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How & Why You Must Improve or Remove Your Old Content

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

Danny Goodwin

Internet Marketing Ninjas Services. A Message from Jim Boykin:

Could old content be dragging down the overall “authority” of your website? We think so.

You have an important decision to make: should you improve your old content or remove it?

Making the right decisions during this process can bring great rewards, in terms of traffic, organic search visibility (rankings, featured snippets, etc.), links, conversions, and engagement.

On March 27, I presented an SEJ ThinkTank webinar to share the process we at Search Engine Journal has been using to improve and remove old content for the last 20 months.

Here’s a recap of the presentation.

Google’s mission since its inception is to “[o]rganize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

On Google’s end, nothing has changed.

But what has changed is this little thing called content marketing. Around the time of the original Google Panda update, a lot of businesses and brands finally bought into the idea that content is king.

They started creating all sorts of content – some of it was great, but most of it was average, far below average, or just outright terrible.

Today, lots of content is being published, but most of it isn’t very useful. A lot of it is redundant.

In 2016, the web was made up of about 130 trillion individual pages. But the Google Search index contains hundreds of billions of webpages – only a portion of the total pages available in the web.

The search engine is filtering out a lot of stuff and you don’t want that to be you.

So this year, content marketers and creators have a new mission:

“Give Google only your best content and make it optimized, useful, and relevant.”

It’s 2019. Our mission can’t stay the same. It’s time we all start thinking about content in a new way.

Rethinking Your Content Marketing Approach

Google spokespeople have downplayed the idea that “old content won’t hurt you.” They have also warned that removing content is a dangerous SEO strategy.

But is it really?

Not based on our results.

For the last 20 months, we’ve been hacking and slashing our way through our archives which resulted to increased pageviews and organic traffic of up 60+ percent YoY.

Just check out these numbers:

When I started as Executive Editor in July 2017, we had 910,000 pageviews.

In January of this year, we just had a record month – 1.7 million pageviews. At that time, we had about 18,000 pages.

And we just topped that record again in March – more than 1.9 million pageviews. Today, we still have 18,000 pages indexed – we’re just getting moreout of the same amount of content.

So how did we achieve this growth?

Here’s the process we used.

Step 1: Audit Your Content

The process all begins with auditing and evaluating your content.

There are basically three buckets of content:

Content that helps you.Content that does absolutely nothing for you.Content that can hurt you.

We need to figure out which bucket all of our content fits in.

Since 2003, Search Engine Journal has been creating tons of content and it came to a point where it got really messy and disorganized. We needed to get out of that chaos.

The first step in the process is to crawl your content.

Some options that you can use to crawl your content include:






Here are even more crawlers. Choose whichever crawler works for you.

After you get through the crawling process, you need to know about the following elements:

Title: Is it optimized? Does it include a reader benefit?URL: Is it SEO friendly? Do you need to change it?

Author: Who wrote it? Is it an expert/authority in the field?Publication date: Is it still fresh or out of date?

Number of reads: The more reads, the better. It’s a sign of good content that connected with your audience

Word count: It isn’t necessarily a sign of low-quality content but it could potentially indicate quality issues.

Number of links: How many inbound and internal links do you have?

Trust Flow and Citation Flow: This is Majestic’s metrics for quality score and link equity.

Step 2: Evaluate the Quality of Your Content

Next, you’ll need to analyze the quality of the content you have on the website.

I define quality content as content that is:



Answers Questions











And for me, low-quality content:

Has no target audience.Has no goal / purpose.Is not optimized.Is unsuccessful.

On the other hand, Google defines quality content as:

Useful and informative.More valuable and useful than other sites.Credible.High quality.Engaging.

A term that also comes up often is E-A-T which comes from Google’s search quality rating guidelines.

Simply put E-A-T means:

Expertise: Your unique skills, information, or knowledge.

Authority: Other people know about and recognize your skills or knowledge.Trust: People believe what you think, say, or do and feel secure buying from or endorsing you.

Google considers content as low quality when it has the following elements:

Inadequate E-A-T.Main content quality is low.Unsatisfying amount of main content.Exaggerated / shocking title.Ads or supporting content distracts from main content.Unsatisfying amount of info about website or content creator.Mildly negative reputation of website or content creator.

What’s the best action to take when you find out that you have low-quality content? Should you remove or improve it?

This is what Google’s Gary Illyes had to say:

Gary "鯨理" Illyes✔@methodeReplying to @jenstar@jenstar We don't recommend removing content in general for Panda, rather add more highQ stuff @shendison 166:44 PM - Oct 7, 2015Twitter Ads info and privacy

20 people are talking about this

Illyes talked about removing content a couple of years later and said that:

“It[‘]s not guaranteed that you will see any positive effect from that… For those that don’t show up in the search results, those are not indexed, and if they are not indexed then typically they are not affecting your site.”

Google’s John Mueller has also opined on the topic in a Google Webmaster Hangout:

“Improving it means that the rankings can only go up, whereas by removing it, can cause loss of rankings instead of the gains that some people think content removals will do.”

Both of these Googlers go against the idea of content removals. But where exactly did that idea come from?

