Is Removing Old Content On a Website Good or Bad for SEO?

Last Updated: 19 Aug, 2023

In the vast digital landscape, the question of how to maintain old website content while creating new content remains a debated topic among marketers and content creators. The question surfaces time and again: Is tossing dated content akin to a decluttering spree, ensuring peak performance and relevance? Or is it discarding precious legacy and authority?

Let’s paddle through this intriguing problem, inspired by a high-profile move by tech giant CNET and complemented by the wisdom of John Mueller, an established voice in the SEO community.

The CNET’s Content Pruning

Recent revelations from Gizmodo have indicated CNET’s audacious move of removing thousands of older articles from its website. This decision, justified internally as a strategy to bolster their Google Search rankings, was meticulously calculated. A thorough analysis focused on metrics like page views, backlink profiles, and time since the last content update. 

A curious investigation using the Wayback Machine further unraveled that a consistent number of articles have been disappearing since the mid-1990s. The guiding force behind CNET, Red Ventures, further substantiated their actions, painting them as a path to “improve SEO rankings and ensure meaningful user engagement.” This SEO strategy, bold as it is, has been slated to become an annual ritual for the tech giant.

The Old Content Controversy: Why Does it Matter? 

The question at hand: Is getting rid of dated content akin to cleaning out your attic, making room for better things? Or are you throwing away precious memories and, by extension, SEO value?

First, we need to appreciate the foundations. What is the goal of a search engine? Simply put, it offers the user the most relevant and high-quality content related to their query. As Google’s algorithm evolves, so must our approach to content.

Reasons Not to Remove Your Old Content

  • Age has its Advantages:Here’s an intriguing fact: Old content can be an SEO gold mine. Did you know that the age of a page can contribute to its authority? If they’ve been regularly updated, older runners can have a higher value in the eyes of search engines. Google likes stability, and an old URL signifies that stability.
  • Keep the Backlinks: Do you remember that some of your old articles were shared by a significant influencer or referenced in a popular blog? Those backlinks are invaluable. Deleting that page means saying goodbye to those backlinks.

But then again…

Why Cleaning Old Website Content Can Be Therapeutic and Strategic

  • Relevance is King: In a world driven by relevance, old content can be irrelevant. If you were writing about the best smartphones in 2012, it might need to be clarified in 2023. But here’s the kicker: Does it mean anything to your users now? If not, it might be pulling your SEO down.
  • The Quality Quandary: Google’s core algorithm updates intensely focus on quality. Old posts, especially those thin on content or with outdated SEO practices, might not make the mark today.
  • Speed and User Experience: Old pages, especially if it has heavy, outdated scripts or media, can slow your site down. And speed, as we all know, is crucial for SEO.

The Middle Ground: Update, Redirect, Repurpose

What if there’s a third way instead of the binary of keep or delete?

  • Revamp and Refresh: Take that old content and give it a facelift. Update statistics, rework outdated sections, and ensure it’s optimized for current SEO best practices. In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!
  • The Magic of 301 Redirect:If you really must remove a page, use a 301 redirect. This ensures that the SEO juice (yes, that’s a technical term) from the old page is transferred to a new, more relevant page.
  • Repurposing Strategically: Turn that blog into a podcast. Or that guide into an infographic. Include a link or call-to-action to prompt desired audience action. The medium may change, but the message can still hold value.

John Mueller Weighs In

John Mueller, a respected figure in the SEO universe, shared his insights on this topic in 2021, which resonate like a balanced symphony.

He expressed, “I think if that’s something you think is good content that you want to publish with your website, with your name, then I would keep it. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s bad.”

It’s a perspective championing the preservation of quality, regardless of age. However, Mueller doesn’t advocate clinging to everything from the past. If content feels more like an embarrassing relic than a proud legacy, he suggests two paths: “Either improve it or remove it.”

Synthesizing the Strategy: What Should Brands Do on Old Website Content?

With CNET’s audacious strategy on one end and Mueller’s balanced advice on the other, here’s a perspective on how many brands take action on their old or outdated content:

  • Analyze before you axe: As CNET delved deep into metrics, brands should embrace a data-driven approach. Measure the value your content delivers.
  • Old isn’t necessarily obsolete: Echoing Mueller’s words, age alone shouldn’t be a decider. It’s about the value, relevance, and quality of content.
  • Embrace evolution with actions: Ensure your content stays relevant by deleting, redirecting, updating, or keeping it without changes to serve the needs of your target audience over time.

What are the right metrics to look at when deciding the fate of your content?  Before taking any actions, you may look at metrics like:

  • Keyword ranks
  • Page views over time
  • Bounce rate
  • Conversion rate
  • Backlinks and their quality

⠀Now, think. Is this content still serving its purpose?

In Conclusion

To delete or not to delete? That’s a nuanced question. Digital space may be infinite, but your user’s patience and the search engine’s preference aren’t. Strike a balance backed by data. Recognize the value in the old while making space for the new.

Your website is a living entity; like everything, it needs to adapt and evolve. Remember, in the digital age, being static is not an option. So, captain of your digital ship, weigh your anchor wisely. And as you sail through the vast content ocean, may the winds of SEO always be in your favor.

Like everything in life, content decisions require thought, care, and panache. In this age of digital clutter, make each piece of content, old or new, count. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about delivering value to your audience and, through that, achieving SEO success.

And a final whisper for the road: The SEO universe is ever-expanding. To stay ahead, one must be both an astute observer and a decisive actor. When faced with tough decisions in the SEO landscape, it’s always wise to consult an SEO expert to navigate the complexities confidently.

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