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Content Pruning: What Is It and Why Is It Important for SEO?

If your website is very large and has a legacy of blog posts or product pages, then content pruning should form part of your SEO strategy. Don't waste your users' or search engine crawlers' time by serving up thin or out of date content.

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content types that work

As SEO experts, we talk about content that adds value to a website. Simply put, content should be useful to your audience and optimised for search engines, so your site can rank well and drive traffic to your product or service pages. Adding and updating content on your website frequently will encourage search engines to see your site as being up-to-date and useful, improving your ability to rank well.
What we rarely speak about is what happens when your content becomes out of date. What happens when the landscape changes and your site is suddenly full of old articles giving old advice? That’s where content pruning comes in.

What Is Content Pruning?

Content pruning involves identifying pages with low-value content and removing them from your website. There are a number of factors to consider when thinking about whether your content is valuable or not. The criteria I would look for are:

  • Does the page get reasonable volumes of traffic or drive conversions? You can check this in your Google Analytics account. If you don’t have one, sign up immediately, as the insight you will gain is invaluable – and best of all, it’s free.
  • Does the page have valuable backlinks pointing to it that are boosting your site’s authority? I would use Ahrefs to get the best understanding of this, but again, there is a free option in Google’s Search Console which will give you information about who is linking to your content.
  • Does the page answer a question or provide intellectual value to your audience? Does it entertain, engage or educate?
  • Does the page encourage people to stay on your site? Check analytics for the amount of time people spend on the page. Do they spend time reading the content or do they bounce away?

If the answer to these questions is “no”, you can be sure that the page you are assessing is a good contender for pruning.

What Are the Benefits of Content Pruning?

The benefits of binning off your poorly performing content are:

  • The users of your site only have access to up-to-date and accurate information, improving your relationship with your audience.
  • Your crawl budget isn’t being wasted – search engine spiders will only spend so long reading your pages, so you don’t want them spending time on poor quality pages.

When to Prune and When to Update

John Mueller clarified when asked about low-quality content in October 2017 that: “from my point of view, if you can improve your content that’s probably the best approach possible”. You can watch the full video here:
You would be better off updating poor content with a fresh perspective if it provides intellectual value, or if it could rank better with some effort put into it.

A Working Example: When to Prune

On the Hallam site, we have blog posts dating back to 2005 (we’ve been around a while!). The tactics and techniques that were acceptable then, are no longer today in some cases.
This specific blog post talks about search engine spiders liking blog content and linking to other pages. It’s approximately 72 words long, hasn’t received any visits in the last year, has no backlinks and serves no intellectual purpose. It doesn’t educate or entertain: it simply acts as a link to other pages.
This page is perfect for content pruning. To update it would serve no value to users or search engines.
I have removed the page and applied a 301 (permanent) redirect to a page which better suits my audience. This prevents people from landing on a broken section of the site and leaving because you were unable to satisfy their query.

A Working Example: When to Update

We also have a post from 2007 talking about mobile phones and the web. Again, it receives no traffic, but the blog post is lengthier and talks about how mobile browsing will impact on digital marketing. Given some extra TLC, this content could be updated to talk about the rollout of mobile first indexing, usability best practices for mobile, AMP and other topical points.

You Haven’t Mentioned “Noindex” Directives

Of course, you could add “noindex” directives to pages that do have intellectual value, but no value to search engines. I’ll be brutally honest though, unless you’re a seasoned SEO pro, I wouldn’t go down this route. It can get exceptionally messy and if not implemented correctly, you could end up removing valuable content from search engines entirely.

A Helpful Summary

Ask yourself:

  • Does my website have outdated, thin or inaccurate content?
  • If yes, is there value in updating the content?
  • If there is no value to be added to the page, consider removing it.
  • Make sure you redirect any old pages to more appropriate new pages.

If you still aren’t sure whether old, outdated or low-quality content is holding you back, you may need to consider employing an agency to help you. Contact us today, and we’ll be happy to help.

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