It was actually from Google’s Michael Wyszomierski back in 2011 who said:

“In addition, it’s important for webmasters to know that low quality content on part of a site can impact a site’s ranking as a whole… Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.”

These different recommendations present a conflict. Which tactic is right?

Content Inequality

In 2017, I ran the numbers and figured out that the top 3 percent of posts on SEJ drove as much traffic as the bottom 97 percent combined.

We’re talking about a few hundred posts driving as much as several thousand posts.

Metrics to Help Define Quality

We have all these vague statements on content quality from Google, but how do we assign actual metrics?

Here are five metrics we used in SEJ that you can use as well:


Organic traffic




Ultimately, there are a lot of variables that influence the success of your content so use your best judgment whenever you’re evaluating your content.

Step 3: Determine What to Do with Your Existing Content

The final step of this process is making data-driven decisions about whether you should improve (update, rewrite, or consolidate) or remove (deindex) old content from search engines.

There are five possibilities for your content:

Scenario 1: No Changes Needed

You won’t need to change anything in your content if:

All information is accurate, or has historic value.It consistently gets good traffic and engagement.It has attracted many quality links and social shares.It ranks in Position 1-3.It generates conversions.

If content is already working well for you, leave it alone. Focus on areas where you can actually make gains.

Scenario 2: Content Update / Refresh

Content that needs an update or a refresh:

Gets consistent traffic (or used to).Has earned some valuable links / shares.Ranks on Page 1 of Google.Few / no conversions.Below average engagement.

How to Do It

To do a content update / refresh, you’ll need to:

Update information so it is accurate.Make it better than your SERP competitor(s).Keep it on the same URL (whenever possible)

For example, for the past few years, SEJ’s Assistant Editor Anna Crowe has published a marketing calendar post that needs to be refreshed yearly.

In 2016, we published the first version, which got a respectable 22,000 reads, ranked in the top 2 of Google, and got ~2,000 pageviews per month, on average.

By the end of 2017, the content needed an update for 2018.

The results:

#1 ranking for [marketing calendar].64,000 readsAbout 5,000 pageviews per month, a more than 2x improvement.

Scenario 3: Content Rewrite

Your content needs to be rewritten if the following apply:

Currently gets little or no traffic.No longer attracts new links / shares.Doesn’t rank on Page 1.Is it indexed?No conversions.

How to Do It

Usually, a content that needs to be rewritten has a useful, relevant, or helpful topic, but it’s just written poorly. To address that, make sure to:

Start content from scratch.Update information so it is accurate.301 redirect old to new post on a new (optimized) URL.

From Google Shares How 301 Redirects Pass PageRank, we know:

Google can forward PageRank through 301 redirects.Not all 301 redirects pass 100 percent PageRank.A 301 redirect will pass 100 percent PageRank only if the new page closely matches the topic of the old page.

For example, SEJ had a post on a popular SEO topic – subfolders vs. subdomains. However, our version, which was written in 2008, had fallen off Page 1 of Google and was only get about 50 pageviews per month.

So Jenny Halasz, who writes SEJ’s Ask an SEO column, rewrote it and we published with the title Subdomains vs. Subfolders: Which Is Better for SEO & Why?

The results were ridiculously awesome:

#1 ranking30,000 readsAbout 4,000 pageviews per month, an 80x improvement.

Scenario 4: Content Consolidation

Here are the reasons why you might want to consider consolidating your content:

You have multiple articles on one topic.One piece gets some traffic; others get little or none.They do not attract any new links or shares.The article is not ranking on Page 1 or…The wrong page ranks.Two pages are competing on the same SERP.

Below is an example:

Combining content when needed gets the approval of Google’s John Mueller. He said of the topic:

“Probably. I think that’s something that generally… we see if you take two or three or four kind of weaker pages and merge them into one, even within the same site or externally, then that’s something where we can say that this is a stronger page. We can see that… more parts of the site are referring to this one single piece of content so it’s probably more relevant than those individual small pieces that you had before.

How to Do It

So how exactly do you go about this? Follow these steps:

Create one awesome piece of content.Start from scratch, but you can reuse any useful existing content.Make it better than your competitors.301 redirect to new (optimized) URL.

So that’s just what we did. SEJ Contributor Ashley Ward wrote How to Do a Content Audit: The Ultimate Checklist.

The results were great:

Ranking on Page 18,000 readsAbout 300 pageviews per month, a 10x improvement.

Scenario 5: Content Deletion / Deindexing

Your content needs to get the boot if:

It’s “thin content”.It’s poorly written / off-topic / syndicated / stolen / plagiarized.It has no historic significance.It has a very low number of pageviews.It has few or no traffic, links, shares, conversions, or engagement.

Here’s one example of terrible content. It got few pageviews or shares, and is honestly just content nobody would ever want to read:

So how do you know whether to remove content from your site? It’s all in how you answer these four questions:

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, then removing content could be dangerous.

But if you answer “no,” to all these questions, then it’s time for that content to go.

Key Takeaways

To find out whether you need to improve or remove your old content, follow these steps:

Audit: Know what content you have.Evaluate: Improve content if you can (rewrite, consolidate, update) or remove content if you can’t (deindex, delete from website).Measure: Use metrics that matter to your company and use data to decide the fate of your content.

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