL. When merging, you can add new sections or repurpose existing ones. We also recommend checking your top competitors with similar articles.
No index or delete
A no-index tag lets you keep an outdated page and instruct Google not to display it on the search results. If you opt for this solution, make sure to take the URL out of your sitemap.
This way, you get to preserve link equity and maximise your crawl budget at the same time. You may check on Google’s guidelines on no-index pages to learn more. Also, if you want Google to ignore an entire directory of pages, you can make the necessary adjustments to your robots.txt file.
Booting out outdated content should always be your last resort. Delete an article only if it lacks value or appeal to readers, generates little to no traffic or conversion, and contains invalid or irrelevant details. And when you do, don’t forget to redirect it to similar content or your homepage.
Taking care of your outdated content is more than getting a ranking boost or removing dead weights that cause SEO issues. With Google’s continuously evolving metrics and intense focus on user experience, producing timely, accurate and fresh content is a priority now more than ever. Also, keep in mind that pruning content is not a one-off job. Make it a habit to declutter and update your articles when necessary. Your target readers, after all, deserve nothing but high-quality content!