Content Pruning

Content Pruning: The Perfect Tool In favor Of SEO Improvement

When people consider content and SEO, they are primarily focused on developing new content. However, what they usually neglect is the fact that the existing content can hugely affect the SEO performance of their website.

Although it may seem peculiar, content removal can considerably improve your website’s ranking. Nowadays, it has been proven that the phrase ” less is more” is essential in SEO content.

Content Pruning

What exactly is Content Pruning?

Content pruning is a term used to describe the removal or update of a website’s content to improve the website’s overall health and increase its appeal.

The whole concept is similar to pruning a tree. By removing a tree’s ill or dead leaves and branches, you make it healthier, and you ensure that all of its energy moves towards the parts you wish to see growing.

Theoretically, that makes a lot of sense, but what exactly can be considered as a deadweight when we talk about content?

The answer is simple: any content that has lost its functionality and value may lead to the transmission of harmful and dangerous advice.

Some examples of contents that needed to be pruned include:

  • Pages without date information
  • Pages that cannot get traffic or have the public’s approval and engagement
  • Pages with either duplicate or low-quality thin content

The goal of content pruning is dual: to get rid of content that could harm your website and lower its rankings due to its lack of high quality and to convert your content into something that makes complete sense while also summarizing pieces that look alike into a single piece that’s naturally easier to rank and share with potential customers that may wish to buy it.

To achieve that, you should follow those three steps to prune your content:

  1. Firstly, if you are pruning SEO content, you should use your tracked keywords (or begin tracking them to identify where your ranking issues rest) to find pages that may be damaging your rankings and include them in the whole reorganization process.
  2. Secondly, visit your buyer’s journey and identify the gaps in your content and then decide on how to reorganize your existing content to improve those areas of your content.
  3. Thirdly, ensure that you are redirecting your page’s URLs to the new content website to avoid losing link equity for SEO purposes or leading your customers to a broken site once deleting content.

Why is content pruning so necessary?

You wish your website to include content that fully contributes to its quality and functionality. Why is that?

Actually, for four distinct reasons:

  • Greater overall quality: if you are pruning worthless content, you considerably increase your content’s quality as a whole.
  • Stronger placement of link authority: if you prune worthless content, you ensure that your link authority moves towards pages with great potential.
  • Improved user experience: ensuring that your visitors have the best user experience is vital-that has also become important for search engines.
  • More insightful spending of crawl budget: your search-engine crawlers should spend your crawl budget on pages that are helpful to your site’s SEO performance ( that’s mostly for websites of more than 10,000 pages).

We all know that Google often crawls the URLs they think are essential. We sincerely believe that a higher crawled page is related to better performance in terms of organic results. Thus, it is sensible that by getting rid of thin pages of low quality, Google will spend its time on the critical pages of your website. That’s a different approach from the one we used to have in the past. Back then, we used to have lots of landing pages for lots of different keywords. However, we can combine broken and paginated pieces with this approach into more authoritative and alternative content that’s much better for your readers.

Can Content Pruning be used only for large websites?

Although content pruning is ideal for larger websites with more than 10,000 pages, it is also helpful for small websites. Despite your website’s sizes, you should always want your visitors to find practical, recent, and current information there.

How to prevent Content Pruning by thinking in advance

The need for content pruning can be limited if you plan your content marketing efforts. For example, you should think carefully before adding a year into a URL. If you know that the content will be updated next year, there is no need to have something out of date, like something-2018 in it. A fundamental rule is to avoid using a year in the URL when you could see yourself attaching 20xx to either the title of the page, the meta description, or the H1 heading. You place an expiration date to your entire content by adding the year.

How regularly should your content be pruned?

Content pruning is a process that should be done constantly- and it is something you will never get rid of.

Content pruning should be part of your monthly tasks. Why is that? Because as you continue working on your piece, it should be good to be aware of its state and performance.

It is always preferable to do regular pruning once a month instead of dealing with massive pruning exercises once or twice each year. Although yearly pruning is also essential, you should never solely rely on this since there is much more to gain from regular pruning. Combining regular pruning with some complete content pruning exercises is the best route to follow.

