How To Get Better Rankings By Deleting Content?

You want to know an SEO trick (deleting content) that works fast, pays off and that hardly anyone practices? Here you go: Delete your low-quality content! How to do that you’ll learn here.

You always hear from SEO experts that good content is important for a good ranking. There is no doubt about it and this strategy is the best approach besides solid technical onpage SEO and a proper keyword focus. However, you can increase the quality of the content on your website in two ways:

  • By producing new, good content
  • But also by removing old, bad content

Google looks at your website with various tools and algorithms and ranks it in terms of quality. One aspect – and I am very sure about this – is something like the “Overall Domain Quality”. It measures the quality of your domain. I only assume that there is such a value and I don’t know how it is called exactly.

But it must exist. Why? Many well-known and authoritative domains rank for certain search terms even with very tough competition immediately after the publication of a URL to the corresponding topic. New URLs of such domains have an advantage over others. Sometimes this unknown quantity is also called “trust” or “authority”.

Often, this special ranking bonus is also focused on certain topics. If you do this with a new and unknown domain, then you have no chance to even reach the Top10.

Google just doesn’t know which pigeonhole to put you in – but with the old, authoritative and trusted sites, it does!

How does Google measure Overall Domain Quality?

  • The bonus is not basically for everything, but always fixed on certain topics. You can’t go fishing in other people’s lakes. If a site about fitness suddenly started writing about stocks, it would have a hard time at first. Only very few domains have a basic bonus – for example Wikipedia
  • Backlinks, age of the domain and brand awareness play a major role. More precisely: Relevant (!) backlinks for the respective niche, with age especially the consistency of the domain (i.e. not an expired domain, but a fitness guide that has been publishing a blog post every day for 12 years). This has to be built up over years
  • Meanwhile, other quality factors are more important: What percentage of content performs well? Here, in my opinion, the ratio of mediocre or even poor content to top content is crucial. The more top content, the better the ranking. And this is exactly where the topic of “deleting” comes into play

Delete content? Can someone explain this to me in more detail?

There is one domain that is mostly consisting out of editorial content and has a total of 1,000 articles.

  • 7 out of these 1,220 articles are real traffic generators and produce 70% of the organic traffic
  • Another 170 articles produce the remaining 29% of traffic
  • The remaining 1050 articles together deliver not even 1% of the traffic

The total traffic is 40,000 visitors per month.

In Google’s eyes, the result is mixed: The domain has 7 really excellent URLs that perform great and offer added value for the user. Google would definitely like to have these 7 unicorn URLs ranked high in the SERPs.

However, there are – besides 170 mediocre content – also these 1050 “low-quality URLs” with rather poor content. What would you as Google do now if you see a completely new URL from this domain? What is the chance that the new URL will be a unicorn and not a comlete desaster?

You can calculate that: It’s 0.6%!

What happens when you delete content?

So what exactly could you do with this website project? That’s right, delete the content! You should delete the 1050 articles that make up less than 1% of the traffic. In purely mathematical terms, you would have 400 visitors less per month (1% of the traffic of 40,000), because you will miss the traffic of the bad URLs in the future.

In practice, however, the opposite is the case: It is not uncommon that your total traffic increases by up to 15%, so you suddenly have 46,000 visitors per month. My experience shows that 10-20% traffic increase is not a rare occurrence, but rather the rule.

This is what happens:

  • Of course, you lose the rankings for your 1050 articles. But there were hardly any rankings anyway
  • At the same time – usually a few weeks later – the rankings for your remaining URLs increase
  • With the remaining URLs you rank for more keywords and you basically rank highe
  • By the way, your internal linking is also better, because you distribute your linkjuice to fewer URLs

False fears about deleting content

Nevertheless, many SEOs often do not trust themselves to take this step towards deleting content. But why?

