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What You Should Do With Old Content That’s Not Getting Traffic

07Feb, 2017

If you’ve been publishing articles or blog posts for several years, there’s a good chance that you have a ton of content that isn’t ranking and doesn’t get any traffic. It may be dated, it may be irrelevant to your business or it may just not be very good.

So what do you do with all that content? Many people would say to just delete it – prune and crop. The problem with that strategy is that if you do it wrong, it could have a negative impact on your SEO. So what should you do? I’ll tell you.

The Case for Deleting Old Content

There are a lot of reasons why people opt for deleting old, poorly performing content, such as:

  • Helping Google rank the best pages: If you have several pieces of content on the same topic, you want the most up-to-date, freshest links to come up in search. Eliminating the ones that don’t provide the best value will help Google prioritize the right ones.
  • Optimizing your internal website search: If someone comes to your website and searches for a particular topic, what comes up? Is it the content you want? Your internal search might be delivering the wrong content to your website visitors – and turning off potential clients and customers.
  • Improving your domain authority: If only your best content is indexed by Google, then you have a better chance of ranking high for your keywords than if you have a lot of low-quality content on the same topics.
  • Shifting content strategy: If your content strategy has shifted considerably, you might not want people to find old content that is now off-brand. For example, if you used to write short, newsy pieces but now your focus is on in-depth, long-form content, you might not want people to see those earlier articles.

These are all good reasons for wanting to embark on a content audit and clean out your database. But in my opinion, there are much more effective ways to clean up your database of content.

The Case for Keeping Old Content

You might have hundreds of articles that don’t see any traffic anymore, but they may have something else going for them: backlinks or social shares. That content is still creating good brand signals and good user metrics for you. Deleting that content could cause your rankings to drop. I’ve seen it happen to people. It’s even happened to me, and I’ve since learned from my mistakes.

Even worse, if someone has linked to a page on your website and you delete it, you’re creating a broken link on their site – that’s not a great way to repay someone who went to the trouble of giving you a link.

That’s why I don’t recommend the prune-and-crop strategy for dealing with old content. There’s too much at stake when it comes to SEO.

Instead of Deleting Content, Upgrade It

Instead of Deleting Content, Upgrade It

  1. Look for Old Pages that Suddenly Start Ranking
  2. A/B Test to Help Rank Old Content
  3. Do Keyword Research on Old Pages
  4. Analyze the Backlinks
  5. Read the Comments
  6. See How You Rank against the Competition
  7. Check Your Evergreen Score

Easy Ways to Deal with Old Content

Doing a complete audit of all of the content on your website and updating everything is an arduous, time-consuming process. But remember that you don’t have to do it all at once.

Prioritize the pages that are actually ranking for your target keywords and save the rest for later. Or don’t. Having old, bad and/or dead content on your site may bother you from an emotional standpoint, but it might not actually hurt your business.

If you don’t want to take on a project of this size – or if you only want to update or improve your ranked pages – there are two easy ways to keep your pages out of the public eye without deleting them completely:

  • Set up redirects: If you have several pieces of content on the same topic, choose the best one and update that. Then, set up 301 redirects from the pages you don’t want people to see to the new one. That way, anyone who follows an old link will end up on the page you want them to get to. Just make sure that your 301 redirects are pointing to thematically relevant pages. Otherwise, they may be treated as soft 404s by Google.
  • Noindex the page: If you have a page that you don’t want to show up in the Google results, add code to the page telling Google not to index it. This will keep backlinks from other websites intact, but it won’t show up in search engine results.

Follow Google’s instructions to “noindex” pages using either meta tags or HTTP response headers, depending on how much control you have over your website.

Forget “Out with the Old, in with the New”

A lot of people believe that old content doesn’t have value anymore. It does. The longer an article or blog post has been around, the more likely it is to have legacy backlinks and social shares. If you press “delete,” any user that follows one of those links is going to get a “page not found” error. That’s not a great user experience, and it’s not likely to convert a casual visitor into a customer.

The more energy you can devote to breathing new life into your old content, the better your SEO will be. And a little goes a long way – don’t wait until you have the time and resources to upgrade five years’ worth of old content. Instead, prioritize upgrading and do it a little at a time. Even if you only update two posts each month, you’ll still improve your traffic over time. It may take longer, but that content was just sitting there doing nothing anyway, right?

Not everyone can hire a team to keep content constantly updated. Focus on where you’ll make the biggest impact, and include content upgrades as part of your overall marketing strategy.

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