What is content pruning and how does it help with SEO?

Follow along with our free guide

First impressions are everything-they set the tone for how people will remember and regard you from there on out. That’s why you set your favorite picture of yourself as your profile picture, you dress up for an interview, you stress about meeting your significant other’s parents, and so on. 

Your website and the pages that attract organic traffic will often be the first impression people get of your business. The content that appears in Google search results will be what introduces many users to your company, so it’s important that whatever page people land on puts your very best foot forward. 

However, if your business’s website has been around for a while, you may start to lose track of all the different pages that people wander onto through Google and by exploring your site. As your business grows and develops, you create additional content to reflect these changes and improve the user experience on the website.  And if you’re the one responsible for creating site content, you’re probably constantly focused on the one question: “What’s the next thing that people want to see?” 

While it’s a great practice to consistently post new and fresh content to your site, you also need to make sure that you are keeping tabs on the pages that are already there. Though you do want a robust site covering a wide expanse of topics surrounding your given industry, more is NOT always the merrier! It’s easy to overlook pages that have been on your site for a long time as harmless staples, but that is not always the case. And that’s where the important activity of content pruning comes in. 

What is content pruning?

Pro tip from the Centori team: You don’t need to know a thing about gardening to master content pruning.

Content pruning involves taking a fine toothed comb to the content that is already on your website. If content is performing poorly, unnecessary, or outdated, it can actually hurt your website’s SEO.. As a remedy, these posts can either be completely deleted, hidden from the SERP, or fixed up and updated in order to stay fresh and relevant for your target audience.

Depending on the size of your website and the depth of the pages it has, content pruning may take a long time or barely any time at all. The more often you prune your content, though, the less laborious the process will be; there will be fewer “dead leaves and branches” to chop off when you are checking and trimming more often. Think: maintenance. 

The end result is a much healthier website; it will be more up-to-date, relevant, and value-packed than ever before. Instead of needing to sift through pages and pages of incorrect or irrelevant material, your potential customers will see only pages that are useful to them. Not only will this create a better, more seamless and rewarding user experience, it will also increase the authority of your website immensely. 

How does content pruning help SEO?

You may not realize it, but Google is constantly crawling your content, both new and old. Just because your content was indexed highly when it was first posted does not mean that it keeps that same ranking forever (wouldn’t that be convenient, though *sigh*) 

After many updates to its algorithm, Google bots are brilliant at indexing content on the following items:

  • Freshness
  • Credibility
  • Research and depth
  • Answers 
  • Proper use of keywords
  • Mixed media 

This list is by no means comprehensive of what search engine bots look at, but if you want more detail you can read about what Google looks for in SEO content here

It’s unrealistic to expect every page on your website to “break the internet” with its groundThere are a number of different reasons why content may not be meeting expectations: Spammy backlinks, incorrect keyword targeting, being considered “thin” or duplicate content to name a few. These things happen to even the most experienced web content creators. 

It’s unrealistic to expect every page on your website to “break the internet” with its virality, so don’t feel discouraged if, over the course of the years, you’ve garnered a number of pages that are underperforming. However, letting this store of underperformers grow will actually bring the entire site down-including those pieces that DO meet and exceed performance goals. 

Cleaning up your website to ensure all of your pages are: 

  • qQuality, well-researched pieces 
  • that match the search intent of your audience, and 
  • provide up to date, unique value to users 

will be recognized by search engine bots, and they will reward your website accordingly by boosting its authority. This increased authority will be taken into account when your pages are indexed on the SERP; pages are more likely to rank higher because they are posted on a well-regarded website. 

How to prune your content

To effectively prune your content, there are certain steps you should follow. You don’t want to just start chopping willy-nilly, or your website could end up looking like the dreaded self-administered haircut.

Gather and organize the right data

To  figure out what content is performing well and what content your website could stand to lose, you’ll need to gather the metrics that are important to you and your business goals. This could include metrics like:

  • Page views 
  • Bounce rate
  • External and internal links
  • Shares /engagements
  • Conversion rate

You may need to use a collection of SEO tools to gather these metrics. 

Start a spreadsheet and add this data in for each post. Start a spreadsheet and add this data in for each post, as well as general information about the post, such as its title, summary, topic category, date published/last updated, and so forth. 

You’ll be able to see the general trend of how your content is performing, and create benchmarks for how well your content needs to perform in order to keep it around. Then, you can then pick out posts that are performing exceptionally well or poorly.  not meeting these standards, and take a closer look at why this page is not performing as well as it should be, and what you’re going to do about it. 

Evaluate the content based on its goal

Once you have an overview of your posts with some data on them, you can then make note of the purpose for each page. Was it to create interest for your company, generate leads, or sell a certain product? Depending on the goal of the page, you can then evaluate its performance and see if the content is truly doing what it was intended to for your business. 

If it turns out that the piece is not generating as many leads as you thought it would, for example, this would be something to flag for action to potentially be taken on this page. 

Make a decision

Once you’ve looked at the data on the content and compared its performance against the original goal of the post, you can then make a decision whether to:

Edit

For pages that just need some minor touch ups (or even major edits) that you deem worth the time, you can put them on the list to update. This is a great option for pages that work to accomplish a critical goal for your website, or pages that took a lot of effort to create. Editing these pages will save a lot of time and effort, rather than needing to create net new content to meet the intended business objectives. 

Delete/Unpublish

If content is not performing well and does not accomplish an important goal, provide value to your intended audience, or prove to be relevant to your potential customers, then you may want to remove this page from your website altogether. If it would take more effort to adapt the page into something useful than it would to create net-new content, then good riddance! These posts can be categorized into the Delete/Unpublish group. 

As your business pivots over time and its goals shift with these changes, it would make sense that some content just truly isn’t relevant or helpful anymore. Although it can be painful to say goodbye to a page that took hours to create, remember that taking the page down could actually BOOST your entire website. 

Hide

Some pages are important to your site, but may not be great for those “first impressions” we were talking about earlier. If a page only applies to a niche group in your target audience, or caters to a very specific step lower down in your conversion funnel, then you may not want to have it be the first page that the greater public sees when they are coming from Google. 

For these pages, you will simply make them non-indexable. That way, the users that need to will still be able to find the content, but random others will not. 

Take action!

Finally, all that’s left to do is take action. The preparation you did before this step will save you time for when it’s actually time to start optimizing, hiding, and unpublishing content. 

How often should you prune content?

When running a website for your business, there are a lot of moving parts and pieces. Depending on the size of your website and the number of hats you are wearing for the website, you may not have a lot of spare time to audit your website’s content every week.

A good rule of thumb is to try to prune your website every quarter. New quarters usually bring new business goals and mark a new season for your business, so it’s a good time to reassess if the pages on your website are helping you meet your goals.

Even if you aren’t able to give the entire site a once-over every quarter, breaking it up into sections to clean up could be helpful to use your time as efficiently as possible. 

Summary

Though not as popular of a topic as, say, keyword strategy, content pruning is vital to maintaining the health of your website. Although it’s especially important for large websites, it’s a great practice for all website managers to include in their yearly priorities.

Not only will it keep your website more organized and clean to offer a better user experience, it will also help your website’s SEO as well. Sometimes, in order to win, you have to lose what’s weighing you down!

Join hundreds of marketers to get exclusive SEO tips, guides, and resources in your inbox

We’re always sharing insights, findings, and case studies with our subscribers. Sign up to get our best SEO tips and advice in your inbox.