  • The content did cost money. That’s true, but it doesn’t help – and it hurts you more than it serves. When I think about how much content I’ve produced so far and how much of it is still up to date, it’s really scary. But it is a fact that very few contents have what it takes to be a “star” and have a permanent existence
  • Big fear of major ranking changes: Many SEOs are afraid that internal linking could cause problems or that it could basically go downhill with the ranking. This is almost never the case with content deletion. What is problematic is changing the URL and/or page structure, which you should never approach carelessly. Deleting individual content is something every domain can usually handle very well
  • The hope that the ranking for the 1050 URLs could still come. That can be, if the content is still new – and then I would not recommend to delete it. For content that is several years old and performs poorly, I would say: You can wait a long time, these rankings usually never come back
  • The fear that even the top performing URLs no longer rank. That doesn’t happen. I have never seen that after I deleted those URLs that performed well, those top-performers suddenly dropped in the rankings

Who should delete content?

Basically, anyone can do this, but some types of websites are better suited.

  • Older websites, and especially websites that produced content before 2009. Let’s face it: different standards applied to content on the web back then than they do today
  • Domains with editorial content
  • Domains that have a particularly large number of URLs with no traffic
  • Domains that are continuously losing visibility

Who should not delete content?

  • Young websites that are less than a year old
  • Websites that have little content overall
  • Websites that are relaunching. In principle, you can delete some content during a relaunch. However, I would not do a big deletion at the same time when relaunching. You can do that before or after. Too many changes at once can confuse the Googlebot and this definitely includes large-scale deleted content in combination with a new design
  • Especially you should leave the URL structure of the existing articles in peace, if you make a large-scale deletion. Basically you need a really, really good reason to touch your URL structure nowadays
  • At least I would be careful if the deletion doesn’t work like a flattening, but you delete for example 4 out of 5 topics of your website. But you have to decide that on a case-by-case basis

What content should you delete?

How exactly you identify the content that should be deleted depends especially on the amount of content you have to analyze. Very large websites must proceed differently than a small blog with a few hundred articles. I assume in the following that you don’t have to inspect tens or hundreds of thousands of URLs, but less than 1,000.

First, you need a list of your URLs – ideally in a table with data from Search Console and Google Analytics. Screaming Frog or Site Bulb might be a good tool for this. With both tools you can crawl your entire website like Google, and you also get the click data via Analytics and Search Console quite easily via API.

How this can be easily done, you will learn when you subscribe to our newsletter! If you haven’t registered yet, you should do it as soon as possible!

Personally, I make the analysis based on two factors:

  1. The “hard facts”: Here I look at the click numbers (via Search Console) of the last three months. I always start with the URLs with 0 clicks and move upwards. You’ll be amazed how many of your URLs didn’t get a single Google visitor in three months.After that, I look at the impressions and whether you can possibly turn something on the alignment / keywords to turn the URL into a different lane. Sometimes you have rankings for previously unfocused keywords and you can get a lot out of this by making a slight adjustment in the title/description. If you have other onsite metrics (such as retention time, if you measure it more accurately than usual using event tracking) or other hard quality metrics, then you can use these as well.But often the picture is clear: the URL has no relevant rankings, the traffic is non-existent and you are far from a good-performing URL. If you have an extremely large number of URLs – hundreds of thousands or even millions, then you need to find other factors here that will show you whether the URL is really “worth deleting” or not. Because the second step would be too time-consuming.
  2. The “soft factors”: In the case of small URL quantities, you now proceed in such a way that you access the URL and look at it honestly – is this a high-quality URL or not? In 9 out of 10 cases it is not and the Googlebot has rightly not sent you any traffic. Very often it is the case that the content was either never really good or it is outdated.

Of course, one of the basic requirements is that the articles are indexable and not excluded by noindex or canonical. Another exception that you should consider is highly seasonal content. An article about “Halloween decoration” is only interesting for a few weeks a year, but even though it probably doesn’t generate any traffic from January to March, you shouldn’t delete it just because of that.

What about archive content?

If you work at a publishing company, you may have a lot of content that is out of date, but still worth indexing. Gary Illyes from Google has a pretty clear answer to this: you should not delete such archive content. Very few major news sites delete their old articles. They are not necessarily of low quality, but just old content. Personally, I would leave them online.

What exactly does Google say about this?

