Content Pruning: What It Is and Why It’s Important

Reading Time: 7 minutes
Shelby Catalano
By Shelby Catalano

March 28, 2022

With an ever-changing Google algorithm, it takes constant vigilance to generate relevant, thought-provoking content that will be seen. We’ve all gone to a site and had to backpedal due to it being years old or irrelevant to our initial question. At its core, this is why content pruning is essential as the years go on and content builds on your site.

I’ll explain the full extent of content pruning in this post so you can make strategic decisions around your SEO and content this year and into the future.

What is Content Pruning?

You prune your plants to watch them grow healthier and happier. This simple act of removing weeds and dead branches makes your garden stronger. It creates room for your healthy greens to continue growing and flourishing. The same is true for your onsite content which, although not technically living, is also organic! (cue the ba dum tss.)

The term “content pruning” refers to the act of removing outdated or low-quality content from a website. As time passes, old blog posts or web pages may become outdated or even irrelevant altogether. In many cases, old content can (hopefully) be updated with new information, graphics, and resource links to make it current. 

In other cases, you may be better off removing the content from your website altogether. This includes any page or content offer that…

  • Promotes an outdated perspective
  • Describes a product or service your company no longer offers
  • Does not serve your company mission
  • Does not attract backlinks
  • Poses legal issues

Removing such pages can give your website performance a significant boost. It may seem counterintuitive. After all, more content equals better rankings, right? Wrong.

More good content will help you rank. But low-performing content can weigh your site down and dilute your topic authority if you are covering too many disparate subjects at once. This is why content pruning should receive just as much attention as content creation.  

All your content, including website copy and blogs, needs to be updated consistently – and possibly removed – to provide the most value for readers. 

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Why Take the Time for Content Pruning?

Why should you spend time updating old pages instead of creating new ones? Because outdated content can lead to a drop in rankings. Improving and optimizing old content is beneficial because it:

  • Drives more engagement and trust with your audience
  • Improves SEO metrics such as time on page
  • Makes your higher quality content more accessible 
  • Increase page views and conversions

How To Maximize Your Content Pruning Efforts

Content pruning is part of a holistic content marketing strategy. If you’re not continuously optimizing, refreshing, and removing content that isn’t relevant to your audience, you’re likely hurting your chance to rank and establish rapport with visitors.

Content marketing isn’t just about creating content but regularly weeding out the outdated and and low-quality pieces, as well. This helps to ensure your best assets shine and rank well in search engine algorithms.

Audit Older Content 

Depending on the amount of content you have, conduct a semi-annual or annual audit of your pieces to see how they’re ranking. Indicators of decaying content include the following:

  • decreased rank
  • decreased page views
  • decreased conversions
  • and an increased bounce rate

Spending some with these metrics will help you establish a list of pieces to prune. From there, you can decide whether it’s best to optimize, refresh, or delete entirely.

Note: While it’s normal to have a relatively high bounce rate on blogs, a sudden dramatic increase can indicate users aren’t finding value in your content and are quickly leaving.

Refresh and Reuse Content When Applicable

You work hard on your content – so lift and optimize when applicable! This means using Google Analytics or other SEO tools to evaluate where updating keywords, stats, backlinks, or combining other pieces can create more value for your target audience(s). A refresh can do wonders for revitalizing and adding newer, more helpful tidbits that drive page views and more recent insights.

blog performance after content update

Updated content can lead to improved performance

A checklist for refreshes includes the following tasks:

  • Add fresh backlinks to internal pages you want to rank for 
  • Check formatting, including headers, meta titles, and meta descriptions for optimization
  • Update statistics, as there are likely new ones from anything older than 1-2 years
  • Include relevant videos, audio clips, or graphics to improve time on page
  • Review keywords used in the post and update to rank higher on Google

Delete Decaying Pieces

The term “decaying content” refers to blogs or other pages that have taken a sharp dip in rank, page views, or conversions over the last year (or longer). Many of us feel removing any content can feel like a waste, but it’s not. Think of it as clearing room for better, more relevant information that users will benefit from. 

blog performance showing content decay over time

Removing decaying content is especially helpful if there are concepts that are no longer relevant to your industry. Take a close look at the pages and decide whether it’s worth the effort to refresh or delete them entirely – or even morph multiple pieces together into a long-form pillar page. 

While I don’t recommend taking broad strokes and mass deleting, you’d be surprised how much content can be duplicative, irrelevant, or not needed anymore since you’ve got something better that covers the point sufficiently. 

Content Pruning Is an Easy Win

The priority lists will always have things that supersede content refreshes and pruning, but don’t underestimate the effectiveness of content pruning! Optimizing and flushing out irrelevant content establishes you as a thought leader and prioritizes a positive user experience for people landing on your site – and that’s always going to be what search engines reward.

So keep the end-user in mind and prune your content garden regularly. Even if it’s one piece a week, that’s 52 pieces you’ll have refreshed, optimized, or deleted! Every little bit counts, so be sure to add this into your yearly rotation of content audits and keep your best pieces front and center. 

If you’re curious about pursuing other tips to grow content for your business, check out our Growth Stack Guide below.

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