Skip To Content

Prune or Keep Old Content?

Aug. 17, 2023 | Dwight Zahringer

Podcast 47 - Pruning Website Content

Deleting old pages could be good & bad

This week’s podcast focuses on this issue: deleting or “pruning” old content from your website (I like to call it “sculpting”).

Recently a debate erupted, or “became popular,” online after CNET was outed for removing or “pruning” old content from their website. “Numerous articles” have been removed in the past few weeks, with CNET refraining from sharing specific figures, although acknowledged the removal of the content. CNET decided which pages to “redirect, repurpose, or deprecate” based on certain metrics such as backlinks, page views, and the age of the last content added.

According to an internal memo, content deprecation “indicates to Google that CNET is updated, pertinent, and deserving of a higher ranking in search outcomes than our competitors.”

How non-SEOs get into trouble

Removing content doesn’t inherently convey those qualities. It’s producing relevant, credible, valuable, and high-quality content tailored for your audience on a technically optimized website that truly merits enhanced organic search rankings. CNET considers the removal of content a serious matter. Taylor Canada, CNET’s Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, conveyed this sentiment to Gizmodo, which originally reported this pruning of old content:

“Our teams sift through extensive data to identify pages on CNET that may not be effectively engaging a significant audience.” “It’s a common best practice for large platforms like ours that heavily rely on SEO traffic. Ideally, we’d retain all of our content indefinitely on our site. “Regrettably, the contemporary internet landscape penalizes us for keeping all past content active on our platform.”

Taylor Canada, CNET

Google isn’t keen on prioritizing sites fueled predominantly by SEO-driven traffic. The content system is designed to favor websites producing content mainly for users, not just search engines (this is a key point I’ll come back to).

Furthermore, there’s no “penalty” for retaining older content on your website. Google won’t issue a manual action notice to CNET, or any other website, simply because they host articles from 2015, 2007, 2003, or any other year. It’s simply ‘not a thing.’ Before the article’s release, Google’s Danny Sullivan communicated via his @SearchLiaison account on platform X:

“Are you considering content removal from your site under the impression that Google frowns upon ‘aged’ content? That’s a misconception! Our guidelines don’t promote such an approach. Old content can remain valuable.”

When queried about how to handle outdated content riddled with broken links, no longer pertinent, or unable to be improved, Sullivan replied:

“Such a page is unlikely to secure a high rank. Deleting it could, especially for expansive sites, improve our ability to crawl other parts of the site. Yet, it’s mistaken to believe that we’d then perceive the entire site as substantially improved due to alterations to one page.”

So, should you delete old website content?

The short answer is: it depends.

My opinion has always been to review the analytics and see what content brings value to your brand. Which brings traffic and creates inquiries or helps you reach goals (leads). If those still make sense and are/remain relevant, then why wouldn’t you consider revising and updating to make it current?

There is also a decision tree I go down to determine if we should update old content, give it a 301 to another popular page, or retire and 410 orphans the child. I know it sounds mean, right?

A 410 status code explicitly communicates to search engines that the page will not be coming back. This is distinct from a 404 error, where the search engine might opt to de-index the content immediately. Exercise caution when using 410 status codes; any missteps could lead to significant search visibility challenges. So need to be careful there.

How will AI affect SEO in the near future?

Since the inception of Google search, marketers have strategized to sway key opinion leaders to enhance SEO. This includes journalists, financial experts, industry analysts, and those in media and governmental relations. This approach expanded to encompass content creators and other prominent influencers in the recent decade.

In contrast to SEO, AI Engine Optimization doesn’t revolve around waiting for a crawler to visit a website. Instead, marketers are likely to prioritize two objectives. Firstly, they might aim to develop an API that provides real-time data to base models.

Secondly, marketers will aim to utilize the same corporate API, loaded with product details, to cultivate their own branded AI. This AI would engage with consumers and purchasers through a website or an app. AI could also interface with emerging buyer-side agents.

Imagine that. AI tools that are developed and fed data in real-time that could update and optimize your website content based on a number of factors. I don’t think we are far from utilizing a plugin that will ask a series of questions during the setup and then run and update based on many factors the AI sees and learns. I’d imagine there will also be “add-ons” that can be bought that influence newer data or reference certain factors like “more likely to be linked to” or “use higher click-bait terms in H tags based on past 15-day trend popularity in North America.”

Now imagine taking your content, rewriting, and publishing it on different websites you own for a particular audience and tone and surrounded with keen products they can purchase.

Wow! This is going to be a wild ride. This gaming Google to get rankings and sales-thing.

So I gotta ask, is thin or old content real? Why not rewrite, update, republish, and source-link from the old to the new post page to pass the influence of Google and your audience to see?

Maybe there is a place for aggressive AI in SEO, after all.

Image source: Suzy Haywood on Pexels