All content has a shelf life — even your best-performing, high-quality pieces. Frequently auditing and refreshing your content library can ensure it earns you the most possible ROI over time. When you do it, you’ll often have to decide whether to optimize or delete old content.
But what exactly do you need to consider during the process? Failing to take the proper steps can result in an unintentional ding to your content results — metrics like traffic and backlinks can suffer from even seemingly small changes.
In the sections that follow, we’ll walk through how to know when to optimize vs. delete old content, plus 4 important things to check in either case.
- You should always do a content audit before you begin deleting or optimizing old content.
- Content that hasn’t earned any views or generated any traffic can almost always be deleted.
- Always check page metrics (Google Analytics can help) and be sure to address gaps that may be left by content changes.
- Tools like Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider can help you gather backlink information and ensure you don’t lose them when you delete or optimize old content.
- CTAs generate leads and drive website conversions. Always check and update CTAs along with any other content changes.
Optimize or Delete? Here’s How to Decide
Audit your content
Before you optimize or delete old content, it’s a good idea to get a handle on just how much of it you actually have. Google Analytics is a great tool for doing it, but there’s one hiccup to using it for this purpose — it won’t show you pages that haven’t earned any traffic or views.
For this reason, I recommend a two-step approach to your site audit. Start with a page crawler like Screaming Frog to perform a comprehensive content audit across your entire site. Then, combine it with your data from Google Analytics to rank every page using SEO performance KPIs like traffic, page views, time spent on page, conversions and more.
If you have a Screaming Frog license (about $200 per year) you can directly integrate it with Google Analytics for totally seamless site analytics.
Eliminate the worst-performing content
While no rule is without exceptions, this one is pretty close. Content that’s been published for some time but has failed to earn any traffic or views is clearly not providing value to your audience. Instead, it could be making it harder for Google to crawl your site and find the pages most important for ranking on SERPs.
After you perform your site audit, look first for the pages that have earned little to no results at all. If you find it odd that a certain page isn’t performing, check for technical issues (like a noindex tag) that could be preventing visibility. Otherwise, eliminate this content so it no longer drags your site down.
Next, comb through the rest of your content to evaluate it for relevance. In this context, I consider relevance to mean two things: the content still accurately reflects your brand, and it provides value to your audience (or has potential to do so with some TLC).
For example, a blog article about a discontinued product would be irrelevant and should be deleted. A current product blog article that ranks high but contains outdated information is still relevant and just needs to be updated for accuracy.
Whether you decide to optimize or delete a piece of content, it needs to be done with care so that the changes you make don’t negatively impact your site. In the next two sections, we’ll cover how you can either delete or optimize responsibly by taking specific steps beforehand.
4 Things to Check Before You Delete Old Content
Before you make a final decision about deleting old content, test your assumptions to be sure it’s really no longer contributing to your content strategy. Use Google Analytics to check on page metrics like traffic, time spent on page, visitor demographics, and more to drill down into how your audience is interacting with the content.
Even if you decide you are going to delete said content, you can use the insights you uncover to fill any potential gaps with new content. For example — if this content is no longer relevant but earned views from a particular target demographic, you can create new content to engage that same audience segment instead and/or create a redirect that brings them to a new page.
Check if the content you plan to delete is holding a high-ranked position on SERPs. Consider if you’re willing to give up the visibility you may lose if you remove it. In some cases, it may be no problem to lose the ranking position if it’s for a product, service, or query that’s no longer relevant to your brand.
In cases where you still need to rank for those keyword terms, you may want to consider other options like redirecting or optimizing the content instead.
Some brands choose to simply include a notice at the top of the content that it’s no longer updated, and include a hyperlink to updated content. This way, you don’t lose your ranking position but can still get your audience where they need to be on your site.
Link building is a long-game process that requires a myriad of tactics to earn over time. Losing backlinks to deleted content can seriously hurt your overall traffic if you don’t take steps in advance to prevent it. Especially in cases where you’re deleting a high volume of content (like during an audit or site redesign), it’s critical to account for potential lost traffic from broken backlinks.
Checking on your backlinks is easy using online tools like Ahref’s free backlink checker. All you need to do is enter your domain name, and Ahref’s will show you a list of earned backlinks from your entire site.
Image Source: Ahrefs
Once you’ve identified backlinks from pages you might delete, you can take steps to prevent breaking them. As mentioned, a redirect is an option. But if you plan to delete the entire page, it’s a good idea to reach out to the linking site and ask them to update the URL — they’ll be happy to do so, too, because it helps them avoid broken links on their own site.
Last but not least, consider the purpose of the content before you delete it. Do you still need to fulfill that purpose? If so, is there alternative content on your site that does the job? Take care not to leave gaps in the value you provide your audience by deleting old content without adequate consideration.
4 Things to Check Before Optimizing Old Content
Just like you need to check page metrics before you delete old content, the same applies to optimizing content in new ways. For example: you may want to check the search volume you’re earning for your content’s target keywords before you add or change keywords in an updated version.
Consider also the ways in which the current version of your content is performing well. For instance, is there a lead magnet on your page that’s converting at a high rate? If so, you’ll likely want to keep it there to keep generating leads.
In short: check what’s working before you optimize so that you don’t accidentally eliminate a high-performing contributor to your content strategy.
It’s important to pay attention to backlinks during optimization, too. If you’re combining content or redirecting it elsewhere, you want to be sure you’re keeping your backlinks updated to maintain the traffic they’re generating. Follow the same steps outlined below for what to do before you delete content, including checking your backlinks profile and reaching out to referring sites to update URLs.
Potential to repurpose
Are there ways you can repurpose your content in other ways than simply updating the text content? For example, you can turn popular blog posts into more shareable infographics (like we did with our perfect blog post article). Alternatively, you can recap webinar events in blog posts, or turn a written guide into a how-to video.
Repurposing content to include new types and channels gives new life to content in need of a refresh, helping you to capture new audiences and give traffic a boost.
What role does your content play in the buyer journey? Is it directing readers to a specific page, site, or action? Always check your CTAs and determine if they should stay the same or if they needs an update.
CTAs are one of the most-read parts of your content — 90% of readers who read your headline also read your CTAs — so failing to optimize them can be a huge missed opportunity.
What’s the point?
Deleting and optimizing old content is a sure way to make your website more crawlable for search engines and to increase the overall ROI you earn on your content. But the process shouldn’t be rushed.
Using the tips outlined above, you can be sure you don’t break something that’s working or unintentionally undo the results of your previous hard work (like rankings and backlinks). That said, some lost traffic, rankings, or backlinks are inevitable when you delete and change content over time.
The key is to be intentional about everything you do. As long as you have a plan in place to continue creating high-value content, you can eliminate what’s no longer relevant and still stay visible to the audience that matters post: your potential customers.
Over to You
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Check out our SEO Blog Writing Service or schedule a quick consultation to learn more.