The Ins And Outs of Content Pruning: Utilizing it to Boost SEO
Calling all content marketers. It’s time to whip out those shears and start pruning. Of course, I’m not suggesting you don your overalls, and trim your deciduous shrubs into an ornate renaissance lion. No, I’m talking topiary of the written kind!
Websites need pruning just like an award-winning garden to keep content looking fresh, but marketers often neglect this process in favor of a “more is more” approach. In this blog post, I’ll be discussing the ins and outs of content pruning, and how you can utilize it to boost on-site SEO in your business.
What is Content Pruning?
Industry blogging is all the rage. Whether you’ve got teams writing about legacy modernization services or digital transformations, you’ll need to ensure that your content remains organized.
Content pruning is the process of removing or updating old pages on your site. Typically this involves removing low-performing, outdated, or obsolete content from your online platforms. Often, teams leave old, redundant content in the archives believing that more is more. In reality, keeping content that is no longer relevant can do more harm than good.
Much like an expert gardener would prune the trees and bushes in their garden, expert marketers must prune away any outdated, irrelevant, dead-weight content from their websites. That could be anything from a blog post with obsolete information to low-engagement pages or unnecessary duplicate content. Pruning involves either getting rid of or updating content so that it’s fresh and relevant for readers, and your website continues to perform well on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Why is Pruning Important?
Content pruning is more than just spring cleaning for your website. Keeping content fresh is important for everything from user experience to optimizing your SEO efforts. Outdated content can negatively impact search engine results by slowing traffic and lowering search results rankings - two things no content marketer ever wants to hear!
Maintaining a regular content cleanup regime will help your business stay on top of the search engine results pages, and help you understand which types of content generate the best results. For example, you might notice that shorter blog posts have been performing poorly. Armed with this insight, you can prioritize information-rich, long-form content. Without pruning, that issue would have gone unnoticed.
How Content Pruning Helps SEO
Content pruning helps SEO by allowing your best and most relevant content to stand out to Google crawlers, and other search engine algorithms. Populating your website with every piece of content you’ve created will only confuse search engines, and leave your content fighting for dominance amongst a sea of competitors. Giving search engines less to process means they index more of your content and direct searchers to your most relevant posts.
The Benefits of Content Pruning
As well as boosting SEO performance, keeping your content library well-pruned provides many additional benefits. When we prioritize quality over quantity, we add value to the content, and our brands.
Let’s take a look at some of these benefits in more detail.
Keep Your Site Up-To-Date
To remain relevant and reputable amongst your target readership, content must always be kept topical, and up-to-date. An article from 2005 just isn’t going to cut it (no matter how well it performed at the time). Out-of-date information and data will hurt your reputation, frustrate your audience, and impact your page rankings.
Direct Readers to the Most Relevant Content
Quality content should engage and educate readers. Reducing the amount of dead-weight content on your website will help readers quickly find the answers they’re looking for by directing them to your most valuable articles, blog posts, and information.
Add Value to Your Links
Part of the content pruning process involves cleaning up your links. Removing links to outdated content adds value to your internal and external linking by ensuring that you will only direct readers to high-quality, authoritative web pages that help answer their questions head-on.
How Often Should I Prune My Content?
Content pruning isn’t a one-fix wonder. For all businesses (large and small), it’s a process that needs to be revisited continuously. The amount of pruning needed depends on the size of your business. Generally, it is recommended that large websites review their content every three months. Not only does this keep your content library looking fresh, but it also helps marketing teams monitor content performance over time, and make necessary changes accordingly.
What Content Should I Prune?
Pruning content is a delicate balance. There’s a fine line between the perfect prune, and shearing away all your hard-earned traffic. The best way to approach a content clean-up is to divide your existing content library into four categories:
1. Content that Needs Updating: sometimes, the only thing holding back a piece of otherwise valuable content is an out-of-date stat. In cases like these, where not much needs changing, there’s no need for a complete overhaul. You can simply refresh the content with relevant, timely information, and republish.
For example, say you’ve got a great blog post published on your site about cold calling tools, but it contains a stat about changing customer perceptions of cold calling between 2009, and 2013. There’s no need to delete this otherwise excellent piece of content. Simply switch out that stat with some new data.
2. Content that Needs Improving: sometimes, you might have a blog post on a super topical theme that isn’t hitting the mark. In a situation like this, it’s best to work on upgrading the quality of that particular piece of content by adding more relevant information, improving the design, or even adding informative images or videos.
This is most likely to happen with more informative pieces. For example, a long-form blog post answering the question “what is a contact center?” might be full of super relevant information but is somehow falling flat. In this case, it’s time to look beyond the info, and add value with a tutorial video or engaging visuals.
3. Duplicate Content that can be Combined: when content libraries are left to accumulate, marketing teams often find themselves with a lot of duplicate content. For example, you might have a long-form blog post, a whitepaper, and a shorter article that all tackle the topic of video call apps. This can confuse readers and search engines, so it’s worth consolidating the best information across these sources into one killer piece.
