Content Marketing

Content Pruning for SEO: 3 Steps to Do It Smartly

Some years back, content pruning was nowhere on the list of SEO strategies.

But, that was before search engines became obsessed with content freshness and E-A-T (expertise-authoritativeness-trustworthiness).

Now, jaded, thin content that doesn’t offer value to readers just doesn’t cut it with Google. In fact, such content just holds back rankings.

Luckily, marketers have paid heed to Google’s updates and started removing content dead weight from their websites, by content pruning.

In fact, 61% of the 1500 marketers surveyed by Semrush said they repurposed/updated old content in 2020.

But, why go that far?

We recently refurbished our client’s website, and the first thing we did was to update (or trash) the underperforming content. Almost instantly, the client’s organic traffic and ranking spiked.

Image via Semrush

That’s the power of content pruning.

We know you’re itching to get similar results, but first, let’s quickly understand what content pruning means and how it is beneficial for search engine optimization.

Post that, we will discuss the content pruning process.

So, here goes.

Disclaimer: This content contains some affiliate links for which we will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you). This is to ensure that we can keep creating free content for you.

The Basics of Content Pruning

Content pruning refers to the process of removing content dead weight from a website. You remove or refresh content that doesn’t add to your site’s traffic, authority, or experience, and make room for new, fresh content.

Content pruning inadvertently boosts your site’s overall health and ranking potential.

Just like a plant gets a new lease of life when its dead or decayed branches are trimmed, the same goes for website content as well.

A lean website with valuable content has a better chance of ranking than a website with loads of poor content.

Search engine bots have limited bandwidth for crawling your website (crawl budget). So, why make them index pages that will never rank?

That can dilute your domain authority, especially if bots end up crawling your weak content pages first. This may leave out the valuable pages instead, doing even more damage.

You can’t possibly ignore the impact of content pruning on user experience. When you serve current and relevant content to your audience, you can keep them on a page longer and convert them to returning visitors.

Great UX matters a lot to search engines as well. Google’s Starter Guide on SEO says the same:

Image via Google Search Central

What else?

When you trim crummy content, your link authority doesn’t get distributed. In fact, it automatically flows to your quality pages, improving your rankings further.

Now, you know why we said content pruning is one of the best ways to boost your SEO.

Which Content Deserves to Be Pruned?

It’s wrong to assume that all old content deserves to be pruned. Evergreen content can stay as is and continue delivering value.

But, time-sensitive posts, like trends, predictions, best tool roundups, etc., can perform better with an upgrade. You may need to add fresh information, stats, examples, tips, and visuals to add value.

That’s the only way to keep your audience engaged with your content.

In general, content pruning is applicable to:

  • Duplicate or thin content
  • Content that isn’t getting impressions/clicks/engagement
  • Content with inaccurate or outdated information

With that, we come to another area of concern: how often should you perform content pruning?

If you want real SEO gains from content pruning, do it every six months. For large websites (with 1000+ pages), content pruning should be done quarterly.

If you’ve never audited your website content, a comprehensive prune is in order, which may consume a lot of time.

But the time invested is well worth it, trust us.

You can stagger the process and divide your content into tiers. Then, take up content pruning of your key pages first and less important pages later.

3 Steps to Do Content Pruning Efficiently

Now that you understand the basics of content pruning, let us walk you through the step-by-step process of content pruning.

But, before that, connect your website to a web analytics tool like Google Analytics. For this tutorial, we’re using Semrush that also fetches data from Google Search Console. And, we’re using a client website for this demo.

Once you’re done with that, follow the steps below and get started with content pruning.

Step 1: Run a Site Audit to Get a List of Crawled Pages

First, we extract a list of all the pages Google is able to crawl on our client’s website. From that list, we will select the pages that need content pruning.

To extract crawl data, we run a site audit.

So, we open Semrush and click on “SEO Dashboard” in the navigation menu. Then, we select the project from the drop-down at the top.

If you’re new to Semrush, you will have to create a new project by clicking on the “Create project” button in the top-right corner of the screen.

Image via Semrush

Next, we click on “Site Audit” in the navigation menu. The crawl data shows on the right side. We wait for the site crawl to complete and then, click on the “View full report” button in the “Site Audit” section.

Image via Semrush

Next, we click on the “Crawled Pages” tab at the top of the screen to see all the pages Semrush bots have crawled on our client’s site.

