In today’s world, information quickly becomes irrelevant. Just as a scientific theory has to be revised when new evidence is discovered, the websites we manage need to be adapted to reflect changes in our field – and that’s what content pruning is all about.
As marketers, we have no choice but to keep up and make sure our content is up to date. Not only does this practise improve SEO, but it protects our brand from having its reputation damaged (you’ll see an example of that below). So, read on to find out all why you should prune your content, and how.
What is Content Pruning?
Pruning is removing content from your website that’s irrelevant or outdated. From an SEO perspective, it’s a successful strategic measure for enhancing engagement, rankings, and traffic without having to invest more resources on creating new content.
To Prune or Not to Prune
Remove outdated content – you do not want your website to be indexed for it. For example, a website in the niche of entertainment (which I won’t name) has an article from 2013 referring to Sam Smith as “he/him” even though back in 2019, Smith came out as a non-binary individual whose preferred pronouns are “they/them”. This is a sensitive issue that could give the website a bad name and hurt the author’s reputation.
In such a scenario, the website has two options: to edit all the content they made about Sam Smith or delete the articles that refer to Smith as “he” or “him”.
Another scenario would be having articles on your website about topics such as “How Vine is better than Instagram”. Vine is not a functioning app anymore and has been replaced by TikTok. Over time this page is going to become more and more irrelevant and will not improve your website’s ranking, nor would it increase clicks or boost the site’s authority because – given that Vine no longer exists – it’s highly unlikely that anyone is searching for that information. Even if it somehow showed up in another search result, it wouldn’t get any clicks.
So, updating your content is an essential practice and must be done frequently.
More Benefits of Pruning
New editions of non-fiction books are released every few years in order to stay relevant and bring high quality content to readers. Similarly, your website needs refreshing, but much more often. According to SEMrush, 51% of businesses reported that refreshing outdated content is one of their most effective SEO techniques. Below are some more benefits of keeping your website up to date and pruned.
- User Experience – Isn’t it annoying when irrelevant articles pop up while you’re looking for important information? You wouldn’t want people to feel this way about your own website. So, make sure the user journey is simple and distraction-free by removing irrelevant content.
- Deadweight – If a piece of content is not performing as well as it should, it needs to be dropped. Deadweight pages can make it harder for Google’s bots to crawl your site. Why confuse them with low quality content when you can just remove it?
- Link Authority – Not all publicity is good publicity. You probably don’t want to become famous for something controversial you wrote back in 2003. You want to make sure that your link authority is being distributed amongst articles that have potential and that add genuine value to your website.
- Easier Website Maintenance – Setting a regular pruning schedule helps you stay on top of your website maintenance. The first session may be time-consuming depending on the how much content you have, but after that, it will much easier as you continually tweak things when relevant.
- Increased Conversion Rate – Publishing more content does not guarantee greater conversion. However, a strategically pruned website makes navigation from an article to check out much easier, resulting in increased conversion rates.
What Content Should Be Pruned?
This can be a tough decision to make, especially if you wrote the content yourself. I would suggest you either give this responsibility to someone else or be very strict with yourself. It’s like cleaning out your closet for the spring – annoying but worth it. Here are a few guidelines for the types of content to consider pruning:
- Anything with outdated information.
- Duplicate content.
- Pages that are not getting enough traffic, which can be a red flag for Google.
- Content that is mass-produced and thin in nature i.e., it brings no substantial value to the reader.
- Short pieces of content that serve little to no purpose.
How to Prune Content
You’ll have to invest some time in setting up a process for the first pruning session so you can do a full content audit. After that, it’s simply a matter of carrying it out on a regular basis.
Step 1: Arrange All Your Data
Take note of which metrics are important for your website. These metrics could relate to page speed, backlinks, the total number of keywords in the article, the quality score of the content, organic traffic, and so on. You also have to decide what your non-negotiables are. For example, any content that has less than a 2% click-through rate will be unpublished or articles that have no backlinks will be re-written.
Once you’re clear on the metrics, go through every piece in your content inventory and check how it’s performing. This step can take a while so set aside enough time to do a thorough job.
Step 2: Categorise
This is the step where you take all your articles and group depending on what action are required. It’s like separating laundry before washing.
- Non-Index: There may be some articles that you cannot get rid of, such as guest articles, which can be a bit of a slippery slope. Think it through and talk to the author – ask if they are comfortable with their article being deleted and if not, you’ll have to keep it. However, you may be able to tag articles you need to keep as “non-index” so that Google bots know not to track those particular web pages.
- Unpublish: These are the pages that have to go have to go. I would suggest unpublishing articles that have performed poorly and have no scope to improve.
- Re-purpose: Do you have a few 500-word articles on similar topics that would benefit from being merged and re-published as one longer piece? How about re-purposing them individually and adding more information?
- Optimize: Do this with content that has strong potential and is doing well. Give these pages some extra attention – consider running some advertisements for them or sharing the material as guest posts.
- Re-write: Some pieces have potential if you just give them a boost. You can re-write them and publish them again later.
- Re-assess: Content that you are confused about can go in this pile. You can re-visit these pieces again later on and decide what to do.
Step 3: Execute
This is the final step – you carry out all the actions you decided on in step two.
Step 4: Keep Up
Keep checking your published content to see how it’s performing and whether it’s still relevant and accurate.
Now you know all the essentials about content pruning. This is a practise you’ll always need to do. Just as a tree needs to be pruned for longevity, your content needs pruning for the long-term performance of your website. Information will always get out of date, new trends will arise, and in some cases, entire topics will become irrelevant, as I mentioned in our example about Instagram versus Vine. So, invest as much time in content maintenance as you spend on creating new content and your website will flourish like a well-pruned tree.