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Content Pruning: What Is It? How to Do It Like A Pro In 2024

Content is KING.

We should rephrase it better: “Helpful content is king; Thin content is the demon.”

Why? Helpful content adds MORE value to users, whereas thin content adds ZERO value and can actually harm your website’s SEO.

If you have a lot of content on your website and are still struggling with traffic, you need to do one thing: content pruning.

Table of Contents

What is content pruning in SEO?

Content pruning in SEO is the process of removing or updating low-quality or underperforming content from a website.

This can include identifying pages on your website that are;

  • Totally outdated
  • Poor quality or duplicate content
  • Irrelevant to your target audience
  • Not generating any traffic or sales

Pruning means “cutting or removing”. In simple words, content pruning refers to removing thin content from your website. It is done to improve your site’s overall content quality and trustworthiness.

Content pruning benefits: Why is it important?

Search engines like Google are giving #1 priority to “HELPFUL CONTENT.”

If you’re not creating “people-first content,” you’ll lose your traffic from Google.

Here are some of the biggest benefits of content pruning in 2024;

  • It builds trust and credibility as you’re working hard to remove POOR content from your site (to help users find only the best content).
  • It improves your website’s search ranking, as Google takes the quality and relevance of the content while ranking pages.
  • It improves the overall user experience, which leads to more traffic and conversions.

Content Pruning SEO: Remove Low-Quality Content

content pruning

Create a content inventory

The first step to content pruning is to create a detailed list of all the content on your website. 

This includes blog posts, important pages like About Us, and any other content that is accessible to search engines.

You can create a list of all the URLs on your website in a Google Spreadsheet for easy access.

Here are a few tools you can use to create a content inventory;

  • Google Search Console
  • Screaming Frog
  • Semrush Site Audit

While creating a content inventory, for each piece of content, mention the following things;

  • Its title or URL
  • Original publication date
  • Author 
  • Current traffic (over the last 12 to 16 months)

Identify your low-performing content

Once you have a content inventory, the next step is to find underperforming content on your blog. The best way to identify content that needs to be pruned is to use Google Search Console.

It can help you find out which pages on your site are getting the least amount of traffic and clicks.

To get started, go to Google Search Console > Search Results (under Performance).

Then, pick the last 12 to 16 months data. Click on the “Pages” section and sort the results by “Clicks”, so you’ll get a list of all the underperforming pages on your website.

Have a look;

traffic data

You can also use Google Analytics to find your website’s underperforming posts. We often prefer Google Search Console, as it’s the easiest way to find your low-performing pages, along with the number of total clicks and impressions.

Take action

Once you have identified the low-quality pages that you want to prune, you have FOUR options, which are;

  • Delete the pages
  • Redirect them to other pages on your website
  • Noindex those pages
  • Update

Let’s briefly talk about them.

Delete: If you have content that is completely outdated, poorly written, duplicate, or irrelevant, you should delete it from your website. There’s no point in spending more time or money on such pages.

Redirection: You can choose this option if the content is still relevant. If you have two pieces of similar content, you can merge them into a single page. You can use 301 redirects to redirect the old URL to a new one permanently. It also passes the link juice (ranking power) to the redirected page. 

Noindex: Noindexing a page on your website tells Google NOT to index it. This means it will not appear in search results.

Update: If you think a low-performing article has the potential, you can choose this option. Make sure to craft better headlines, add the latest information, appealing images, internal links, etc., to make the content comprehensive. Here’s a detailed guide on how to update your existing content for more search traffic.

The KEY here is to evaluate every single blog post for QUALITY.

You can ask yourself these questions;

  • Relevancy: Is the content still relevant to your audience?
  • Accuracy: Is the information in the blog posts accurate and up-to-date?
  • Engagement: Is the content engaging and interesting to read?
  • SEO: Is the content optimized for specific keywords?
  • Technical SEO: Are there any technical SEO issues that are preventing the content from ranking well in Google such as broken links, lengthy titles, missing meta descriptions, lengthy URLs, etc?

Quick note: Also, use your common sense while auditing blog posts within your site. There will be a few blog posts that may not generate any search traffic but still be helpful to your target audience. In such cases, either improve their quality or optimize for long-tail keywords.

Audit your content 1 to 2 times a year

So, how often should you prune your content? The short answer: one or two times a year.

Why? Otherwise, you’re over-pruning your content. It is like cutting your hair too short.

Sometimes, your content needs at least a few months to a year to start generating traffic from search engines. It’s especially true with smaller websites; authority websites often get faster results with their content. 

While auditing your content, here are a few things you need to consider.