Image via Semrush

When the list of crawled pages displays, we export it to our local system by clicking on the “Export” button in the top-right corner of the screen.

Image via Semrush

We export all the crawl data and save the file.

Step 2: Identify Pages Fit for Content Pruning

Now, we need to evaluate the crawled pages and find underperforming content. There are many metrics that can be used for assessing the performance of pages, such as:

  • Bounce rate
  • Backlinks (number + quality)
  • Pageviews
  • CTR
  • Organic traffic
  • Number of ranking keywords
  • And more!

All this data is available under “Organic Traffic Insights” in the main navigation menu. When we click on that, we’re asked to type the domain name again. We do that and click on the “Get Insights” button.

Image via Semrush

Once we get the insights, we change the time range from the default duration of “Last 7 Days” to “3-6 months.”

Image via Semrush

We export all that user behavior data to a .XLS file. But, we also need all the backlinks pointing to the website’s pages since we don’t want to lose them during content pruning.

For accessing the backlink data, we head over to “Backlinks Analytics” from the main navigation menu. We select the “Backlinks” tab and export that data into a separate spreadsheet.

Image via Semrush

Then, we consolidate the two reports (backlinks and crawled pages) and group the data by URL, so we know which pages are not getting traffic or backlinks. For merging the two reports, we use VLOOKUP by Microsoft. You can use any other tool you like.

To simplify things, we simply sort the table in ascending order of traffic/backlinks/CTR or whichever metric aligns with the client’s site’s goals.

Then, we divide all the URLs in the table into three buckets:

Bucket 1: Star Performers

These pages get good organic traffic, backlinks, pageviews, etc. In short, they don’t need content pruning.

Bucket 2: Average Performers

These pages may be getting average to below-average engagement and traffic. They can perform better with a bit of optimization.

Bucket 3: Underperformers

This category is reserved for pages that never received any clicks, impressions, etc.

They may be targeting wrong keywords, or be a part of site infrastructure (Archive, Author, etc.), or just be poor quality. Sometimes, empty inventory pages (in ecommerce sites) also land in this bucket.

Step 3: Perform Content Pruning

Content pruning does not mean recklessly trashing pages in buckets 2 and 3. There are a few options to salvage content while uplifting its quality:

Merge Underperformers

You can merge two or more non-performing pages into one page and consolidate their authority. In that case, you will need to use a 301-302 redirect to point to the new URL.

Redirect to a Better Page

An underperforming page can be redirected to an authoritative page with related information (if you have one), or a page higher up in the site hierarchy. You will have to use a proper redirect so that your visitors don’t get 404 errors.

Rewrite the Content

If your key pages are underperforming, you will have no choice but to rewrite them.

For example, the Author page can’t be redirected or merged, but it’s still a vital part of a website that can’t be trashed. So, you will need to inject life into it by refreshing its content.

Since you’re investing in content pruning, you might as well go the whole way and leverage professional writing services for rewriting your old content. This is especially useful if you don’t have an in-house content team.

And guess what?

You won’t be the only one doing so. 81% of respondents in the previously-cited survey by Semrush outsourced their content creation in 2020.

Image via Semrush

While your pages are under construction, set their URLs to “meta = noindex.” That way, Google crawlers won’t index these pages and you can avoid Google penalties and frustrated visitors.

Once you’re done with content pruning bucket 3 pages, relaunch the revamped content and track its performance.

If you’ve followed the above steps diligently, you should see a definitive improvement in your organic traffic and page performances.

Conclusion

If you want quick and sustaining results from SEO, you should prioritize content pruning. While investing heavily in new content, keep pruning the old content that’s holding back your SEO efforts.

With the three-step content pruning strategy we’ve explained above, you can accelerate your SEO efforts without spending a lot of money.

Do you have any concerns or questions about content pruning for SEO? Comment below, and we’ll get back to you with the answers soon.

Disclaimer: This content contains some affiliate links for which we will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you). This is to ensure that we can keep creating free content for you.

Gaurav Sharma

Gaurav Sharma is the Founder and CEO of Attrock, a results-driven digital marketing company. Grew an agency from 5-figure to 7-figure revenue in just two years | 10X leads | 2.8X conversions | 300K organic monthly traffic | 5K keywords on page 1. He also contributes to top publications like HuffPost, Adweek, Business2Community, TechCrunch, and more.

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