The golden rule is that you should decide on the content that needs pruning every six months for websites that can reach 1,000 pages and every three months for larger ones. These guidelines can be the starting point, and adjust them to your workflow.

To do content pruning monthly, you should first perform one entire content pruning process that we describe below.

Content pruning process

It is a three-step process:

  1. Content Inventory-developing an outline of your content
  2. Content Audit-assessing the performance of your content
  3. Determining the fate of your content- it is essential to choose what to do with the underperforming content. There are alternative choices to removing it, but we will talk about it later.

Step 1: Content Inventory

During this step, you summarize all your content.

Important: You should not forget to consider images, videos, and PDF files, as well!

Ideally, enrich this list with an export from the CMS, including data from Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools and backlink data from Ahrefs. Since there will be many duplicates, try to filter them out. 

Once you finish this step, you will summarize all of your content that only consists of unique URLs.

For every line, fill in:

  1. The specific goals you wish to fulfill
  2. The target audience
  3. The search terms your content should rank for

This will be useful in the next step, namely content audit.

You’ll end up with an overview of all of your content, consisting of unique URLs only.

For each line, fill in:

  • The goal(s) you want to achieve through it
  • Its target audience
  • The search queries it should be ranking for

This will come in handy in the next step: the content audit.

As Marie Kondo has advised multiple times, before touching any on-page content, you should ask yourself” Does this spark joy in the mind of a prospective reader?”

In any case, genuinely, the principal thing I generally do is survey the goal of the article’s subject and contrast it with the site’s main reason for existence. Is the article related to the brand? Does it address the business needs, the data a reader would like to have before making a good choice, or even guide the reader to understand our business and our qualities?

However, the most critical question is whether we have discussed this topic in the past? By simply doing a quick site search for the terms and keywords the article seeks visibility for, you can easily find this out, and then you can:

  • Produce an article- Is there a content gap to be aware of?
  • Merge duplicated pieces- Are we discussing the same topic more than once but covering different general theme points?
  • Repurpose an already existing article- Is the message of our article not sufficient to cover the initially intended topic, but can we still find something different?
  • Remove duplicate pieces when fully needed- Is it wise to let the worthless pages 404?

Whatever choice we make, it is best to clean internal linking and deliver redirects after we produce, merge, repurpose or remove a piece to give our readers a pleasant and more straightforward experience. 

Step 2: Content Audit

During this step, you evaluate the performance of your article.

For this, take the content inventory list from the first step and then add:

  • General performance, meaning the total amount of visits and conversions during the last 12 months
    • In the case of pages, you can easily find the number of visits and conversions in your web analytics tool. However, you can see this by tracking clicks on links for images, videos, or PDFs that can be downloaded. It would help to search for the platform you use when embedding them for embedded videos. Alternatively, you could use your server logs if you are not tracking clicks on links or adding videos yourself.
  • Organic performance, meaning the number of visits and conversions of the past 12 months.
    • In the case of pages, you should use Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools to identify the number of visits and conversions, including all content types, like pages, videos, images, and PDFs.
  • The total amount of both internal and external links
    • The number of internal links can be found in Google Search Console by going to under Links, clicking Top Linked Pages, whereas the number of external domains should be easily found using Ahrefs.
  • Social performance, including both shares, visits, and conversions over the past 12 months
    • Using BuzzSumo, you can quickly identify the shares and likes, whereas the number of visits and conversions should be found in your web analytics tool, as mentioned above.
  • If it consists of outdated information
    • At first, this should be checked for the full content, but thankfully you can use Google smart search queries to scan for similar mentions from the previous years quickly. You can check this example query.
  • The presence of thin content should be determined.
  • If the content cannibalizes other content
    • Search for pages ranking for the same queries or pages with no unique meta descriptions, titles, and H1 headings to identify cannibalizing content.

Naturally, you find out that you have content with no purpose-some pages may be saying the same story, or they may not have unique titles, meta descriptions, or H1 headings.

You will also come across over-optimized pages and, thus, are barely readable for any reader out there.

