“By removing a few of the older stems completely you allow in light and also encourage the production of more youthful stems that will carry a generous crop of flowers.” Alan Titchmarsh
As any avid gardener will tell you, pruning is an important part of stimulating growth in a well-tended garden. And content pruning is an equally important part of your content marketing strategy, showering light on your content of greater value and encouraging more valuable content to flourish.
Content marketing was, for so long, seen as a numbers game. Pump out content at the fastest rate of knots you could sustain and see what catches the interest of your audience. This invariably lead to drops in quality and relevance and for many sites, huge quantities of content that held little value or that was outdated, no longer relevant, trivial or tenuously linked to the business.
And whilst most content strategies focus on adding to this content bloat, if not with better, more strategic content, there is undeniable value in tending to what you already have before pushing ahead with new ideas.
What Is Content Pruning?
Content pruning is the process of analysing and assessing the content on your website and removing those pages that are of little value to your audience and website. Removing content does not always mean deleting it, but simply making it no longer available to search engines.
Content pruning as a concept came about in part as a response to Google’s Panda algorithm update. A fear that Panda was penalising sites for having low-value content saw SEO’s begin to remove swathes of content from sites. In reality that was not the intention of the Panda update but Google’s own Jon Mueller has stated content pruning can, in the right circumstances be a valid strategy for improving your organic visibility.
Why Should I Prune My Content?
Content pruning allows you to clear away older, outdated and no longer relevant content, to give greater exposure to your newer content that is likely to be far more relevant to your audience.
It also contributes to creating a higher standard of quality when ineffective, irrelevant or outdated content is removed and we all know how strongly Google value quality of content over quantity. The lower quality pages that offer no tangible or intangible benefits simply add clutter to your site, more pages for Google to crawl and index and a significant proportion of these will never be visited and will not be linked to. If that is the case, what value do they offer to your users or your site?
Regular content pruning also encourages periodic reviews of the content you are producing, the impact it’s having and the relevance to your target audience. The analysis can help to inform your future content marketing efforts by helping to;
- recognise what type of content or subjects resonate with your audience
- understand what type of content offers value to your audience
- identify content gaps and opportunities
- recognise content that is not reaching its full potential
- pinpoint opportunities to combine, improve or update existing content
However, just as with garden pruning, there is always the danger of being overzealous and causing more harm than good, so it’s a strategy to be approached with some caution and plenty of planning.
How Should I Prune My Content?
In short, carefully. You may be tempted to cull huge swathes of content from your site, especially if you’ve been consistently creating and uploading content for a few years and have a blog section on your site that runs to hundreds or thousands of pages. But taking an axe to your historic content without conducting the proper analysis required can result in huge drops in visibility and traffic.
The example above shows the negative impact being too heavy-handed can have. As part of a website redesign and change of CMS the decision was made to cull all content that was more than two years old. This decision was made to hit a designated launch date and valuable pages were removed without understanding the value of them. The resulting drop in organic traffic was cataclysmic and has never fully recovered.
It is imperative that content is pruned in a strategic way and not based on an arbitrary cut off based on publication date or any other single factor. It is a job for the garden secateurs, not a chainsaw. Conducting a comprehensive audit of your content is the first step of this strategic process.
Identifying Content for Pruning
Conducting an in-depth audit of your content will allow you to start to see the wood from the trees. If you’ve got a site with thousands of content pieces it’s entirely plausible that you don’t even know what you have, let alone what is of value.
Building an inventory of all your content in Excel or Google Sheets is a great starting point. This can be easily done if your content all sits within one directory. Simply run a crawl of your site with a tool like Screaming Frog and export all pages that sit within the directory where your content lives. If your content URLs don’t all sit within the same directory, then this process is potentially far more manual.
In terms of metrics to include on your content inventory, it will vary site to site but core metrics we include would be;
- Page views – how many times has the page been viewed in the last 12-24 months
- Landing page entrances – how many times have people entered the site via this page in the last 12-24 months
- Bounce rate – high numbers of views or entrances with a high bounce rate can be indicative of content not satisfying user need
- Conversion rate – are content pieces driving actual conversions?
- Page authority – the authority of the page using Moz, Majestic of Ahrefs data
- Inbound links – are there any and are they of value
- Publication date – when was the piece originally published?
