Content Pruning: When to Say Goodbye to Underperforming Content

March 24, 2022
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As your website grows and features more content assets, underperforming content pieces can actually become a hindrance to your SEO performance.

Low-performing pages can compete with other pages on your website, eat up your crawl budget, cause your visitors to bounce, or even waste valuable PageRank.

So what should site owners do with underperforming content? Content pruning is an essential part of website maintenance. More site owners should be regularly scheduling content pruning into their overall SEO strategy.

person cutting a branch

What is Content Pruning?

Content pruning is the process of removing outdated or underperforming content on a website. It is like a gardener selectively removing branches to improve the overall health of a tree. Content pruning is focused on removing underperforming assets in order to elevate the overall SEO performance of a website.

How Do I Know Whether I Need to Prune Content?

The reality is, SEO is not a static content marketing strategy. Algorithms evolve, keywords grow more competitive, links break, and content becomes outdated.

If your website publishes content on a consistent basis, then you likely have web pages that have been impacted by the changing landscape of search.

So how do you know if underperforming content is a temporary or permanent state? The content pruning process can help you identify which pieces of content require more attention or whether it’s time to say goodbye entirely.

cut down a tree

The Content Pruning Process

Taking the time to perform the content pruning process once or twice a year across your website can help you improve your overall site health and keep your SEO performance trending upward.

Content pruning can help lighten the overall load of a website and make sure that Google is promoting the highest quality, highest converting pages.

Step 1: Perform a Content Audit

Before you start deleting any web page that is struggling to pull its weight in organic traffic, it’s important to take a closer look at what your content may or may not be accomplishing for you. A content audit can help you identify which pages of your website need the most attention.

To perform a content audit, you can use a tool like Google Search Console or GSC Insights. 

man sitting on a tree trunk with a book

The goal of a content audit is to understand which pages on your website are doing the most work in traffic, rankings, backlinks, conversions, and more. By the end of the content audit, you should have a good idea of which web pages on your site are currently the most or least valuable.

Keep in mind, not every web page on your website needs to rank. Your content audit should be focused on those pages that are actively a part of your content strategy and were designed with the goal of ranking organically.

Step 2: Determine your Criteria

What makes a web page underperforming? Organic clicks aren’t the only way to measure whether or not a web page brings value. There are other performance metrics that make a piece of content worthy of sticking around.

man taking a photo

Ultimately, you want your content to be working for you, not against you, so any content that lives on your website should be pulling its weight in the below areas.

  • Impressions: Impressions are one of the early signs of SEO success. If your content is earning impressions for relevant keywords, it is a signal that Google crawlers understand what your content is about and know when to promote it.
  • Total Keywords: Google now ranks landing pages for hundreds to thousands of relevant short-tail and long-tail keywords. The content on your website should be ranking for multiple keywords in the same semantic cluster.
  • Click-through-rate (CTR): Higher CTRs show that lots of users are finding your SERP result relevant enough to click over to your website.
  • Clicks: Organic clicks from relevant keywords and qualified audiences are the ultimate goal of any SEO-driven content.
  • Conversions: Clicks are great, but conversions are even better. Content that converts organic visitors into leads or customers is also extremely valuable to your brand.
  • Backlinks: Content with lots of backlinks shows that others in your industry find the content valuable. Backlinks increase your overall Domain Authority score and elevate the SEO performance of your entire website.

Certain pieces of content or blogs may perform better in some of the above areas than others, and a part of the pruning process is determining where the content’s value currently lies.

Then, once you identify the pieces of content that need more attention, drop them into a spreadsheet so you can make a pruning plan.

man making a building plan

Step 3: Designate an Action

Underperforming content should never be left to just sit on your website. It’s possible that content can be revived and perform better in search with a little bit more work and strategic planning.

That’s why the third part of the pruning process is identifying what the next action should be for any piece of content that is struggling to perform.

Here are some potential actions you can take for those content pieces.

Option 1: Update or Reoptimize

What to Look For: Low Clicks + High Impressions 

Lots of impressions for relevant keywords is the first early sign of SEO success. If you are seeing lots of impressions but low clicks, it may be time to re-optimize the piece of content or improve quality signals so Google ranks it in higher positions.

To improve quality signals of your blogs or content assets, do the following:

  • Update information, data, or links on the page
  • Increase the word count or topical depth
  • Use a content optimizer tool to improve semantic SEO signals
  • A/B test new page titles, meta descriptions, or H1s

Remember that in addition to underperforming content, you should also be regularly updating your best-performing content. You should check for recency, accuracy, and link maintenance. This is key to ensuring you don’t lose any current foothold your brand has in the SERPs.

woman working on a laptop

Option 2: Realign or Retarget

What to Look For: Keyword Difficulty, Keyword Cannibalization

If the keyword you originally optimized a piece of content for has grown more competitive, it could be the source of any decline in SEO performance.

What often happens with long-tail queries with lower Keyword Difficulty scores is that others in your industry similarly see an opportunity and create content for those keywords as well. If those sites are more authoritative than yours, they will most likely outrank yours if they create a similar piece of content.

Also, not only do your web pages compete against your competitors, but they can also compete against other content on our site. This is called keyword cannibalization, and it happens when Google sees similar content on a website and doesn’t know which to promote for a specific keyword query.

people climbing an icy mountain

If you identify that this may be the reason your content is suffering in performance, consider the following options.

  • Choose a less competitive keyword to optimize for
  • Shift the focus of the content toward another keyword opportunity
  • Launch a link building campaign to help the content better compete with those more authoritative sites

Option 3: Consolidate or Redirect

What to Look For: Backlinks, Conversions

Sometimes site owners have content that loses its foothold in the SERPs but has accumulated valuable backlinks or does a great job of converting visitors.

In order to not lose that link equity or conversion value, consolidating content or redirecting to a similarly relevant resource can be all it takes to maintain past value while also improving future SEO performance. Consolidating or redirecting former content assets can help you maintain any link juice or current keyword rankings.

person holding a glass of juice

But try not to go crazy with redirects though, as Google does not like excessive redirect chains. They can also slow download times.

If you do decide to redirect or consolidate content, make sure to:

  • 301 redirect to a relevant, higher quality piece of content on your site
  • Or, 301 redirect to a relevant, higher-converting web page on your site
  • Combine smaller pieces of content into a more comprehensive resource

Option 4: Unpublish or Delete

What to Look For: Low Impressions, Low Clicks, Low Backlinks

The final option in the pruning process is to remove the content from your website. If your examination concludes that there is no existing value to the content or web page, you can delete it.

But keep in mind that deleting content can still impact your rankings and you should avoid deleting a bunch of content in one go. Instead, it’s best to take a progressive approach.

Delete the absolute worst content first, and then wait a few weeks after pursuing the above three options to see if any content performance improves. Then, selectively prune in the way that will benefit your SEO health in the long haul.

person cut wood

Final Thoughts on Content Pruning

Taking the time to prune your content can mean healthier, faster organic growth in the long term. Make sure to take a careful look at your content before taking any next steps and be strategic in how you choose to prune content from your website.

About the author

Manick Bhan is the founder and CTO of LinkGraph, an award-winning SEO and digital marketing agency, and the creator of SearchAtlas, an all-in-one SEO toolkit. Through his agency work, thought leadership and speaking engagements, he helps brands of all sizes grow their digital presence.

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