spring cleaning for digital content

Mostly, we focus on generating new, high quality content to drive more traffic, not getting rid of stuff you already have.

But, sometimes getting rid of content gives your website a real boost. Getting rid of blog content willy nilly can totally backfire — creating a host of 404s (content not found) and costing you valuable backlinks to that content.

So, you need a plan spring cleaning for digital content: what to keep, what to update, and what to delete.

Here’s my list of blog content you should delete ASAP: (read more on the debate over deleting old content here).

Spring cleaning for digital content

Digital content delete #1: Old SEO

In the bad old days a few years ago — before Penguin, Panda, and Hummingbird — content writers commonly did something called “keyword stuffing”. Keyword stuffing involves using the same keyword over and over, often creating nonsense content just for the Google robot.

Let’s say my keyword were bbq chicken. Keyword stuffing might look like:

Bbq chicken is tasty bbq chicken every day bbq chicken tastes yummy. We bbq chicken sometimes but sometimes eat bbq chicken in summer. Bbq chicken for lunch. Bbq chicken for dinner. Recipes with bbq chicken with spicy sauce.

This paragraph is pure nonsense, but I used the keyword 8 times in a short paragraph.

If you have old content that looks like this, removing it might be just what the doctor ordered to increase traffic to your site.

Digital content delete #2: short content

By today’s standards, old posts were too short. Today, writers strive (or should be striving) for content that’s 1200+ words. Old content might be as short as 300 words — the recommended minimum just 4 years ago.

Likely, these short posts provide very little value. I mean, how much value can possibly exist in 300 words. That’s only a long paragraph!

Digital content delete #3: worthless content

Some content is just dated. For instance, I used to run an event every Friday called “Ask a Marketing Expert”. I opened up my Facebook page to anyone having a question about digital marketing, then invited experts to pop in and answer the questions. Some weeks we had a lively discussion, some weeks were pretty lonely. Over time, I evolved “Ask a Marketing Expert” into my Social Media Marketing Tribe, a Facebook group where we have these discussions on a continual basis and experts share their content.

Every week, I posted a recap of the conversation. At the time, these were valuable and promoted the “Ask a Marketing Expert” event. Now, they’re just plain useless.

Warning: Evergreen content

Not all old content is worthless and deserving of deletion.

Some content is evergreen — meaning it still drives traffic to your site despite it’s age.

I have a piece of evergreen content that still drives a considerable amount of traffic to my site. It’s on perceptual mapping. For YEARS, this single post was the most viewed page on my entire website. Even now, it gets significant traffic because I’m in the first position for this keyword.

Never delete evergreen content. You can, and should, update it periodically, but never delete it.

Digital content delete #4: Duplicate content

Sometimes duplicate content creeps in. Maybe you meant to go back and delete that draft, but, instead, published it. Maybe you forgot you already posted something based on an image or infographics, so you post it again.

Whatever the reason, duplicate content can kill your site.

Delete.

Caveats for spring cleaning for digital content

Sure, it’s like abandoning an infant in the woods; getting rid of content you worked and slaved over. You put in hours creating the content, then more time (and money) promoting the content through social networks and influencers.

Now, you want me to get rid of it?

I’m sorry. But, that’s the reality of Google ranking today. Old posts that are short, worthless, and written for robots rather than humans hurt your site and may be dragging down the ranking of the entire site even though you’re creating new, valuable content on a consistent basis.

So, what should you do?

Analyze your pages, set up redirects, then delete pages.

Spring cleaning for digital content: analyze pages

First, figure out which content performs well and which should be deleted.

Remember, Google (and Yahoo) ranking is based on number of indexed pages and number and quality of backlinks to the content. Factors such as social shares also impact your ranking significantly. So, getting rid of indexed pages should be weighed against the quality of that page in terms of # of readers, # social shares, # backlinks.

Cognitive SEO offers some great tips, tricks, and how-tos for spring cleaning for digital content. I encourage you to read their post.

Let me summarize their points, plus add a few of my own.

Analyze.

First, you should discover pages that aren’t indexed by Google.

Very large sites might use Google Webmaster Tools to analyze their pages. The downside is that all crawled pages are listed in this resource even though not all of them were indexed. An alternative is to use a bookmarklet created by Cognitive SEO and available from their link above. By using the bookmarklet on a page containing your site (by entering site:yoursite.extension into the search bar), you’ll get both the anchor text and links to the content on your site.

Copy and paste the CSV file generated by the bookmarklet into an Excel spreadsheet. Once you’ve repeated the process for all your results, you can identify pages that aren’t ranked and can easily be eliminated.

Doing this for my site identified nearly 300 pieces of content that weren’t indexed.

Next, get identify of low performing content. Webmaster Tools is the right tool for this task.

spring cleaning for digital content

Here’s what you’ll see in the Search Console. Under Search Traffic, you’ll see Search Queries (the new version of webmaster tools calls this Search Analytics and it doesn’t display correctly for me (it’s in Beta, so you can expect bugs).

Once you get results, by Pages (not Queries), you can select to sort by impressions, clicks, CTR (Click Through Rate), or SERPs Position. You then consider pruning content that performs poorly on any or all of these measures.

For instance, I have some content that performs well, but doesn’t have a lot of impressions. That means folks aren’t searching that keyword very frequently. Other content doesn’t perform so well, but, because of the high number of impressions, drives lots of traffic to my site — Clicks. Hence, I generally sort by Clicks and expand my date range to the most recent available — usually 90 days.

I export this table to an Excel spreadsheet and now have candidates for deletion.

But, I’m not done yet.

I don’t want to delete content that’s performing well on social. So, I’ll also download metrics from Facebook and Twitter (if you’re using other networks, include them as well. Build a relational database using the page slug as the key so you have a table with not only how a particular page performs on search, but also on social.

Finally, you need to consider backlinks, a major ranking factor. NEVER delete content that has good backlinks. So, run a backlink analysis on your content and add that to your relational database.

Now, you have candidates for deletion and you’ve almost finished spring cleaning for digital content.

One last task.

Review your candidates for deletion. Are any of these posts particularly good (well written, on a trending topic of interest to readers, and obey current SEO standards)? If so, maybe they just need a little sprucing up, rather than deletion.

I mean, after all, you put a lot of work into creating them and you don’t want to be too hasty in getting rid of them.

So, instead, a re-write may be necessary. Maybe:

  • combine two shorter posts into one longer, more valuable post
  • focus on different keywords and manage the number of incidences of that keywords
  • update the content with newer concepts and better links

Redirect.

After going through this entire process for spring cleaning for digital content, you’ll likely have good candidates for deletion. But, you’re not done yet.

Before deleting the content, you need to set up redirects.

A redirect is like a change of address card you’d give the postal carrier to send your mail to your new address. Even content that has little traffic may get a stray visit or two and getting 404’s provides a poor user experience and hurts your ranking.

I use a WordPress plugin called Redirection to manage all my redirects. You can either redirect the URL to your main blog page or to the category from the original post. Or, set up a redirect to a related topic.

Delete.

Now, it’s finally safe to delete your content and finish spring cleaning for digital content.

I like to play it safe and retain a copy of the content, just in case I ever decide to use it again or accidentally delete something important.