Visits from the last 12 to 16 months: Google Search Console (GSC) is your best friend when comes to auditing your content.

With the 12+ months of traffic data from GSC, you can easily find out a lot of important things, including;

  • Traffic trends: Are your website visits increasing, decreasing, or staying the same?
  • Top-performing content: Which blog posts are getting the most traffic?
  • Underperforming content: Which blog posts are getting the least traffic?
  • Content seasonality: Is there a seasonal pattern to your website traffic? Few blog posts like Black Friday, Cyber Monday or other event-related pages get traffic only during the events.

You can use GSC to quickly discover the posts that need immediate action. If any blog post (or web page) is not generating even 100 clicks in the last 12 to 16 months, it’s NOT doing well.

Have a look at some of our underperforming posts in the last 16 months.

clicks data

As you can see above, most of them have not generated even 100 clicks in the last 16 months. Which simply means, they’re NOT doing well at all in terms of traffic and user engagement. So, these posts can be either improved, redirected or deleted.

Social shares from the last 12 months: Social shares play a key role in SEO. They also can help you easily find out the user engagement on your blog posts.

So, find out how many times has a blog post been shared on social media? If you already have social sharing buttons, you can easily find those shares. If not, you can use use platforms like Buzzsumo to find social media engagement on your posts.

Find cannibalizing content: Last but not least, you need to find cannibalized pages on your website. Cannibalizing content occurs when multiple pages on your website target the same keywords (or with the same keyword intent). 

It is a BAD practice and can lead to poor search rankings. Why? It can confuse search engines and make it difficult for Google to decide which page to rank for those keywords.

For example, if your website has two posts on the same topic, like “SEO metrics“, the content on those pages will compete with each other for Google ranking. It can ultimately harm your website’s performance and rankings. 

Monitor your results

The final step is to monitor your results.

After implementing your changes such as deleting pages, updating content, or redirecting URLs, you need to monitor your results. 

Why do you need to track your results? That’s how you’ll be able to see if the changes in your content strategy are giving you any results. 

You can track your website’s SEO performance using tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Also, you can use keyword rank tracking tools like Semrush, SE Ranking or Ahrefs to track your positions in Google.

A Helpful Checklist for Content Pruning

Here’s a handy checklist you can use while pruning content on your blog or website.

  • Focus on pruning low-quality content first. Use Google Analytics or Google Search Console to find a list of all the URLs that are NOT generating any traffic in the last 12 months.
  • Don’t delete content that is still getting some organic traffic. Let’s say one of your blog posts is generating 50 visits a month, don’t delete it. Instead, improve the quality of those content or merge them into similar content on your website.
  • If you’ve decided to delete any content, use 301 redirects to avoid losing any SEO value. A 301 redirect signals a permanent redirect from one URL to another (on your website).
  • Use important factors such as organic traffic, backlinks, social shares, time on page, etc, when evaluating your content performance. You can also consider the content’s quality, its relevance and usability to your target audience while auditing content.
  • Decide what to do with underperforming content. You’ve several options: delete the content, merge content with similar topics, rewrite or update the content. Or redirect the content to a more relevant page.
  • Make sure to use proper analytics tools like Google Analytics or Semrush to gather data on your content’s performance.
  • Above all, don’t be afraid to delete content. If any piece of content is NOT generating any traffic, social shares or sales – remove it, as it saves you a lot of time and money.

FAQs on content pruning

Here are some FAQs about content pruning.

How often should you prune your content?

The frequency of content pruning depends on the size of your website. Find out how many pages your website has. 
– For small websites (less than 500 pages), you should prune your content once or twice a year.
– For larger websites (more than 1000 pages), you may need to prune your content more often: quarterly or even monthly.

Is Content Pruning only useful for large websites?

No, content pruning is useful for all websites. Even small websites with less than 500 pages can benefit from pruning content that is outdated or low-quality. 

Does content pruning help with better rankings?

Yes, content pruning can help you improve the quality of your content, which ultimately leads to better search rankings.

What types of content should I prune?

You should prune any content that is:
– Outdated 
– Irrelevant to the main topics you cover
– Not generating any traffic in the last 12 to 16 months

What are the best tools for content pruning?

Here are a few essential tools you can use for content pruning.
– Semrush
– Google Search Console
– Google Analytics

Final thoughts on pruning content meaning

If you want to improve your website’s authority and content depth – content pruning is a powerful tactic.

Not only does content pruning help create a better user experience, but it can also help you maintain a clear focus on your website’s core content.

So, what do you think about pruning content? Do you have any questions? Let us know in the comments. 

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