Marketing Strategy
How Content Pruning Can Boost Website SEO

How Content Pruning Can Boost Website SEO

June 15, 2021
6 min read

When you hear the word “pruning,” you might think back to when you were a kid – your mother working out in the yard, chopping away at unruly bushes with an old pair of garden shears. The whole point of pruning is to remove old stems and uncover younger ones – letting the light in and stimulating new growth.

The same concept goes for your website. Content pruning is an essential part of every content marketing strategy. Removing old and irrelevant content can uncover stuff you want people to see. It can also create more space for new content production.

Many businesses today went through a phase of pumping out as much content as possible in as little time as they could. If you participated in that rat race, you might have accumulated a lot of low-quality, trivial, unfocused, or thin content that’s still sitting on your website.

It’s time to audit and assess what you have so you can decide what should stay and what must go. That’s where content pruning comes in. It’s a practice every marketing team should adopt to analyze what assets they already have – and avoid adding to content bloat.

Quick Takeaways

  • Removing old, irrelevant content can uncover the stuff you want people to see. It can also create space for new content production.
  • Content pruning is a process of analyzing your web content and removing any pages that offer little or no value to your business or target audience.
  • If you have content that’s too thin, covers too many topics at once, is outdated, or lacks value, it may be time to scrap it.
  • Your website requires ongoing maintenance. Pruning should be a regular part of your content marketing strategy.
  • The content pruning process involves three straightforward steps: taking inventory, running a content audit, and removing what is no longer serving you.

What is Content Pruning?

Content pruning is a process of analyzing your website content and then removing or updating any pages that offer little or no value to your business or target audience.

We’re doing a ton more content pruning with our clients (and ourselves) this year as a way to improve content marketing performance and shine a light on your best content.

Low-performing, low-quality, and outdated content may do more harm than good. If information becomes irrelevant to your business or is no longer helping consumers, it shouldn’t remain on your website.

Pruning doesn’t always mean deleting content completely. Sometimes, you can “hide” content from visitors and search engines so they can no longer access it. That way, it won’t impact your public image or search rankings.

Just like pruning a bush, you can prune your website if you have content that’s holding you back and preventing growth. We don’t mean removing random pages or blocks of copy. Pruning is a strategy to improve the health and potential of your website. Removing old or worthless pieces can make room for new growth and impact.

Keep in mind that age alone doesn’t make content irrelevant or outdated. Some of your oldest content may be among the top-performing – if you continue optimizing and keeping stats up to date over time.

Here are several signs that your content needs pruning:

  • It’s too thin (doesn’t have depth).
  • It’s too broad (covers too many topics on one page).
  • It lacks value.
  • It’s outdated.
  • The viewpoint is unpopular, too controversial, or inappropriate for your audience and niche.

A tree that represents the purpose of content pruning

Source: G2

Why You Should Prune Your Content Regularly

If you want Google and other search engines to view your website as trustworthy and engaging, you need to keep all your content updated, optimized for search, and high quality. Content pruning can help you identify which pieces are holding you back, which pages you can combine, and what content needs some TLC to perform better.

The pruning process should be recurring. In other words, you should clean up your website regularly. It’s an ongoing process. If you want your online presence to continue performing as well as possible, you must maintain it. The longer you wait in between “pruning sessions,” the more work you could have on your hands.

Try adding content pruning to your monthly content marketing task list to keep your website clear of clutter. If you do, you could experience numerous benefits:

  • Your website will be of higher quality overall.
  • You’ll avoid the embarrassment of users stumbling across old content you’re no longer proud of or content that’s irrelevant to your current brand.
  • You can create a better user experience for every visitor.
  • Showcase your best work.
  • Organize your content to lead users seamlessly through the buyer’s journey.
  • Ensure that every link leads users to a relevant, authoritative, and helpful destination.
  • Remove “dead weight,” making it easier for Google bots to crawl your site so the search engine can index more content and boost your rankings.

Implementing the Content Pruning Process

Content pruning involves three straightforward steps: taking inventory, running a content audit, and removing what is no longer serving you.