Step 3: Determining your content’s fate

After you have gauged your article, you should read the spreadsheet and mark content that:

  • Doesn’t generate traffic
  • Posseses very few internal and external links
  • Has low social media performance
  • Only provides outdated information
  • Consists of thin content
  • May be cannibalizing other content

All those points can be pruning candidates. However, as we mentioned earlier, before deciding to get rid of content, you should be aware of alternative ways, like improving the existing content or making it non-indexable.

Improving the content

Undoubtedly, your content will not be all that bad: you could try and get it back into shape by simply performing on-page SEO, including remaking the title tag, meta description, or headings, possibly through the addition of some sections around recent advancements, and by getting rid of old and outdated information.

Although pruning is usually excellent, I strongly recommend trying alternative solutions before throwing away all of your content. For instance, with the use of category pages, spokes, and hubs, along with roundups and better navigation, you can improve the accessibility of your content considerably. In some cases, readers cannot acknowledge your content because it is buried deep within a website.

Once you are ready to prune, create a thorough checklist of the whole process. Remember that every link should be redirected, and every broken link should be quickly fixed. If you fail to identify those little things and overlook them, you will soon have issues with your traffic. 

Trimming, updating, and moving content

Moreover, you can repurpose content by either trimming it, updating it or simply moving it to a FAQ section. Another good idea is to merge pages around one whole and full page instead of analyzing it into multiple weaker ones. 

If you think that your piece contains outdated information that is still useful to read, you should tell your reader precisely that- include a disclaimer that the content may consist of outdated info. If you also possess up-to-date information, remember to link to them.

For example, an article talking about a Google update from 2010 may still be helpful if there is truth in what it says, whereas an article with the keyword ”recommendations from 2007” may not be holding much value. 

Although content pruning has been related to the deletion of content, there are other ways to improve underperforming content. 

Content consolidation is an excellent way of converting multiple pieces of underperforming content into a new, substantial, and one-pieced section or additional content of an already awesome blog post or guide.

You could also use such pieces for outreach work by refreshing them and sending them to other publishers, particularly if they do not seem suitable for your site anymore. 

Making content non-indexable

In some cases, content can be useless for search engines but extremely useful for visitors. A great example is blog tags: once used correctly, they can provide a helpful way of navigating around a site, whereas the pages on their own add no more value from an SEO point of view.

Another good idea if you find pages and PDF files containing the same content is to canonicalize the PDF sections to the page using a canonical in the HTTP header. 

A significant note on removing content

It is preferable to avoid removing everything in one go, since in some cases, low-performing content may still affect your organic traffic. Making the whole process staged will help you focus on the content that has been performing the worst. Wait a few weeks to see how this is going before continuing the pruning process.

Be aware of content that will become outdated.

Some types of content will become outdated, so make sure to have scheduled updates beforehand. Set a reminder on your phone, but since there may be a massive increase in the number of reminders and the size of your time, it is best to put it in a very central space: a content calendar. 

What type of content may become outdated?

A good example is ”Times Higher Education’s list” of the best universities globally, updated every year. The editors know that some changes will naturally occur, preparing for them in advance.

A final thought on Content Pruning

We all know that if you want a healthy tree, you need to prune it frequently and remove dead branches and leaves. That guarantees that all of the tree’s energy travels towards the branches and leaves that need this energy to grow healthy.

The same applies to your website: it also needs proper and regular maintenance. You may think that “content maintenance” is different from saying content pruning. Make sure to maintain your website well, and you’ll gather the rewards soon enough.

Additional Resources

CONTENT PRUNING
Content Pruning: Remove Low-Quality Content to Improve SEOGuideContentKing
The Complete Guide to Content Pruning (+3 Step Pruning Process)GuideDevin Pickell / G2
How to Prune your Website Content in an SEO ProcessGuideAleyda Solis
Step-By-Step Guide: SEO Pruning with SemrushGuideKevin Indig / SEMrush
Why & How Content Pruning Helps Your SEOGuideManish Dudharejia / Search Engine Journal

FAQ

  • What is Content Pruning?

Published on: 2021-10-02
Updated on: 2022-06-09

Avatar for Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands is the SEO Director at SEO North, a company that provides Search Engine Optimization services. Isaac has considerable expertise in Search Engine Optimization, Server Administration, and Cyber Security, which gives him a leg up as a Google Algorithm Analyst and SEO Expert.