Content pruning is one of the most important but also one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of good content marketing. Most business leaders know creating and sharing high-quality content regularly is the key to building brand awareness and capturing leads.
However, it’s not enough to simply produce huge volumes of content. You also need to regularly assess that content to ensure every piece is valuable and relevant. As your blog or website accumulates more content over the years, the health of your SEO strategy can suffer as a result of old, outdated, or low-quality posts.
That’s where content pruning comes in. It’s a strategy designed to help you remove or update poorly performing content on your site so your brand presence can continue to grow. Here’s everything you need to know about content pruning, SEO, and content maintenance.
What is Content Pruning? The Basics
The term “content pruning” comes from the horticultural world, where professionals cut away dead, overgrown, or problematic branches or stems to encourage new growth.
Similarly, in the content marketing industry, pruning is a strategy businesses use to remove or update content that’s acting as “dead weight” from an SEO perspective. Content pruning is essentially a form of maintenance intended to ensure you’re always delivering the best value to your audience.
Some of the most common forms of content targeted with content pruning include:
- Pages featuring outdated information (i.e., The Top Marketing Trends of 2017)
- Pages that aren’t getting traffic or engagement
- Posts with high bounce rates (indicating they’re not relevant to your audience)
- Thin content (low-quality content without much value)
- Duplicate content
- Pages with keyword cannibalization
Crucially, content pruning isn’t just about deleting any older pieces on your website. It’s a systematic process that allows you to reveal gaps in your strategy and improve your overall value.
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The Benefits of Effective Content Pruning
Although removing content from your website might seem counterproductive in a world where “content is king,” pruning can be a valuable strategy. It ensures your website contains only the most valuable content for your audience and your rankings.
With the right strategy, you can:
1. Improve SEO Rankings
Content pruning is often referred to as “content pruning SEO” because it has a direct impact on your ranking potential. Search engines are designed to give users the most relevant answers possible to their search queries. To preserve quality, engines often push posts down the search results pages when they feature thin, duplicated, or outdated content.
Content pruning helps to eliminate the content that may harm your website’s potential. It’s also a great way to get rid of or update any content that might be impacting your EEAT scores. It can even improve your SEO results by minimizing high bounce rates.
2. Optimize your Crawl Budget
Website pages appear on search engine result pages after they’re indexed. Google, as well as other search engines, have a quota for how many pages they can index on a specific website within a given time frame, known as the crawl budget.
If you’re not regularly pruning your content, there’s a risk that search engine crawlers will use all of that budget indexing low-quality pages. As a result, your high-quality, relevant content might not appear in the search engines as quickly.
3. Enhance Link Distribution
Links are extremely valuable for brand awareness, traffic, and SEO performance. Most businesses use internal linking as a way to connect pages, passing authority and value throughout their site. One backlink from a high-authority page can increase the authority of the target page, and so on.
Content pruning is a good way to remove pages that aren’t contributing to positive “link equity” on your website. You can safely remove these articles without worrying about deleting critical backlinks and harming site navigation.
4. Improve Site Navigation
Some larger websites have thousands of blogs listed in various categories across their site. While this demonstrates clear expertise and authority, if the articles aren’t organized well, it causes problems with user navigation and customer retention. One study found 34.6% of users abandon a website due to a poor content structure.
Pruning eliminates excess clutter, getting rid of low-quality articles, so your good content is easier to find. You might even decide to consolidate various articles covering similar topics in your content pruning SEO strategy.
5. Enhance Brand Reputation
The content your business produces influences how customers view your brand. The more outdated, irrelevant, or low-quality content you have on your website, the more a consumer’s opinion of your company may degrade. Content pruning helps you to elevate and protect your reputation.
It ensures you’re drawing attention to the most valuable, reputable content your business produces and improves the customer experience on your site. When customers see all of your content is valuable and up-to-date, they’re more likely to keep coming back to your site.
6. Unlock More Revenue
According to one case study, an effective content pruning strategy can improve your “revenue-producing content strategy.” The Home Science Tools company removed 10% of the content they had on their site, using a careful strategy.
After pruning the content, the company saw a 104% increase in organic sessions, a 64% increase in strategic content revenue, and a 102% increase in transactions.
The Challenges of Content Pruning: What to Watch For
While content pruning can have a lot of benefits, there are risks to consider. Every time you remove content from your site, you’ll need to think carefully about whether you’re eliminating something that could deliver value to your customers or business in the future.
The most common challenges to be aware of include:
- Removing too much content: Removing a high quantity of content decreases the size of your site and gives Google fewer pages to index. Additionally, limited content could harm your authority, making it harder to position your business as a thought leader.