1. Take Inventory of Your Content

Start by making a list of all your content. In addition to blog posts, articles, and other webpage content, include PDFs, videos, graphics, images, and any other content-related assets you have on your website. Start by conducting some research to determine how each page on your website is performing. That way, you’ll know how valuable each page is.

Decide which metrics you want to track in your inventory spreadsheet. Base metrics on your content marketing goals and how you define success. Basic categories to add to your spreadsheet for each page or article should include:

  • Article/page title
  • URL
  • Author
  • Original publish date
  • Update date
  • A metric to measure how much traffic your content is getting (like page sessions over a specific timeframe)

You can gather this information using a web publishing tool or content management system (CMS) if you have one. Also consider adding metrics like conversions, backlinks, keywords, and referring domains. A tool like Semrush or Ahrefs can help you acquire this data quickly.

After organizing your data, you should have an organized spreadsheet filled with unique URLs that Google has already indexed. Add three more columns to fill in the following in the next step:

  • Your goals for each page
  • Search queries/target keywords you want to rank for
  • The content’s intended audience

2. Conduct a Content Audit

During your audit, you can identify which pages are underperforming. That way, you can decide what you want to keep, improve, or get rid of to enhance your website. You can score each piece of content based on its quality and performance. Try creating a ranking system based on specific criteria, or define key benchmarks content must reach to remain on your site.

For example, in a ranking system, maybe “1” means your content is outdated, poor quality, and needs to go. A “3” could mean your content is optimized, valuable, and doesn’t need any work at this time. “2” would then mean the page needs work, but you’ll probably keep it.

You can find a lot of valuable performance data using free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console. In most cases, if your content hasn’t gotten any clicks or traffic in the past year or two, you should probably scrap it. It’s no longer serving a purpose. It might even be negatively affecting your domain authority and site rankings.

3. Update or Prune Poor-Quality Content

Once you’ve conducted your audit and ranked each piece of content, it’s time to choose an action. For every page, you will do one of three things:

  • Leave it as is – if it’s fresh, getting traffic, and already engaging. You can also mark content that doesn’t require immediate action but note that it will need some minor updates eventually, so you’ll remember to address it later.
  • Improve underperforming content to improve its quality and make it more engaging.
  • Prune the content from your website (delete, hide, or unpublish).

Updating old content with potential can save you a lot of time and resources. However, some content isn’t worth saving and may be more work to preserve than toss.

Optimizing and Updating Content

Chances are, much of your content will fall into this category. Repurposing, updating, optimizing, and consolidating are all ways to improve the content you already have. Here are some options:

  • Replace old research with new findings and statistics.
  • Fill gaps by adding more information.
  • Go more in-depth on shallow topics.
  • Optimize for SEO – reworking titles, headers, meta descriptions, and body content.
  • Make sure every page offers value and supports your brand.
  • Acquire new backlinks for higher rankings.
  • Combine several weaker articles covering the same topic into one robust and comprehensive piece.
  • Redirect duplicate content, sending any traffic from the lower-performing page straight to the higher-performing piece.

A chart showing two ways to consolidate content

Source: G2

Removing Content from Search Engines

In some instances, you might have content that your visitors find helpful, but search engines don’t. Blog category pages, for example, may help users navigate your blog but be useless to search engines. A common way to deindex a page is to add a “noindex” tag to a page’s HTML code.

You might also have duplicate content on your website. Maybe you have an ebook you’ve created into a downloadable PDF from a long-form article on your website. In this case, you may want to add a canonical tag to the master copy to prevent search engine problems.

Unpublishing Content

Unpublishing content may be the easiest way to prune it. Remove any interlinks from the page and remove the URL from your XML sitemap (if you have one). Make sure the content is unsalvageable before removing it from your website.

Need Help Pruning Your Content to Stimulate New Growth?

If you’ve never pruned your content before or you don’t have the time or resources to do it in-house, Marketing Insider Group can help. It can be a challenging and time-consuming task, especially if you’ve never done it before.

Our team of expert writers and strategists can jump in and conduct an audit of your current content assets. From there, we can determine what should stay and what should go, keeping your website clean and up to date continually. Set up a free consultation so we can define action steps to help you reach your goals and win new customers with a high-performing website.

Contact Us to get started.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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