Whether you are looking for tools or tips for best practices, this guide to removing old or thin website content can help you improve your search visibility!
Google Remove Outdated Content Tool
If you are here looking for the Google Outdated Content tool then you can head on over there, but before you do – what we have for you below may help you more than that tool can! Once you input your URL that you want Google to remove you can then check it in the check Google removals page to see what the status is.
If you use the tool it can take a few days to process, this is not an immediate function as Google needs to re-index and crawl the site before it can be removed.
How To Evaluate Your Content For Removal
OK – we know how it goes. You started your website years ago, and now you are looking back and cringing at what you are seeing. Did I really write that? Those spelling errors cannot be mine! Wait, those are not even sentences! YIKES! So you scramble to delete it all before someone actually sees it now that you have grown – but WAIT.
This post is relevant to bloggers, B-to-B websites as well as B-to-C websites.
How you delete your old content — or not delete that content can affect your readers experience and your organic traffic.
So hold your horses and let’s think about this strategically. (I know scary word – but we will try to make it easy – scouts honor!)
We are going to walk you through the process of how to safely remove outdated content from your website for quick SEO wins.
Pros of Removing Content
- Up to date and relevant content
- Content will be more search friendly
- Improvement of organic rank
Cons of Removing Content
- May lose inbound links
- Possible loss of social signals
- Can affect usability if page not found
Should I Remove Old Content?
Maybe Yes. Maybe No.
Ok, not the answer you wanted – but really – it depends on a lot of factors. When you are considering removing content from your website – here are a few things to ask yourself about each page.
1) Is the content useful to your reader? If it is useful, educational or informational and just outdated – we say keep it and update it. If it is a contest, promotional or lacking in real value – it is probably safe to remove it.
2) Are there backlinks to the specific page? Good backlinks are hard to find and critical for SEO success – if your page has backlinks to it – we suggest keeping it and modifying the content to make it more useful and updated.
3) Is the page getting traffic? Checking analytics will give you this important information. If there is a decent amount of traffic – again, you may want to keep it and repurpose it somehow.
How Can I Analyze My Pages To Get The Data?
- If you have analytics installed – our first recommendation would be to visit Panguin. This is a great tool that will look at your analytical data and will match your traffic against dates of various algorithm updates like Panda (which focuses on site quality) and Penguin (which focus on links). If you notice a big drop after a specific update – that will be the first step into better understanding what you need to do to improve your website. If you see a big drop in traffic after a Panda update – then you know you have work to do on your content!
- Review your Google Analytics data. Find the pages that are drawing the least amount of visits. If you have specific pages you would like to remove – you can search for them in analytics to determine if they are receiving traffic. In analytics you will want to go to the BEHAVIOR area then SITE CONTENT and ALL PAGES. Then you can sort by Page Views to see how many views a page gets.
- To see if your page has backlinks you can get a quick overview at Backlink Watch or Backlink Checker. Unfortunately, this is one area that is lacking in free services – so we would use both tools for each page just to double check. Enter the page you are considering removing – if there are links, and they are good ones – keep it! (Keep in mind different back link checkers return different results so if they vary that is OK!). Ahrefs would be a great investment if you are serious about SEO and improving your backlinks.
In the example below you can see we have many pages that get only a few hits a month. There is no “magic number” as to when to delete a page – it will be relative to the traffic you get. If you are getting 5K visits a month and your page only gets 3 hits and is old and out dated – then we would say it is safe to remove.
But if you get 100 visits a month and it gets 3 hits a month and is outdated – you may want to spend some time updating and improving the content and try to get more visits.
I am Getting Traffic & Have Backlinks To An Old Page – Now What?
Well, this is good news! If you have a page that makes you insane and you want to get rid of it because it annoys you with its bad outdated content – but you see it gets traffic and has backlinks it is time to put on your thinking cap.
Look at the content and see how you can repurpose it so it maintains a similar content type but in a way you can entertain, teach or inform.
It is was an old contest – what did you give away? Can you somehow take that prize and turn it into an educational post about something related to that prize.
If it was a blog crawl post (Wordless Wednesday for example) – can you remove the notations about the Wordless Wednesday and revise the content to be more useful to your reader?
There Are No Backlinks or Page Visits – What Are My Options For Page Removal?
If you have a page that you are sure has no traffic, the content is poor and there are no backlinks- then delete it. If it is showing in the Google search results (which if you are not getting much content it probably isn’t) – eventually Google will see it is gone and will remove it from the search results.
If you just delete a page, then if someone should land on it the user will get the dreaded 404 error. Google will see this – and will come back and check a few times to make sure it is not coming back – but eventually remove it.
We highly recommend a custom 404 page be built for every website that helps users find the content they want if they should land on a page that no longer exists.
2) 301 REDIRECT
We recommend a 301 redirect if you want to delete a page that has some traffic, has backlinks or is in the search results. A 301 redirect will bring your users to a new page if they follow a link to the page you want to remove – so you want to make sure you bring them to a related post. If you had a post about a contest for a cooking tool – maybe link to a recipe that uses that cooking tool. A 301 redirect is typically done via your .htacess file but if you use Wordpress you can also use a plugin like Simple 301 Redirects.