At Google, the dominant opinion is that content should not be deleted, but rather revised and improved. Of course, this has to be seen from the point of view of Google employees: Basically, you can make many mistakes with by deleting a lot of content.

Literally, John Mueller once said in a Webmaster Hangout: “Improving it [the content] 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.”

A great article on this topic can be found on Search Engine Journal. How & Why You Must Improve or Remove Your Old Content. In it you can read the various statements Google has made over the years and why the author Danny Goodwin (the editor-in-chief of Search Engine Journal) still deletes his content. I completely agree with Danny.

What should you pay attention to when running an online shop?

If you have an online shop, those product URLs should also be put to the test. Do you have products that don’t rank well and that no one buys? If the answer is yes, then seriously consider removing them from your product line. Every “offline store” takes poorly performing products off the shelves – with online stores, unfortunately, I sometimes see the tendency to say “It doesn’t cost anything if you keep them in the range”. I would also check here with a careful eye to see if all the products are actually still useful.

What do you do with URLs that are scheduled for deletion?

Actually deleting a URL using a 404 or 410 status code should always be the last action. There are other things you can do.

  • Check if you have a similar URL that performs well and covers the same topic. Then redirect via 301. This is super-easy with a site query. Enter “Site:yourdomain.com Keyword” in Google and you will be shown the most relevant URLs – on your own domain – for the corresponding keyword. If you delete an article about apple jam, then you enter “Site:yourdomain.com apple jam”. Often you will find similar or even thematically identical articles.You can forward the article now, instead of just deleting it, using 301 forwarding. This way no link power from e.g. external backlinks will be lost. However, it is important that the URL really fits thematically. There is a simple rule here: If a user in a forum would click on the old link and then land on the new URL – would he still be satisfied with the content? Or would the topic be related, but not what he is looking for?Google doesn’t like it when off-topic URLs are merged via redirection just to save link power. By the way, this also answers the question at the same time: “Should I forward deleted URLs via 301 to the homepage?”. No, unless on the homepage the user will find what was previously on the corresponding innerpage. Unfortunately, some SEOs still do this wrong.
  • See if it’s worth revising the URL. You will be surprised how often this is the case. Some URLs would be great from the topics, but are simply not implemented properly. Or the information about the topic is outdated. Very often it is also the case that the URLs are a few years old and the competition has meanwhile added better content and you have therefore lost in the ranking.Here you can add an “R” to your list and leave the URL indexed for now. Afterwards I would “r”evise it, whereby I would rather publish a new URL and forward the old one to the new one. Then Google understands much quicker that the content has been renewed.
  • If those 2 ways are not applicable, then just delete the URL. Do you have no traffic? The quality of the content is poor? There is no URL to which you can redirect? And a revision is not worthwhile? Then simply delete the URL. It is best to use the status code 410 (Gone), this tells Google that the content has disappeared for good and will not appear again as with 404. But 404 is still ok.

What should you keep in mind when you delete?

  • Make a backup of your content. Safety first. If all else fails, you should be able to restore the content
  • If you’re not an SEO professional: hire a professional to handle the process for you. Even though content deletion can do a lot of good – it can also do a lot of damage if you approach it the wrong way
  • Make sure you do content deletion independently from other SEO measures. Otherwise, when rankings tank, you won’t know if it was the deletion or the other action
  • If you have to delete a lot of content, do it in several steps. First delete the first batch, then wait a few weeks to see how the rankings develop. In the example above, I would never delete 85% of the content at once, but first delete 20% and then continue in small steps. But this should be decided on a case-by-case basis and depends heavily on your domain and the previous content
  • Backlinks pointing to deleted URLs and thus 404 or 410 URLs unfortunately do not bring you anything for the ranking. Many are therefore afraid to delete URLs at all, because links still point to them. Funnily enough, in practice, every URL that has a (natural) backlink is either qualitatively good or the topic is such that you can revise it and do not have to delete it

My final thoughts

It doesn’t always have to be new content! By deleting or revising old posts, you can give your domain a quick facelift. Do it carefully and wisely – you might even hire a professional to do it for you.

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All the best,
Fabian

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