- Reducing value: Even if you think certain content isn’t performing as well as it should, it may have some value for your site. If your content is still ranking for the keywords it targets but it doesn’t get a lot of traffic, it may still be worthwhile.
- Deleting backlinks: While removing unnecessary internal backlinks and low-quality backlinks from other companies is helpful, you don’t want to get rid of them all. Backlinks are valuable for showcasing your site’s authority to Google and the search engines.
How Often Should You Prune Your Content?
With all of this in mind, it’s worth thinking about how often you should commit time to content pruning. If you have a smaller website with fewer pages, you might start pruning every 3-6 months. Alternatively, if you have a much larger site with lots of pages, you should probably be doing some basic pruning tasks on a monthly basis.
The chances are you’ll be working on your content strategy and structure regularly anyway, so it makes sense to check if there’s anything you should prune as you work.
If you don’t have a content pruning strategy already, or you’re not seeing great results from your work, here are a few signs you need to update your plan or prune more often:
- Your organic traffic has dropped or flatlined
- You’re receiving comments about outdated information
- Pages aren’t ranking well on the search engines for their keywords
- Engagement on social media and other channels is waning
The Content Pruning Process: A Step-by-Step Guide
Although content pruning might seem like a complex process, it really only takes around 4 steps. Notably, these steps all require a significant amount of work, depending on how much content you have to assess and prune. Let’s dive into the process.
Step 1: Creating a Content Inventory
Before you start pruning your content, you’ll need to get a comprehensive insight into all of the assets you currently have. A “content audit” allows you to dive into your full content strategy, making it easier to see any gaps in your plan and any potential problems.
If you have a relatively small website with just a handful of pages, you can probably complete this process manually. Larger websites can create content lists automatically using tools like Screaming Frog, Google Analytics, and Google Console.
For this initial stage, the focus should be on collecting as much information as possible; for each piece of content, you should list the following:
- Article name
- Publication date
- Primary keywords
Most SEO tools will be able to simplify the process by crawling your content for you and even feeding you recommendations. You can explore options like Ahrefs, SEMRush, and even ContentKing if you’re having trouble.
Step 2: Gathering Performance Metrics
Once you have your complete list of content, the next step is evaluating how well it’s performing or how much value it’s delivering for your site. Most of the information you’ll need to gather here will be accessed via Google Search Console and Google Analytics.
The exact metrics you monitor may vary depending on your content goals, but some of the key things to look at include:
Visits and Conversions
Start by examining how many people are visiting your page (the general level of traffic) and how the traffic number has changed in the last 6-12 months. This will help you to identify whether your pages are losing appeal to your customers. Remember, your traffic will naturally drop a little after a while, but you should still be attracting visitors.
Next, examine how many conversions you were able to cultivate from the page content. Look at the number of people clicking on your links and call-to-action buttons.
This is one of the few things you’ll need to assess yourself rather than relying exclusively on metrics from Google Analytics. Examine your blog post or article, and ask yourself whether it contains outdated information, such as stats and statements from previous years.
Another way to assess content value is by looking at whether the content is “thin.” If a page only includes around 500 words and covers a comprehensive topic, the chances are you haven’t gone into enough detail with your piece.
Internal and External Links
As mentioned above, a good backlink network is essential to your SEO standing. You need internal links in your pages to help your customers navigate through your website. Similarly, you need backlinks from authoritative brands to help boost your site’s credibility.
You should be able to find the number of internal links to a URL using the Google Search Console by clicking on “Links” followed by “Internal Links.” You can see the number of external domains linking to a page through a tool like Ahrefs. While you can remove content that includes low-quality backlinks, avoid getting rid of anything with high-quality links.
Social Performance and Engagement Metrics
If your content has a lot of engagement from customers, even if it doesn’t rank highly on the search engine result pages, it’s still clearly delivering value to your customers and helping to elevate your brand. You can use tools like BuzzSumo to find out how many people are sharing your content online or leverage social media monitoring and analytics tools.
If a page has a low level of engagement, it might be worth comparing it to other highly engaging posts to see where you could be going wrong.
Other SEO issues
There are other SEO-focused metrics that can also help you determine which content you should be pruning. For instance, if your page has a high bounce rate, this could be a sign that you’re not delivering the content your customers are looking for.
If your page has duplicate content from other pages, or it’s cannibalizing your rankings for other keywords, you might want to combine various pages into one piece.
