Ok not really...

I was recently asked by Content Insight (the makers of the CAT tool) exactly when it makes sense to remove/trim your content from an SEO perspective. The question intrigued me as most of the time, SEO's are trying to get clients to produce MORE content and rarely do we suggest outright removal.

As I thought more about the question, I came up with multiple reasons why I might remove it from a general marketing/digital marketing perspective, but I tend to have a very tight definition of SEO that avoids straying into other disciplines (IE – if you're an SEO, talk about SEO and shutup about user experience because you likely don't know what you're talking about with any level of depth). It's from this (tight SEO) perspective that I decided to tackle this question and develop a short post that covers some common reasons why I may suggest a client remove content from their site.

In order to do this, we'll take a look at some reasons why poor content may be directly impacting your site, and a reason or two why poor content may be indirectly impacting your site.

Direct impact on Search visibility
Content can damage your ability to rank.

I know...but it's as simple as that. A few common problems include:

  • It's too thin and an algorithm masquerading as a zoo animal like a Panda doesn't like you
  • It's too similar to lots of other content you have and Google doesn't know what to rank
  • It's just crap and is causing a poor user experience (high bounce rates, etc.)
  • It's rarely visited (by actual visitors) and its thin = it's destroying your crawl budget
  • Your link equity is being spread like butter over too much bread

A deeper look

It's too thin.

Thin content, misspellings, very poor grammar, too many ads, and likely other elements are all related to a major update that came out years ago known to us as "Panda". There are some other updates tied to some of these elements, but Panda was very specifically designed to take out sites with low-quality content. More details and information on how to deal with Panda are all over the web, so we won't cover those details here, but if there are large amounts of thin content on a site providing little value – an SEO may ask you to consolidate or take those pages down.

It's too similar. Duplication can be a real PITA. Unfortunately, there's a common way of thinking about duplication and why it's bad that I believe is largely incorrect. Duplication is not a problem because it will get you penalized, duplication is undesirable because Google doesn't know which URL is the the canonical (or, most authoritative/important/etc.) for a specific topic. As a result, they have a very hard time figuring out what to rank. While this has changed over the years, it's still a very common problem and fixes in this area still bring about very impactful benefits for many sites.

If you have duplication, it might make sense to redirect pages, add canonicals, or possibly even remove content altogether depending on the situation.

It's just crap. Let's say the zoo animals leave you alone and you're not duplicating your content, but it's just not that good, OR, it's poorly optimized for what it's actually about (bad relevance). In this situation, you might see a very high-bounce rate tied to the page combined with a short time on site, etc. This is often a sign of a poor user experience (don't take that as the 100% rule, don't forget to use your brain...). This is bad and I believe directly impacts SEO.

Poor user experiences results in people doing the click back dance that involves clicking on a result, and then very shortly after clicking back to the SERP. Google utilizes these signals to help understand how well a result satisfies a query. As a result, poorly optimized content that's mismatched to queries it's showing for OR, just plain crap content that isn't helpful even for the right queries can cause your site to have some nasty user engagement metrics associated with it.

This may not be a big deal with a single page, but if your resource section is actually useless and causes a ton of people to immediately hit that back button, it may be time to either improve that content or take it off your site. I'm a firm believer that if you can't do it well, don't do it when it comes to content.

It's rarely visited. If you only have a certain amount of time at the zoo, you usually go to the things that interest you most, or you feel are most important. Google isn't much different. It's very important that as they crawl the web, resources are not wasted crawling pages and content that aren't that important. Websites have various "crawl budgets" that are tied to the PageRank algorithm. If you have a ton of content on your site that's not providing much value. For instance, maybe your review pages are a bit stringy. it might be time to consolidate or trim it down to avoid wasting Google's time on pages that aren't that important, causing them to do things like:

Return to your site less often
Not crawl as much on your site
Crawl less-important pages

It's wasting link equity. Our sites' only have a certain amount of link "equity" stored up that comes from external links. This equity is passed through internal linking to other pages on the site. If you have a large quantity of pages that are thin/provide little value, etc. it's quite possible you may be "wasting" link equity on pages that don't matter. While there are multiple options for dealing with this (no, I'm not recommending PageRank sculpting), one answer may be to simply remove the content all together. The path chosen here will be very situational and as always should match up well with your overall strategy for content.

Indirect impact on search visibility – Lowering the brand impression
While this gets a little more into the world of SEO theory, I thought it would make an interesting discussion point.

Something that many SEO's don't think about when it comes to content is what impact it may have on a searcher's perspective/view of a company. This requires an SEO who is able to understand the importance of a brand and its ability to influence decisions, and specifically, decisions that searchers make. Most of us understand the concept of brand bias, but far fewer actually think about that concept as it relates to SEO.

If Google's search abilities are continually evolving and their engineers are continually looking to understand what makes site/brand/business/person authoritative and relevant, why wouldn't they look at things such as how many times a brand is searched in relationship with another keyword, or possibly even overall branded searches? If I were a brand, I would want a lot of searches like these:

So that Google understands that my brand should be returned even when a searcher just types in something like this

Think about it. As Google continues to bucket and connect users to enhance advertising as Michael King (link to his posts on moz and other places on this subject) and others have discussed, why wouldn't this data be meaningful to them?

Examples are fun.

Let's say Bobby and Joey are both age 30. And, lets say when they look for shoes they type in navigational searches like "zappos mens running shoes". Now lets say there are actually 50 of these "similar" types of guys, that Google actually has data on from Google+. Why wouldn't, Ben, who's also a male and 32 with similar interests/affinities ALSO like zappos even though all he typed in was "mens running shoes". This is (part), I believe, of the future of personalized search – even when Google doesn't know much about you!

So..what does this have to do with content?

Content, to me, is a big part of the vehicle that brands use to deliver their messages (like, yeah, duh). If, your brand puts out poor content or poorly targeted content that creates a poor user experience, then people will not only NOT search for your brand as much, they're much more likely to skip you even when you show up in search results. Oh man, double whammy of user engagement signals right there. POWERFUL.

If your content isn't stellar, isn't well targeted, and makes users feel ho-hum about you, I would honestly consider removing it in order to INDIRECTLY improve your SEO.

The Last Call

Thanks to Content Insight for providing the question – it was great to think through. Ultimately, while there are basic technical reasons that may cause an SEO to suggest removing content, I really feel strongly that managing your content because of how it affects users is the most important thing to pay attention to. Google wants to understand users inside and out. Good SEO's and the experts in related disciplines that they work with will only succeed in search long term if they can really wrap their minds around this.

Don't forget, it's crucial for leadership to understand this as well. If the focus is too short term, you'll pay in the end.


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