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Search Engine Optimization

Why your blog needs content pruning (with case studies)

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, bloggers started sharing their thoughts on the internet without considering the long-term value of their posts. When businesses started blogging in the mid-2000s, it still wasn’t a sophisticated digital marketing channel. As blogging has grown in popularity (4.4 million new blog posts are published every day), it’s also become increasingly competitive.

Many established businesses’ corporate blogs began in the early days of blogging. At the time, the number of posts published mattered just as much as—or more than—the quality of the content. It’s likely that both internal and external writers have come and gone over the last decade. Blogs optimized for search engines likely changed course as algorithms updated and ranking factors shifted. Benefiting from content marketing requires a well-planned strategy these days, while just a few years ago, you may not have had one at all.

Without looking at your blog as a whole every once in a while, you may have no idea what’s living 10 or 20 pages back in the archive. Taking the time to perform a content audit once or twice a year can help you identify content pruning opportunities.

Why Should I Prune Content?

Content pruning is a lot like cleaning out your closet. Over the last few years, you probably added new clothes to your closet because you knew they’d be wardrobe staples. Other items were for special occasions and some were purchased on a whim. If you never cleaned out your closet, it would eventually become so full of clothes that no longer fit or are out of style or need to be repaired that you wouldn’t be able to find the outfits you like.

Just like your closet, over the last decade (or two) your blog has accumulated a lot of items that are no longer relevant to your business and its content strategy. Both Google and users have to sift through lots of pages and posts to find the most relevant content on your website. Google has a limited crawl budget and people have pretty short attention spans. The easier you make it to sift through your content, the more likely they are to find high-quality, up-to-date information.

Google’s constantly updating its algorithm to reward high-quality content from trustworthy sources. Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines cover EAT (expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness) extensively. With this in mind, it’s important to fill every piece of content on your website with proof that you know what you’re talking about. Pruning low-quality posts from your blog makes your website as a whole higher quality.

Even though content pruning offers so many benefits, it’s impossible without a thorough website content audit and careful plan.

Which Posts Should I Remove?

To decide which posts can be cut from your website, you’ll need to dive into your website’s Google Analytics account. How we decide which posts to prune depends on the specific website we’re working on. Some decisions may be as simple as looking at posts with no page views in the last year or two. In other cases, we may also look at conversion rate, inbound links and other data.

After identifying URLs with subpar performance, we comb through the information presented on those pages. Usually, it’s outdated, thin (or even duplicate), or irrelevant to the website’s primary purpose. If a business has recently shifted its focus, pruning may not depend on analytics, but if the posts highlight information that’s no longer relevant.

Reviewing the results of a content audit also gives you a better understanding of what your readers are most interested in! With both high- and low-quality posts identified, you can decide what to do with the posts that no longer serve a purpose. You can either remove these posts by deleting them and redirecting their URLs, or removing them from Google’s index with a no index directive. If a post’s information is still helpful to your readers, it may be a good candidate for an update.

Removing a ton of posts that don’t get a lot of attention is tempting. However, there is the possibility of too much a good thing here. Over pruning can really affect your website’s organic traffic. Consider updating or combining posts with potential.

Case Studies: Putting Pruning into Practice

It’s almost impossible to isolate the benefits of content pruning. It usually happens simultaneously with other content updates and even technical optimizations. However, we’ve seen sustained growth in organic traffic after cutting out-of-date, low-quality posts too many times for it to be a coincidence!

Jeffrey Freedman has been blogging since 2010 with social media sharing in mind. This led to a lot of timely posts and short updates on similar topics. After the initial social media traffic petered out, very few people were viewing these posts. Over the last year, Parkway Digital’s content team has combined old content into more thorough posts. At the same time, we helped Jeffrey Freedman’s internal team be more intentional about the new content they’re creating. Together, these tactics delivered measurable organic growth over the last year.

Screenshot from Google Analytics depicting organic traffic growth

We practice content pruning on our own blog, even though it’s much smaller than many of our clients’. Digital marketing changes quickly, so our posts are more likely to be outdated than thin or duplicate content. Some get updated, others are expanded and some are removed entirely. You can see year-over-year growth in our website’s organic traffic thanks to a content strategy that includes annual pruning.

Screenshot from Google Analytics depicting organic traffic growth year over year

Eastman Machine Company offers the clearest picture of the potential benefits of content pruning. When comparing the 10 days before and after removing (and redirecting) a handful of low-quality blog posts, we saw a 12% increase in clicks and a 4% increase in impressions in Google Search.