There are a few guides out there on content pruning, but people still seem confused by it. It’s become an increasingly important part of my teams processes for my sites. In this article, I’m going to share with you exactly how to do it the right way.
If you want to improve the rankings on your site there are a number of things you can do… You can improve your keyword research to target more realistic terms, build more links, perform an audit, and many other things.
One of those other things is Content Pruning…
Content Pruning works by removing dead weight, literally like pruning a tree.
Not to sound too philosophical here, but every website is like an ecosystem. And every ecosystem, even ecosystems of information like a website, has a balance.
The bigger your site — the more chance you have of upsetting that balance.
I found this out in early 2018 when I was growing one of my own websites. I’d just reached 120 posts and I was feeling GAF (Good As Fuck) about it.
The site had been growing and growing, but TL;DR… Shit was about to go down. Literally.
If you know much about SEO, a concept you’ll be familiar with is Crawl Budget.
This basically means how much your site is going to be (or can be) crawled, and a crawl “inefficient” site can be harmed by wasting that budget. Kind of like an irresponsible accountant.
I became a firm believer in a concept I’ll call Content Budget.
Content Budget = Crawl Budget + Power (Juice+Authority).
My site had reached a tipping point, and like any ecosystem, a collapse can happen fast.
As I wasn’t building links - I wasn’t increasing the power of my site. While most sites under 100 pages aren’t going to face this issue, I obviously reached a tipping point. I had exceeded my “content budget”.
This is why I learned that it’s important to keep building links if you’re increasing the volume of content on your site. You can’t do one and not the other without upsetting the balance.
I realized what the issue was pretty quickly as there were very few variables in play, so I decided that the easiest solution (other than increasing my content budget) was to simply remove the dead weight.
Content Pruning For SEO
At the time that I started content pruning on my own sites, I was still jointly running my old agency. So I started implementing it on client projects as well.
Since our team used to focus on e-commerce sites it was perfect, lots of e-commerce sites are huge. Their profit margins allow them to add more products and supporting content. So things do get out of hand quickly.
One client, I had just started working with, I advised we remove over 100 articles that ranked for nothing. The results were pretty fantastic considering it cost absolutely zero other than time to implement…
I’ve talked about this subject numerous times and I’ve been asked questions about it in my on-page academy group.
How do you select what articles to remove?
It’s a good question. For a “first pass” my rules are below. I will often do more checks with increasingly stricter goals for my content performance to adhere to.
- There has to be no traffic in the last 90 days.
- There has to be under 150 impressions in the last 90 days OR
There have to be few keywords with little chance of improvement.
- The article can’t be pointing to a ranking money page.
Anything else at all, such as internal linking to other pages, nope it doesn’t matter. Links coming into this page - does not matter!
If it doesn’t fit the criteria above its dead weight. Following these rules has given me great results on many different sites for well over a year.
Because of the 80/20 Principle, you’ll find that there’s an awful lot of junk pages like this, and the more established the site the more pronounced. A site that’s under 90 days old for example really shouldn’t even be considering this with so little data.
Finding The Data With Google Search Console
This stage of the process is great because it doesn’t require any fancy tools. Every single person should have Google Search Console setup for their site, and if you do then you’ll have access to all the data you need.
Note: I also use Ahrefs & SiteBulb for other parts of this process, but you don’t actually need them to do any of it.
In your search console head to Performance.
Now unselect Total clicks by clicking it once.
Filter the date to the Last 3 months.
Click on Pages, which should unselect Queries.
Now you can sort the data and make a list manually, or even better export all of this data for Excel or Google Sheets.
This then gives you all the data you need for filtering by the rules I mentioned in the last section.
Extra Step: Checking For Internal Links
I mentioned that I like to check that articles aren’t supporting ranking money pages. I personally use a tool called SiteBulb to do it, but you can also use ScreamingFrog (and potentially other crawlers).
In SiteBulb setup an audit, inspect the URL and click the Outgoing Links tab. This will then give you a list of External and Internal Links.
Extra Step: Checking Organic Keywords In Top 100
I personally use Ahrefs for this but you can do it with Google Search Console as well. It is way quicker with Ahrefs though, thanks to a nifty feature called Batch Analysis.
With the Batch Analysis you can then Export the data and implement it into the existing data you already exported from Google Search Console.
This extra step is useful since it can show you pages that have a lot of potential to be improved in one way or another. Consider it a safety check to make sure you’re not deleting something you shouldn’t be.
Do you need to do it? Not if you’re using impressions data, but I have caught a few exceptions by adding this extra step into my workflow. So I do recommend it if you want to be thorough.
Extra Step: (Un)Common Sense
Uncommon or common sense would dictate that if you have a very refined content strategy, where you’re covering an entire topic via multiple different articles and they are all part of an extensive strategy… Maybe you shouldn’t delete that page.
A good example would be if you had a page on every planet in the solar system. And Pluto wasn’t performing well.
It certainly wouldn’t make sense to remove it. Because then you’ve removed an important facet of your solar system topic.
I feel like this is an area a lot of people struggle with since they aren’t really as familiar with their topics as they should be, and there’s no easy tool-based solution out there.
My solution: If in doubt, keep it until your next round of content pruning analysis.
I think this should go without mention, but I will say it in case it just doesn’t occur to you in the moment. But you should be saving the content instead of just deleting it forever.
You might be able to add it back on the site in future, re-work it, use it on another site or even use it for pitching as guest posts.
Creating Necessary Redirects
Once you have selected the actual pages for removal, you can’t simply delete them and be done with it.
You need to set up redirects.
I usually use both .301 and .410 redirects for this step.
A .301 Redirect is a Permanently Moved Status Code.
A .410 Redirect is a Permanently Gone Status Code.
If the content was really low quality, and if it had no inbound links e.g. backlinks I will do a .410 redirect. You can do this via your .htaccess file (Apache Servers Only) or via your config file (Nginx Servers).
With the .301 redirects, it’s any page with half-decent content and/or links. I set these up in the .htaccess file as well, but I don’t redirect them back to the homepage. Instead, I redirect to the relevant category. Small difference with much better results, trust me on this.
Checking For Broken Links
Something that inevitably happens when you remove a lot of content is you’re going to break some shit.
Even with the redirects in place you need to update internal links on your site, as a redirect is still an extra hop for a crawler… Fixing Content Budget issues to create Crawl Budget issues isn’t something I’m about.
Any good crawling tool that allows you to audit your site should be able to find redirects, broken links etc. So it’s really just a case of removing the links or pointing them elsewhere… Time-consuming but vitally important.
Another step you can take is to remove images, and do redirects where needed (if people are using your images those are a form of backlink).
Removing images is useful as it frees up some extra resources on your server. It’s obviously not a must-do but I feel like it can be useful if you’re removing hundreds of images at once.
And that’s pretty much it!
Removing content from your site to increase your content budget is a smart move in a world where every crawl is important. You shouldn’t be carrying any dead weight on your site if you want to perform as well as you can in the SERPs.
I’ll be releasing a free over the shoulder video course on this subject in the coming weeks on my onpage.academy site. Go check it out to see what content I’ve already got on there. Or if you just want to wait until then you can always check out my group where you can catch all the latest updates & discussions.
If you liked this post don’t forget to give it a share!
Join my On-Page & Technical SEO Facebook Group.