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by Mike Essex on 28th January 2014
Six months ago we made one of the biggest changes we’ve ever made to Koozai.com, and also potentially the most riskiest – we removed 30% of our content.
Here’s how we did it in a safe and controlled way and why we’re recommending you do the same.
Website content has to serve so many purposes now; to convert customers, grow a brand, prove your expertise, explain your services, report on your industry and more. That’s not to mention content created to rank for specific keywords or to solve one off needs that existed at the time, as well as content that suited SEO best practice in the past but which wouldn’t hold up today.
All of this means any website that’s been live for more than a year will find itself with a lot of content that is no longer needed.
With the likes of Panda ready to penalise websites for thin-content and other algorithmic penalties for content deemed to be tricking Google, are you 100% sure everything on your domain presents you in the right light? In this post I’m hoping to convince you to make less content before you make more.
Over the last seven years we’d gone from writing three short and sweet 100 word blog posts a day, to one detailed and informative guide every day that could be anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 words long. Our old style of writing worked perfectly back in 2007– we wrote short news pieces on the latest SEO developments, However, this wasn’t so good in 2011 when we wanted to move away from a news approach and instead focus on sharing our own knowledge.
We were certainly not ashamed of our old content, but that old content didn’t really reflect what we had become and ultimately there was always the risk that Google may flick a switch and determine that the old content was too thin. Regardless of how good the content was at the time, it wasn’t good enough any more.
We also felt that content from 2007 probably wasn’t in line with the things the SEO industry would be talking about in 2014, so keeping it up-to-date was another priority. No doubt you face the same issues with your archive, and if that’s the case you should consider whether things you said a long time ago are still true today.
The first thing we needed to do was determine which content we no longer needed. During the early years of our blog we did have some longer articles as well as pieces that were equally true today so we didn’t want to just bulk redirect everything. It was also important we tried to preserve any value those pages had.
Assuming you’re doing the same thing, here are the steps to follow:
You should now have three types of pages:
Once we’d done this we ignored the pages with no issues and then drew up a plan for the rest.
One great thing about this process was it allowed us to identify old posts that could do with a little extra TLC. We found pages that regularly generated high levels of organic traffic that we’d all but abandoned and we invested time into improving its content and bringing it up to modern standards.
In some cases pages were generating a lot of traffic, but were still out-of-date so we created new articles on the same topic and redirected the old page. This helped us keep the existing traffic, but meant we had something to show that was more accurate for the reader. We also did this for pages with lots of links if we felt they needed updating, rather than risk losing the link value.
We’d advise you do a similar thing if you go down this route and always ensure that you keep the value by improving on rewriting existing content that is already generating results rather than removing it.
For pages that were no longer generating results we took a backup of our blog and then deleted them from the live version. We wanted to keep our blog database as efficient as we could so it made no sense to keep them up.
We then created redirect rules for each of those posts. Unfortunately as the posts didn’t all sit in the same category or have the same format – and as we didn’t want to redirect other good posts in the same place – we couldn’t do a catch all rule (e.g. redirect all posts in Category X).
These redirects were either to other relevant posts on the same topic (the ideal scenario) or to the category page for that topic. We never redirected anything to the Home page as we wanted to help people find something similar to read.
Lastly we tested many of the links to check that the redirects were working and critically we tested lots of our live pages to make sure the redirects didn’t have any weird knock-on effects that may stop them working as well.
We were pleasantly surprised by the lack of negative effects that occurred as a result of deleting the pages. Whilst we knew we’d done all we could to mitigate the effects for both readers and search engines we assumed there’d be a slight decline in search engine traffic merely due to the nature of the change.
Initially we were concerned when Google Webmaster Tools reported a rise in the number of pages not found. On closer inspection we found many of these did have redirects in place and were false negatives. One set of unexpected errors was that the category pages had 404 errors as we now had less items in them and therefore less pages. This was quickly fixed.
The false negatives also disappeared on their own and didn’t come back, as shown below:
One of the factors that we believe helped in the process was that we deliberately didn’t make this change at the same time as changing our URL to Koozai.com or relaunching the Koozai website. We didn’t want to change too much all at once and also this meant we could isolate what had caused any issues if problems did occur.
Organic search traffic actually increased by 5% in the month we made the change (July) and then declined by 6% in August, with a further 2.5% decline in September, which then rose by 10% in October. This put organic traffic higher than it had been before the change and at a level where it maintained. The below graph puts that in perspective:
Ultimately taken across tens of thousands of visitors the decline was marginal and in line with fluctuations we’d seen month-on-month before the change, making it possible that the change didn’t even cause a negative dip and it was merely a change we’d have seen regardless.
Likewise we haven’t experienced any drop in rankings, even now six months after the change, and some of the pages that were redirected actually improved their positions. Site speed also saw a marginal increase as a result of the change.
Finally, we didn’t receive a single message from any of our readers to say they couldn’t find a page they wanted. We checked Social Media and our contact forms and users seemed happy with the change. For most of them they’ll probably never know what we did (until today). They found what they wanted and it would have been content we were incredibly proud of. Ultimately that’s the best possible outcome.
What really surprised us about this change was that despite taking 30% of a website and removing it overnight, there were very few negative effects. We suspect this was because of the effective redirects and keeping the good content in place; had it been our strongest 30% rather than our weakest the results would have been massively different.
Ultimately it wasn’t our intention to experiment, we simply wanted to help our strongest content rise to the top and ensure we were happy with the overall site quality. Once we saw how well everything went we wanted to share the results to encourage others to have their own spring clean.
Every website owner should be proud of their site and not afraid of waking up to a penalty or disappointed readers. If you have any suspicions that your old content could be holding you back now or in the future then we’d recommend the process above, and please leave your comments below if you’d tried this with similar or different results.