When we think about boosting SEO performance, the first thing that comes to mind is pumping out more content to rank for more queries. But, what if it’s not always about adding but removing and fixing content, too?
Admittedly, removing content to improve SEO performance does sound a tad bit contradictory. More content is supposed to rank for more queries, after all. How would you know which content to remove anyway? What does content pruning even mean? There’s no way content pruning actually works… right? In this 6-minute read, we aim to answer:
- What is content pruning?
- Why pruning regularly is essential.
- Step-by-step guide on how to find low-performing content and consolidate or remove
What is Content Pruning?
Content pruning is updating or removing content that’s weighing down a website’s SEO performance.
Here’s a little neuroscientific analogy: synaptic pruning eliminates unnecessary neural connections to increase brain efficiency in certain tasks. If you paint more and eventually give up soccer, your brain will fine-tune for artistic skills like brush accuracy rather than visuospatial and leg coordination–which will eventually erode.
You’re an artist, not a soccer player. So, your brain will prune irrelevant neural content that doesn’t align with your identity to maximize neural efficiency.
Similarly, you need to be the brain for your website and let go/improve thin and irrelevant content to maximize SEO performance. You need to prune the content that’s not serving a purpose to your brand anymore. What good is efficient leg coordination to a painter, eh?
What Kind of Content Must be Pruned?
Put simply, it’s crappy content with little to no keywords and internal links, contains insufficient, outdated, or irrelevant information, and duplicate content.
It’s not stuff people will read, and Google knows that–so it will lower your page rankings and overall site authority because your reputation is ruined with poor quality content. Google will regard your domain as “the one with crappy content” and not look your way twice.
Why Periodically Pruning is a Good Idea
51% of companies claim updating old content is an efficient tactic for SEO boosting. It’s the age of information. Content is constantly changing, and new info is continually arising, so your existing blog posts can get old and dusty. If you periodically consolidate content by updating with new facts and relevant information, you’ll remain relevant for today’s audience and continue ranking in search results.
The general rule of thumb is that you should prune content on a bi-annual basis (every six months). And, if you have over 1k pages, every 3-4 months is appropriate, according to Search Engine Journal.
Benefits of Content Pruning
- Your site will rank higher for better quality content with new, up-to-date information users can always rely on. By offering visitors the best content, you have happy prospects who are more willing to convert, too.
- Better distribution of link authority–pruning content ensures that pages are linked internally or externally from top-notch and authoritative sites.
- Smarter crawl budgeting–make life easier for Google bots; removing deadweight allows google to index more content easily.
Pruning Pro-tip: Try to Consolidate before Removing Content
There’s a caveat that comes with content pruning. If you opt to remove a lot of content excessively, it can hurt your organic search traffic and be very costly in the long run. You should always try to update underperforming content or change the angle to repurpose it. Remember, a doctor always tries to save a life before calling the time of death.
Step-by-step Guide on Pruning Your Content with SEO Scout
So you learned that content pruning was consolidating or removing thin content that’s weighing your site down in SEO performance. You also know that pruning can significantly boost search traffic if done right–that’s what we’re covering in this section.
- Conduct a Content Audit
The first thing in order is to conduct a sitewide audit for your content. With a comprehensive content audit, you can see how well your content inventory performs on a macro level.
To conduct a content audit on SEO Scout, click
on the left tab and then the
sub-tab for a macro view of your content data.
Here are some things you want to look out for:
- Organic performance (visits and conversions from the past 12 months). You can find information about impressions, visitors, clicks, and conversions for pages with SEO Scout or Google Search Console, for all content types.
- The number of internal and external links–can be found easily with SEO Scout or in Google Search Console under Links > Top linked pages---internally. Are many pages linking back to a particular piece of content?
- Thin content. It will usually have little to no inbound links and a low word count.
- Cannibalized keywords. Discover instances where multiple pages on your website compete for the same keyword–hurting your search rankings by confusing.
- Evaluate Content Quality & Identify Thin Content
The next step is using that data from the content audit and evaluating the quality of your page contents. The following quality-defining metrics will root out thin content that needs improvement. Note that you still need to consider the publication date of your page before getting into excessive content pruning. Sometimes, it just needs time to rank for your target keywords.