Be sure to review this great post on properly using 301 redirects before you implement yours!
3) IMPROVE THE CONTENT
If you have a page that is getting traffic and has rank and has the potential to be “revived” – then this is the optimal option. You can use tools like Frase to help improve your content! Modify your content to be as in depth as possible – add strong images and rename the page title and you can reuse the post and offer your readers something great.
You can even change the date of the post and add a note that says “updated xx/xx/xxxx” – this will let readers now you keep this page updated. You can also change the actual “post date” of the post itself which can help Google see it as new content which can help you in the search results.
This should also include updating your title tag and meta descriptions! If you are wondering what a meta description is you can learn more here.
What Happens When You No-Index An Existing Post?
If you no-index a page that is already indexed – it should eventually be removed from the search engines. The search engines will need to re-crawl your page to be able to see the no-index code that has been applied. So, depending on your crawl rate – it could take a few days or a few weeks.
How Do I Know How Often Google Crawls My Website?
This is where Webmaster Tools comes in super handy! By visiting the Crawl section in your Webmaster Tools – you can find some very important information that will help you understand your site and may even find issues that you should be aware of.
In the example below you can see this website gets a visit from Google everyday – some days they crawl a lot more than others – and those spikes in the graph may reflect images, uploads as well as standard pages. You also want to keep an eye if Google Bots are coming too often and using too much bandwidth which can reflect on your site speed!
If you feel uncertain about when you page will be visited by Google and want to speed it up – you can visit the Fetch As Google link! This will send a gentle nudge to Google to come visit your website. You will want to put the actual page you want them to visit in this tool.
Remove Outdated Content: A Short Case Study
I recently bought a website as an investment property and the first thing we did was address the issues with the content that were preventing the site from doing well in the search engines. We began a plan of action to remove outdated content and over the course of 2 months were able to remove all the low quality content that we believed was hurting the website.
I wanted to share the details of the content aspect of this website to help you see just how much you can improve in even a short amount of time by purging content.
At the time I updated this post I am still working on the website so the numbers for the amount of content may even change more as we continue digging through everything.
WordPress Details (as of Jan 5, 2019 – the date I officially took it over)
- Categories: 73
- Tags: 158
- Posts: 4,216
- Pages: 7
WordPress Details (as of March 21, 2019 – the date I updated this post)
- Categories: 35
- Tags: 23
- Posts: 982
- Pages: 7
Below is a video that will show you what has happened since deleting this content.
Keep in mind content was deleting over the course of just over 2 months, so the improvement should be ongoing for a while.
Redirects: 301, 404 or Something Else?
Since I deleted well over 3,000 posts – doing a redirect for all of those would just be nuts. So, I did nothing. Nada. Zip.
There are 31 posts that I did 301 redirects for and that was because they had other posts that were similar in nature – so I sent the deleted posts there.
The rest I am just letting drop.
If you really want to be perfect you can do a 410 redirect which will tell Google directly that the page is gone and should be deleted. But if you are mass deleting, this could be tedious. Google will see the page gone even without the 410 and eventually drop it anyway – it just may take a little longer.
What Happened When I Deleted Over 3,000 Posts?
Since I took over a website the first week of January we have grown by just about 9K keywords – increased in positions 1-3 and 1-10 tremendously and are still on the upswing as of the time of writing this post.
Only a few new posts have been written – no onsite optimization has been started except for 12 of the top performing posts.
So, if you are on the fence about deleting content – don’t be!
Updated Friday May 11, 2019 – we are still gaining keywords and are now up to 23,200 keywords that we are ranking for with 274 of those being in positions 1 through 3.
While we hope this article will help you streamline your content and improve your website – we know it can still be confusing! If you have questions – just let us know and we will be glad to help!
Great post! I work on cleaning up content now and then, but I’ve never strategically gone in and done a mass removal. Why does removing old/outdated/bad content improve rankings in Google? My guess is that it dilutes your quality content. What are your thoughts?
By the way, I enjoyed the video. How accurate is the ahrefs data? For instance, does the organic search traffic closely match the numbers you are tracking in Google Anaytics or Clicky?
Well I never use Google Analytics for anything these days — I love GetClicky! But here is what I got – Ahrefs says 5K a month for organic traffic – Get Clicky shows me at 9,870 for March and Analytics has me at 10,133 for March, so Ahrefs is not quite accurate. I would say double it for a more realistic amount.
Thank you! I really enjoy reading your case study. I wish I could add these tools, but I don’t think I can justify the costs and it’s not because I don’t think they are valuable. I think I would have trouble finding time to learn and really getting the most out of them. Although I’m hoping to allocate some time in the second half of the year for Ahrefs. Do you know of any good tutorials or courses that teaches how to use Ahrefs?
I plan on doing some tutorials myself and hope to have them up by end of summer….their blog has some stuff, but not sure if they are really giving “how to use it to kill it in the search engines” type of tutorials or anything.
Yep! My thinking is when the crawlers come – you get just a second or 2 for them to get to your content – if you have thousands of crappy content articles that are being crawled first, they do not get to the good stuff. I am now over 20K keywords — and still deleting!