4. Content that Needs Re-forming: sometimes everything about a piece of content hits the mark, except its format. If you’ve got a really informative content item that isn’t gaining traction, try re-forming it for another platform. For example, an overcomplicated article might do better as an eBook, and a short (but punchy) blog post will likely perform well on social media platforms like LinkedIn.
How to Prune Content Effectively
Now we know what we should be pruning from our content libraries, let’s talk about how to prune content most effectively to boost SEO, and user-friendliness. Follow these four steps to prune your content, and you’ll be ready to go in no time.
Step 1: Conduct Content Inventory
The first step is to take inventory of your content. This involves making a comprehensive list of your existing content, including written content, images, files, and video content. There are lots of tools out there to help you do this. Once you’ve compiled your inventory, consolidate any duplicate items (e.g., if you have two similar blog posts on, say, cloud migration) so that you’re left will a list of your unique content pieces. At this point, it can be super helpful to go through each item and label each piece of content with its relevant criteria (target audience, target keyword & search query, goal and purpose of the content, etc.).
Step 2: Conduct a Content Audit
Step two is to conduct a content audit. This involves scoring, and ranking the content from your inventory according to individual performance levels. Use a web analytics tool to assess the general performance of each piece of content over the last 12 months, and generate actional reports from your SEO data.
Assess critical metrics such as:
- Volume of traffic generated
- Number of qualified leads captured
- Number of internal links
- Number of external links
- Bounce rate
- Social performance (e.g., shares)
Then ask yourself the following questions:
- Does it contain outdated information?
- Does it contain thin content (pages with a low word count)?
- Is it unique, or is it cannibalizing other content?
At this point, it will become clear which content items need ditching altogether and which can be updated, and improved in some way.
Step 3: Decide to Prune or Improve
It’s time to start making those final calls. To prune or to improve? Deciding whether to ditch a piece of content altogether can be tricky. If in doubt, consider these criteria for content that belongs in the compost heap.
Content belongs in the compost heap if it:
- Fails to generate traffic
- Contains little-to-no links
- Performs poorly on social media
- Contains too much-outdated information
- Contains thin content
- Cannibalizes other content
Remember that not everything will be destined for the bin. Good content that is guilty of some of these sins can still be salvaged. There are many ways to improve and repurpose content so that it starts to perform better.
Ways to enhance, and repurpose content include:
- Update off-page and on-page SEO
- Update your keyword research
- Work on a link-building strategy
- Rework key ranking factors like title tags, alt text, headings, and meta description
- Remove outdated sections
- Trim/ add to content
- Merge, and consolidate similar items
- Re-form content (e.g., turn a short blog post into a simple FAQ)
- Reduce image sizes for improved page load time
Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate
Once your pruning is complete, don’t just walk away until next time. Spend some time in your metaphorical content garden. It’s time for some post-prune evaluation. It’s super important to understand the impact of pruning on your business. This will help you fine-tune the pruning process in the future and develop a content library that appeals to both search engines and readers.
Revisit those performance metrics, and core web vitals to see what has (or hasn’t) changed post-prune. Figure out what did, and what didn’t work. If your organic traffic has dropped off since your pruning session, did you delete too much, too fast? Pick a few key metrics that will form the basis of your pruning strategy, and that you can return to for evaluation after each month.
Can I Prevent Future Pruning?
Even though pruning should be a systematic process, there are ways to prevent your content library from overgrowing. The reality is that not everyone begins from the same starting line. Many businesses will have a veritable jungle of content that needs to be siphoned through. In cases like these, the best course of action is to undergo what I like to call a ‘mega prune’ followed by a period of planning to help prevent any future content pruning marathons.
These tips will help you keep on top of your content library, and avoid lengthy content pruning sessions in the future:
- Create a Content Calendar: create a plan for future content that includes what content is going to be created, the form it will take, where it will be posted, and when it will be posted. For example, you might schedule the publication of a LinkedIn post on the topic of testing meltdown and spectre on the second Monday in August, followed by a listicle on the best CRMs for SMBs on the third Monday in September. Having your content planned like this helps teams distribute content more effectively and align content with business, and marketing goals.
- Identify any Gaps: consistently assess your content to identify areas where gaps, and areas are suffering from oversaturation. For example, a healthcare provider might have recent blog posts on contract management software features, and contract management best practices. Another post on this theme would lead to oversaturation. Ideally, your content should be distributed equally over all areas of relevance to your business.
- Audit Content Regularly: it is important to schedule a content audit at regular intervals. Instead of once a year, audit your content once a month or once a quarter. This helps prevent unpleasant surprises and means you’ll keep tabs on what is, and isn’t working.
- Schedule ‘Top-Up’ prunes: content relevance and performance are subject to many variables, so there’s no way of avoiding some pruning now, and then. Scheduling ‘top-up’ prunes keeps content fresh, and mean you’ll avoid any future ‘total recall’ situations.
Boost SEO with Periodic Pruning
So, there we have it. If you want to know how to be an ambassador for a brand, then learning to prune content successfully is a must. Pruning isn’t just for plants, it’s for content, and every marketing department needs to be an expert in this topiary. Regular content pruning will keep your content fresh for readers, and perform at its best on the SERPs.