Step 3: Choosing What to Do With Your Content
Finally, it’s time to decide what you’re going to do with the content that’s not performing as well as you’d like. Pruning content doesn’t have to mean deleting it from your website entirely – though that can be the right choice for some pages.
Here are a few options for what you can do with outdated, low-quality, or underperforming pieces.
Refresh, Update, and Improve
Refreshing your content with new, up-to-date information and valuable insights is one of the best ways to improve and maintain good SEO health. First, it gives you the opportunity to capitalize on the efforts you’ve already made in content creation. Secondly, it means you don’t have to eliminate pieces from your website if they have the potential to rank or earn traffic.
When updating or refreshing your content, you can:
- Expand on thin content with more granular (useful insights)
- Update old statistics and statements
- Implement new SEO strategies and keywords to encourage growth
- Update the headers, metadata, and other SEO information
- Re-promote the content across social media
- Add new pictures, videos, and multi-media components
Consolidating or Repurposing
When you encounter two pieces of content on your website that cover similar topics, there are a few ways you can protect your SEO potential. The first option is to repurpose the content to cover something slightly different. For instance, if you have two articles about “SEO strategies,” you might focus one on tactics for B2B companies and one on strategies for B2C.
The other option (aside from deleting one piece of content) is to consolidate both of the articles into the same piece. Take the best parts from both articles or blogs and restructure the content to suit your needs. You can even turn multiple articles into an eBook or whitepaper.
Removing Content Completely
Although removing content entirely isn’t the only way to prune your website, it might be the best option in some cases. If your pages feature low-quality, thin, or duplicate content, then it’s best to scrap them and start from scratch with something new.
Just keep in mind that even removing low-performing content from your website can have an impact on your website traffic. It’s best to remove content in stages. Get rid of the most problematic content first and monitor your metrics before you continue. You could always consider making content non-indexable if it has value for your audience but not for your SEO strategy.
Track and Measure Your Results
Finally, after each pruning session, pay attention to how your overall traffic, engagement, and search engine rankings change. You can use tools like Google Search Console, Ahrefs, and SEMRush for insights into how your page and domain authority are improving and how your content is performing.
If you’re seeing positive results from your pruning efforts, you can move on to the next set of articles in your list you’ve been thinking about pruning. If you don’t see any positive changes, this could be a sign that you need to change your pruning criteria.
For instance, you might be focusing too heavily on a keyword’s ranking potential and not on the traffic and engagement it delivers to your site.
Quick Tips for Reducing Content Pruning in the Future
Though content pruning is a valuable process and an essential part of a good marketing strategy, it can be a draining and time-consuming endeavor. If you want to spend less time pruning and more time focusing on ways to grow your business, these tips should help:
- Create content calendars: A content calendar gives you an opportunity to strategically plan every piece of content you produce. This reduces the risk of you randomly producing pieces simply because you think certain topics are trending. The calendar will also give you a handy list of articles you need to monitor for future pruning efforts.
- Be mindful of the content you create: Some types of content are more likely to become outdated or irrelevant quickly. Articles related to specific trends or statistics published in a specific year will need to be regularly updated. It’s worth creating a list of these, so you know which articles you’ll need to focus on when pruning.
- Optimize every piece of content: Before producing anything, make sure you conduct extensive keyword research. Find out how competitive a particular term will be to rank for and how much traffic you can expect to get. This will help you to focus your content creation efforts on the pieces that drive the most value.
Making the Most of Content Pruning
Ultimately, if you want healthy plants and trees in the horticultural world, you need to prune them regularly. Similarly, if you want a healthy website, you need to ensure you’re regularly pruning your content. Quality always matters more than quantity in the content marketing industry.
Focus on regularly auditing your content and eliminating or updating anything that doesn’t deliver value to your customers or your business. The process will take work, but it should pay dividends when it comes to boosting your traffic and SEO score.
If you need help with content pruning or any aspect of your content marketing strategy, reach out to the Growth Collective for guidance from a content expert.
How do I prune content in SEO?
In the SEO world, content pruning is all about removing or updating articles on your website that aren’t driving positive search results. Audit your content regularly, delete or refresh anything that isn’t relevant anymore, and avoid duplicate, thin, or low-quality pieces.
What is content decay?
Content decay in SEO is a term often used to refer to the natural decay rate of a content’s value. Over time, content can become less relevant or valuable to your audience. It may also become outdated. Monitoring content decay is an important part of content pruning.
What tools do you need to prune content?
Alongside access to your own content management system, you’ll also need some analytical tools, such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console. You can also improve your content pruning strategy with paid tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, and Surfer SEO.