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4 SEO Factors to Consider Before Removing Outdated Website Content

It’s easy to get rid of outdated website content. You can redirect it or delete it.

But, if the outdated blog post still brings in website traffic – do you really want to get rid of it? The decision could be costly in terms of leads, sales, and the bottom line if you don’t check a few key metrics before you decide.

I don’t like deleting or redirecting from an SEO perspective. It could make sense as a business decision. If you believe an article or case study is a detriment because of outdated or inaccurate information, you might say: “It’s just not a good look to have facts and data that aren’t useful. If we don’t retire this, we might turn off a prospect who questions our value.”

I help CMI with SEO, and I appreciate that CMI keeps many blog posts around. Kim Moutsos, CMI’s vice president of editorial, offers some insights into CMI’s approach to updating old content in The Why, When, and How of Republishing Blog Posts.

The reality is that there are no hard and fast rules. Some marketers think fresh content matters the most and will be rewarded by Google. They lock in the thinking that Google likes updated websites. And some marketers could easily question how old website pages meet Google’s constant call for quality, which is in contrast to inaccurate or merit-lacking content.

It’s all relative. Ideally, all of your content will be timely, insightful, and engaging enough to make a great first impression or even convert visitors – whether that’s a phone call, demo request, newsletter sign-up, or more.

Before deleting or redirecting the content, size up your situation and consider actions that could protect your website traffic and the business those visitors bring your way.

1. Test your assumptions

How do you know older content is no longer useful? Monitor bounce rates, time spent on the page, and conversions.

Bounce rates, time on page, and conversions will tell you if older #content is no longer useful, says @MikeOnlineCoach via @CMIContent @Conductor. #SEO Share on X

Is the older website content still contributing to your goals? Check whether conversions from natural search are increasing or decreasing. Maybe newsletter sign-ups are strong, but completion of forms tied to products and services have dropped off. Is that acceptable based on what you’re trying to achieve?

To figure out a page’s performance, refer to the conversion goals for the pages that you set up earlier in Google Analytics. Here’s the initial path to follow to see which URLs are doing their job:

2. Analyze your rankings

Does the content you’re considering deleting or redirecting rank well in search? Has it locked down some highly competitive phrases? What’s your comfort level with losing search engine visibility for those terms if you remove the old content or if the content you redirect to doesn’t rank as well?

3. Review Google Search Console

You can see considerable information about page URLs and search queries. Track the click data over time for older content and discover any new trends. In other words, did clicks fall sharply at one point? Have they increased over time? Spending time with URLs, clicks, and keywords within Google Search Console is a great way to check your website’s health from an SEO perspective.

4. Review the website traffic

Does the content still get a comparable number of visitors to what it once did? Have you adjusted for unusual factors that may have affected website traffic – like any traffic effects of the pandemic?

Are you still getting visitors from your geographic targets? Have the most critical locales declined? Again, you can trace the visitor behavior to natural search and other sources. If you have fewer visitors from a specific location, that’s worth exploring. Sometimes it helps to look at deeper indicators and not just URLs.

Recently, a company I know redirected a few blog articles to newer versions. The newer blog posts get traffic, but not as much as the originals did.

Without context around what the natural search visitors did when they arrived on those pages, it’s difficult to assess whether a redirect will affect the results in the long-term.

In other words, traffic isn’t everything. Before you make moves that could impact visitor numbers, make sure to understand if the page’s previous visitors were a good match with your content and goals. If you’ve considered the contextual factors, you’ll have a much better basis for evaluating the hit to potential traffic.

How to address outdated content you want to keep

If you opt to keep or redirect your content, you can take some measures to make it fresher.

1. Use it to point to new content

When your aging content outranks your newer content, add an editor’s note to the top and point visitors to your latest piece on the topic. You keep the page rank and help direct visitors to the new content.

2. Request new backlinks

Study the referral traffic to your existing pages to assess the backlinks from websites, blogs, news media, and more. An older page may perform better because it’s been around longer and has amassed a considerable number of backlinks.

Reach out to the referring websites to ask for those backlinks to point to your new content. While a drop in backlinks could impact the old article’s rankings, the new content should gain a ranking advantage as well.

3. Freshen up the old content

Rewrite the intro, update the oldest references (i.e., cite a more recent study), embed a current video, reference a timely infographic, mention a new resource, etc. Shifting some of your resources to do this step may be more helpful than creating new content.

Content Marketing Institute follows this practice but uses a new URL because it uses the year and month in the URL structure. It includes an editor’s note in the original URL that points to the newer version.  I no longer recommend setting up sites with a date URL structure. It’s tough to futureproof content. CMI is far from the only site organized that way. Fortune, TopRank Marketing, and Search Engine Watch all use dated URLs.

If you have a date structure and opt to drop it, expect major traffic shifts while Google deals with all the new 301 redirects.

4. Don’t necessarily sweat duplicate content

If you keep the original page or blog post, you can give the content a refresh without significantly harming search engine ranking. When you have thousands of pages (or even hundreds), a few duplicate pieces are unlikely to tumble your rankings or prompt Google to delist your website.

Old content will always be an issue

Old website posts and pages can stretch the limits of evergreen content.

If they still rank well and deliver leads – and sales – think about keeping them around a little longer. If you redirect the website content to something more current, you might not get the performance you expect. Then how will you fill the measurable gaps with website traffic and revenue (immediate conversions and sales based on lifetime customer formulas)?

At the end of the day, whether to keep old content or redirect it is a judgment call that involves your brand reputation and business practices – not just SEO.

Old content can make a difference. Take stock of the data and spruce up the pages and posts until you say goodbye.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute