Content tends to accumulate on a website over time, and not all of it remains relevant or serves the purpose it was once published for. Especially when you have been in business for a while now and have hundreds or thousands of pages. Sooner or later you should conduct a content audit and decide how to remove outdated content without hurting your SEO efforts.
Read on to learn how to properly identify outdated pages, and how to handle them to improve your ranking.
What Classifies as Outdated Content?
The term outdated content refers to all posts and pages on your website that no longer have any value.
Although the name may seem straightforward, there are different categories of posts that fit the description. Types of content that no longer have any value are pages that:
- Serve inaccurate information.
- No longer bring in traffic.
- Have no backlinks.
- Cover old events.
- Refer to discontinued products.
- Refer to old services.
- Have thin content.
- Show old time-sensitive news.
- Introducing former team members.
- Feature old irrelevant announcements.
- Include outdated information.
- Are otherwise no longer relevant, etc.
All in all, whatever t is not beneficial to you or your website visitors should be taken care of in one way or the other. But before we delve any deeper into how to do this, let’s discuss why managing outdated content is important in the first place.
How Outdated Content Affects Ranking
First and foremost, outdated content makes for a bad user experience.
When browsing, people are looking for information that matches their intent and is relevant. Coming across pages that are obviously outdated frustrates the user and affects how they feel about your brand. This will also increase your website’s bounce rate, which leads us to a bigger issue.
While the outdated content may not affect your UX at scale, Google “knows” about the bad pages and keeps track of them, and this can affect your online presence, your ranking, and your domain authority at scale.
Furthermore, for large websites that have 10K+ URLs, handling outdated content becomes even more important. Google has what’s called a crawl budget. The term refers to the indexing capacity of the Googlebot for a single website, or as Google puts it:
“Taking crawl rate and crawl demand together we define crawl budget as the number of URLs Googlebot can and wants to crawl.”
Google regularly revisits pages to assure that SERPs are still relevant. This means that the bot wastes time crawling and indexing outdated pages over and over again, instead of focusing on the ones that are new and up to date.
For smaller sites, this is rarely an issue. But when the number of URLs is large and new pages are being constantly uploaded and indexed, this may slow down the process and affect a site’s ranking.
Identify and Sort Outdated Content
There is no doubt about it, you can only benefit from keeping your website tidy and well-organized content-wise. However, there are different types of outdated content, and each type needs a different approach. Handled properly, you may boost your SEO efforts and improve your ranking. But if you misjudge the situation, you may lose valuable backlinks and hurt your overall domain authority.
The first thing you should do in order to avoid this, is to conduct a content audit to identify the pages that should be taken care of. Be sure to use a few different but reliable tools to identify low-quality and outdated pages and measure their performance. It’s best to check the URLs’ behavior in Google Analytics, refer to the Search Console, and make use of your favorite SEO tools like Semrush, Achrefs, or Moz.
Keep an eye out for pages with:
- A high bounce rate.
- Error messages.
- No backlinks.
- No or little traffic over the last 6 months.
- Low CTR.
- Bad SERP position.
These are your outdated pages. You should export the URLs to a sheet, analyze the state of the content, and consider their improvement potential.
Next, you should group the URLs and classify them by the type of intervention they need.
The Top 3 Ways to Remove Outdated Content Safely
Depending on the type of page and if it’s still useable, there are, generally, three methods you can apply to remove outdated content:
Updating old content is the best option to consider. Revising pages that have thin content, offer outdated advice or information that is no longer accurate, is a win-win. It enables you to a) improve the UX on these pages by delivering more value, and b) it is a good signal to search engines. Google loves it when you keep your pages fresh and so do your clients.
This method is best applied when you are managing URLs that already have backlinks and used to be popular. By updating them you can revive them, boost their ranking, and bring in a new surge of traffic.
To improve the quality and relevance of the content:
- Add a few paragraphs with new information.
- Remove any outdated advice.
- Update any statistics and research references with current ones.
- Add internal links to your new relevant articles.
- Replace any outdated images with modern ones.
- Add new videos with current information.
- Improve the title and the H2 and H3 headings.
- Optimize for new, more relevant keywords.
Sometimes you have old pages that are not worth updating, but still have backlinks that are useful. Or maybe you have already published a new article or blog that covers similar information, but in a better way. In these cases, setting up a redirect should be your method of choice.
Redirects allow you to keep the ranking and backlinks of the old page and transfer them to the new one. Furthermore, they reduce the risk of a bad UX because any user that tries to reach the old URL will automatically be taken to the new one, and not to an error page.
There are different types of redirects, but, in this case, you should consider the HTTP 301 or HTTP 308 codes. They notify the search engines that the change is permanent and the old URL is not relevant anymore.
However, there’s another approach that you may consider when you want to keep the old URL active and streamline the traffic to a new one at the same time. You can publish a message on the original page informing the visitor that this is an old version and provide a link to the new one.
For example, if you are running an annual event that has been successful, you probably want to keep it visible in part of the SERPs. This way if people end up using the old URL they can still enjoy your success story, all the while learning about the new event coming up.
What’s important to remember with redirects, is that it’s advisable to always link to a page that is just as relevant as the original one. Don’t link to your homepage or a random URL that you only want to transfer link juice to. Otherwise, you may be penalized by Google.
As a final measure, you could simply delete or unpublish pages. This method is good when the content has no backlinks, generates no traffic, serves no purpose, and has no value whatsoever.
One way to handle the purge is to create a custom 404 error page that the old URL redirects to. This will show both the user and bots that the information is intentionally no longer available. Bots will make a few further attempts to crawl the page in order to make sure it is no longer available, and they will eventually give up and remove it from their cache and index.
This means that it will not show in search results anymore, and the snippet that used to represent it in the SERPs will be removed from Google’s cached information.
However, this process takes time and you may need to use Google’s content removal tool to block the deleted content from still appearing in search results until the changes go live.
If you want the results to be immediate, and without taking any additional action, you should consider using the 410 response code. It removes the page from your website and sends search bots a message that you intentionally and permanently removed the page.
Another approach you can consider in case you want to keep a page, but limit its visibility to users and search bots, is to password-protect it. This way only you will have access to the content.
And finally, if for some reason you don’t want to remove the page and only want to block search engines from showing the outdated or duplicate content in SERPs, you can always simply use the “noindex” tag.
Removing outdated content should be a part of your content management efforts and should be done regularly to avoid bad UX and SEO issues.
However, before you make any rash decisions and rush to delete old pages, remember that you should reevaluate your outdated content to see if it has the potential to be updated.
Search engines value good UX just as much as your website visitors do, and you should make sure that you provide the best page experience to both.
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