We also try to assign each piece to a topic group as this allows us to assess content by common themes and understand where we may have multiple pieces on the same theme competing.
Now you have your inventory and key metrics you can begin to analyse and identify those pieces of high value, those of some value but that are not reaching their maximum potential and those that are clear candidates for pruning. You may also want to use this opportunity to assess the tone of voice, the quality of media elements, the accuracy of the information and the relevance of internal and external links to identify those pieces you can easily improve.
Pruning Doesn’t Always Mean Cutting Away
The name suggests content pruning is simply about cutting away old content but that is far too simplistic an approach to improving the overall quality of your content marketing. There will be those pieces that are now unnecessary, out-dated or irrelevant that have poor performance metrics and these are ripe for cutting away, but you don’t just want to delete the pages. There are various approaches to pruning and identifying the right one will help ensure you don’t cause irreparable damage to your site.
If your content is still relevant but performance metrics are poor, then spending time improving the quality, depth and appearance is a more sensible approach than simply deleting it. Too many content marketeers are looking to what the next idea is and don’t appreciate there is value in revisiting what has already been produced and working to improve what is already there.
If you see high page views and good engagement but low page entrances, then you know those visitors viewing this find it of value, but it isn’t getting discovered via search engines. These are prime candidates for post-publication optimisation to try and improve organic visibility.
What is right today may not be right tomorrow. Or you may be producing content that has a natural decay point such as gift guides, best of lists or news pieces relating your industry. These pieces can be incredibly valuable whilst relevant, but once the time window has passed or the information is no longer accurate it is to only to be expected to see interest drop away.
Regularly reviewing, updating and republishing content is a way of extending the relevancy of that content. For example, instead of producing a new ‘best of’ piece on a brand-new URL every couple of months, simply update the existing content on the URL that has already been established so Google does not need to index a new URL each time and you aren’t starting from scratch with a new URL with no authority. Only a 404 error is likely to see users bounce away as quickly as they bounce from outdated content.
The beauty of adding topic groupings to your content audit and inventory is that you can quickly start to identify content pieces of similar topics that may have produced many months or years apart. With two or more similar pieces on the same subject, potentially competing to be the ranking page for relevant searches can negatively impact visibility.
Instead of just picking the most recent or best performing one based on the metrics included on your content audit, think about combing them into one single, more in-depth piece on the URL that is currently performing best. Then simply 301 redirect the redundant URL to the new and improved piece.
It’s possible that you have some content gems hidden away on your website but because they are confined to page 37 of your blog directory, they very rarely see the light of day unless they are discovered through search results.
Whilst not technically a pruning technique, moving this content to a more prominent position on the site, such as a dedicated landing page easily accessible off your navigation or primary pages, brings it out into the open again and declutters the blog section of your site. Because of the linear and chronological nature of many blogs, sometimes content isn’t given long enough exposure before being pushed down the list as new pieces are published.
The final solution is to remove the content altogether. If it’s old, outdated, thin, low quality or redundant and no one ever views it and no one links to it, it’s probably not offering any value to your site. This is where you want to get the secateurs out and begin to cut away this content.
This doesn’t just mean removing the page though. You can remove this content from search engines eyes by adding a ‘noindex’ tag. When Google next crawls that page it will drop that page from its index but it will still exist on your site.
If you also want to remove it from your site because you’re just that horrified by it then you can delete it. Be aware that this will then return a 404 page should someone stumble across it so consider whether there’s a page you can redirect the URL to where that information can also be found.
Content pruning is a process you want to schedule in as part of your marketing efforts and shouldn’t be thought of as just finding pages to remove. When done strategically, it can be an effective part of your content marketing strategy but it needs to be done in a considered way. The key steps are;
- Conduct a content audit and create an inventory of all your content
- Categorise content by topic or subject
- Identify low value pages using relevant metrics and subjective assessment
- Improve, update or combine pages where possible to increase quality
- Remove low value content using noindex tags, deleting or redirects
If you feel your site is becoming bloated and you’ve never audited your own content, then Anicca Digital can help. We’ve conducted successful content audits and pruning strategies for clients that have contributed to better content performance without the need to create any new assets. Get in touch to see how we can help.