On-Page SEO Tips
Creating a website is easy (enough).
And while publishing new content is hard work, you can still plan and schedule so you can do it smoothly.
But keeping your website in good health as the number of pages grows is entirely another story. Some types of content become outdated after some time, other pages may no longer be relevant to your audience or you may have forgotten pages that were great years ago but that now are like junk that litters your website.
Since you’re here, we bet you already know that, and that you know that low quality content can impact the way your website appears in search engines, dragging down your rankings.
Also, if a user’s first impression with a page of your website is bad, that will impact their future experience with other pages of your site, that they may avoid altogether to not repeat the previous poor experience.
That’s why content pruning for SEO is a good practice that may help you clean your website and avoid ranking and UX issues.
Let’s see how it works.
What Is Content Pruning for SEO?
This is the practice of removing low quality, outdated, no longer accurate content from your website to improve your overall SEO (and UX).
Low quality doesn’t not necessarily equals old: leave that oldie but goodie where it is! What you are after is content that is no longer valuable to readers, that gets no traffic and is terribly outdated.
For example, if years ago you wrote a post about how to use Klout to generate content ideas, that post is no longer helpful because Klout closed doors in 2018.
Ultimately, content pruning means improving your crawl budget because you reduce the amount of content Google has to index, decreasing the risk of Panda 4.0 low rankings for low quality content, and improving the overall quality of your website as a whole for users.
How to Prune Content for SEO
Content pruning comprises of two steps:
- Content audit
- Your chosen action(s) on content (removal, noindexing, update, merge/consolidate)
Let’s see them in detail.
Decide how and what you’re going to audit. Is that content that has been getting no traffic over the past six months? Is it outdated content that you published over the last year?
To identify underperforming pages, you need a list of all the pages on your site first.
You can do that with a tool like Screaming Frog to get a list of your pages and then use Google Search Console and your analytics software to add the number of clicks or impressions per page.
How you can begin your content audit with Screaming Frog
- First, download the software from https://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/ and run it on your computer
- Enter your website URL in the field at the top and click “Start” to run the crawler
- Once the crawler stops (you can see a green progress bar at the top telling you when it’s at “Crawl 100%”), you have a list of pages and various content types. You can order them by Content and only look at the text/html type in the list — that’s pages. Look at the screenshot below:
Once you have a list of all pages on your website, create a spreadsheet where you will collect all the pages from your site and identify those that are underperforming and that you want to clean up.
To identify low traffic pages, you can use Google Search Console and your analytics software. What you are after is:
- Visits/sessions or pageviews
- Any non-indexed content or penalized pages in Google Search Console
and you need at least six months of data (i.e. don’t think of a new page as underperforming because it hasn’t gained enough traffic yet).
How to gather traffic data from Google Search Console
- Login to Search Console and select your website from the drop-down menu on the left sidebar at the top
- Go to Performance and check Total Clicks and Total Impressions in the graph. Also, choose Last 6 months as a Date
- Look at the data below the graph: you will be able to see your pages (click the Pages tab, after Queries) that are getting search traffic in Google, ordered by Clicks or Impressions
Add this information in your spreadsheet next to each page URL, so that you can have a clear view of which pages are performing best and which ones are getting you poor results.
Bonus: How to find non-indexed pages in Google
- Go to Search Console -> Coverage
- Check Excluded in the graph, so you will only see pages excluded from the index
- Below the graph, under Details, choose Crawled (or Discovered) – currently not indexed
- Review the excluded pages and add them to the spreadsheet, writing down their current non-indexed status (could they have been excluded because of the low quality?)
Now, let’s see the actions you can take on your content in detail.
You can choose to completely remove content from your website (as in, delete the actual page) when it doesn’t attract any more traffic and it ranks so low in search engines that it’s practically invisible — or perhaps it has been dropped from the index altogether because search engines didn’t deem it as quality content enough to stay indexed.
In this case, you’ll want to decide what to do with the content before deleting the page: completely erase it from the web or reuse it in another page?
Also, make sure the pages you want to remove have no backlinks and are getting no traffic. If they are, the best option is to use a 301 redirect to a newer version of the post or choose to update or merge instead of removing the page altogether and lose links and traffic, as well as impact UX.
If the page doesn’t perform well in search engines but it still has value for users, noindexing would be a good option.
This option is better than trying to deindex the page by blocking it from crawling in your robots.txt file, because Google will still be able to index it if there are backlinks pointing to it.
By choosing to noindex the page, you will disallow search engines from indexing it but you’ll leave it available for users to consume.
How to noindex a page:
Add this code between the <head> … </head> tags of your page:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex">
How to noindex if you use the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress:
- Open your post or page editor in WordPress and scroll down until you find the Yoast SEO plugin box.
- Under the SEO tab, scroll down to Advanced and select “No” from the drop-down menu for the option Allow search engines to show this Post in search results?.
- You can also add a nofollow rule by checking “No” on the Should search engines follow links on this Post option.
See the screenshot below:
How to noindex if you use the Rank Math plugin:
- Open your post or page editor in WordPress and scroll down until you find the Rank MathSEO plugin box.
- Click on the Advanced tab and check the No Index (and No Follow, if you so wish) options in Robots Meta
See the screenshot below:
This is the most time consuming option but it’s great if you have really good content on your page, and if the page has at least one good backlink pointing to it.
What you do here is give the page new life by adding information and up-to-date facts, updating screenshots and useful information to make them current, adding multiple keywords so you can help this page rank for more terms.
Naturally we assume you have significant updates to apply to your page. If that’s not the case, you may want to consider the option of merging existing pieces into a new one, or to merge them with another existing piece.
Merge or Repurpose
You can merge or repurpose useful content that doesn’t deserve being removed but it can no longer stand on its own.
For example, you may merge two or three articles to create a new long-form piece that will satisfy users and search engines. Or you may repurpose one or two articles into a downloadable PDF or EPUB that will work as a juicy CTA for your users.
What matters is that the new piece of content obtained from the merge of existing content can stand on its own and provide value to users.
Remember to use 301 redirects from the old content to the new content to avoid broken link issues.
Content Pruning in the Case of a Content Penalty
Maybe you didn’t think about pruning content on your website, but you got a Google penalty for thin content and now you have to decide on what to do next.
In this case, the focus will be on thin content alone and you will have to choose whether to remove that content or to perform any of the tasks we explained above.
Before you go on with deleting thin content, however, see if it might make sense to merge thin content with other content, since it doesn’t provide any value as a standalone piece. You might be surprised that what Google sees as useless content actually has value when combined or merged with other content.
Don’t Forget Internal Links!
One thing that is easy to overlook while pruning “cruft” content is internal links, that might break and cause broken link issues.
You’ll have to decide whether to replace the links with the URLs of other content or to remove them altogether.
If you use WordPress, Broken Link Checker by WPMU DEV is a helpful plugin to find all broken links in your website and decide what to do with them.
If you don’t use WordPress, a good free tool you can use is Xenu’s Link Sleuth.
Concluding Thoughts on Content Pruning for SEO
All in all, content pruning for SEO — and for users — is a good practice to adopt once or twice a year that won’t take too long, if tackled methodically.
Follow our indicated steps for the content audit stage and you’ll see that making decisions on individual pieces of content will come easier.
Also, take a look at our article on BERT SEO for further guidance on content quality with Google in mind.
Have you ever pruned content on your website? What are your best practices?
Share in the comments below