Pages with low or zero impressions
Excess pages that get no views can weigh your site down, which dilutes your link equity on the pages that
matter. Think of your content like a fruit tree, sawing off dead branches to stimulate growth:
Pages with low or zero clicks
Here, you’re looking at missed opportunities or pages that simply lack value. You might be wondering, “can’t I just get this information from the low impressions filter? No impressions mean no clicks, right?” Wrong.
A content page can have high impressions and low clicks. That’s an indicator that your header may need some work to make it more clickable because it’s ranking, but it’s not coming off desirable. In this case, instead of pruning, updating your content for more clicks and changing your header to something more relevant may be more viable.
“Orphan” Pages: Few or Zero Inbound Internal Links
Inbound links lead to the content inside your website–be it internally or from external sites. They’re a signal of quality to search engines because it shows that people think your content is share-worthy. So, pages that are getting no links to them are getting no visibility. That can mean that a) you need to drive more traffic to that page or b) you need to do content pruning because it’s simply not valuable enough.
SEO Scout’s ‘Thin Content’ Filter
Generally, Google likes informative content (ideally over 300 words minimum and ideally over 1500 words for long-form articles). SEO Scout classifies thin content as a page with a low word count and poor readability. With this special filter, you can find content that needs to be consolidated with more subheadings and context. That way, you have a greater ability to rank for a wide range of long-tail queries. You can then use our content editor to spruce up your thin content.
It's a common misconception that the more pages you have aimed at the same keyword, the better you'll rank.
The problem is when you rank for the same keyword on multiple pages; you’re actually competing with yourself. This results in lower conversion rates, diminished authority, and lower CTRs for each page than for a consolidated page.
On the SEO Scout Content Audit page, click on one of the pages links to lead you to page-specific data. From there, you will see the Preset Filters box yet again and choose Cannibalized Keywords.
That selection will help you discover cases where multiple pages are competing for the same keyword:
With this information, you can consolidate your content, redirect or deoptimize the less critical or irrelevant content to boost your main page’s ranking position.
At the end of your audit, you should have all the content marked in the following categories, ready to be pruned:
- Isn’t getting any organic traffic (low impressions)
- No clicks (no conversion or engagement potential)
- Has few internal and external links (orphan pages that need to be consolidated and indexed)
- Contains thin content (low quality, unclear, and lacking sufficient info, indicated by low word count and poor readability score)
- Cannibalizing content that must be fixed (pages competing for the same keywords, confusing a search engine)
- Determine Next Steps for Existing Content
Realistically, one of three things will need to happen after you identify your content pruning candidates. You need to use your own deductive reasoning to find out which option is best for each piece of content.
No change is needed.
If you’ve been taking care of your SEO performance for some time, rest assured the majority of your pages will not need content pruning.
Content needs update/refresh.
The pages getting low impressions, clicks, links, and flagged for “Thin Content” can be beefed up with new stats, missing keyword opportunities, internal linking opportunities, and written with SEO Scout’s Content Editor to optimize the concentration of keywords and readability.
Content can also be repurposed by trimming, updating, and moving it to a FAQ section, for example. Alternatively, you can combine content around a single topic into one strong page rather than several weak ones.
If the content is outdated but still useful, make sure it says when it was last updated or at least includes a disclaimer that it may contain outdated information. You should always keep track of content that may become outdated. You can flag it and set a reminder on your content calendar. Whenever possible, link to more recent resources and talk about the news now.
For example, an article from 2010 about the Hummingbird update may still be relevant if it’s updated periodically with new advancements, but an article from 2007 about meta keyword recommendations would not.
Content must be removed or rewritten entirely
Remember, you can still lose organic traffic if you remove low-performing content. As with disavowing links, remain careful not to remove everything at once. It may be tempting to dump everything you see for a clean slate, but you should stage the process, focusing first on the poorest performing content. Once that's done, wait a few weeks before pruning again.
You must prune your tree regularly if you want it to stay healthy. A healthy tree needs to be free of dead branches and leaves. It thus ensures that all its energy is directed toward growing leaves and branches.
It's the same for your website: it needs maintenance too. One could say that "content maintenance" is just another way of saying "content pruning.” Keep your website up-to-date with the right SEO tools, and you will reap the benefits.