What is Pruning?
Content pruning refers to the process of strategically removing or deleting unnecessary or low-performing content from a website or an online platform.
It involves identifying and evaluating existing content and making decisions about whether to keep, update, consolidate, or delete it.
The primary purpose of content pruning is to improve the overall quality and effectiveness of a website's content by mitigating content decayーthe gradual deterioration or loss of value that occurs over time in online content due to factors such as outdated information, changing user needs, shifts in search engine algorithms, and technological advancements.
Why is content pruning important?
Content pruning is important for several reasons:
Quality and relevance
By regularly reviewing and removing outdated or irrelevant content, you ensure that your website provides users with accurate and up-to-date information.
Pruning helps maintain the quality and relevance of your content, ensuring that it aligns with the needs and interests of your audience.
A well-organized and streamlined website enhances the user experience.
Content pruning eliminates clutter, reduces redundancy, and improves navigation, making it easier for visitors to find the information they need.
This leads to increased user satisfaction, engagement, and longer time spent on your site.
Search engines value websites that offer high-quality, valuable content to users.
Pruning low-performing or irrelevant content helps search engine crawlers understand your website better and focus on the content that matters.
This can lead to improved search engine rankings, visibility, and organic traffic.
Maintaining and managing a large volume of content can be resource-intensive.
Content pruning allows you to allocate your resources more effectively by focusing on creating, updating, and promoting content that generates the most value.
It saves time, effort, and resources that would otherwise be spent on maintaining unnecessary or underperforming content.
Removing excess or outdated content can contribute to improved website performance.
By reducing the number of pages, files, and media elements, you can enhance the loading speed and overall performance of your website.
Analytics and data analysis
Content pruning provides an opportunity to analyze and evaluate the performance of your existing content.
By reviewing metrics such as page views, engagement, conversions, and bounce rates, you can gain insights into user behaviour, content effectiveness, and audience preferences.
This data can inform future content creation and optimization strategies.
Staying in line with Google algorithm updates
Content pruning is important for staying in line with Google algorithm updates. Google's emphasis on quality, accuracy, and authority means that outdated or low-quality content can harm your website's visibility.
The idea behind content pruning
Inspired by Bonsai tree pruning, content pruning aims to achieve a balanced growth pattern by focusing resources on pages that generate the most value.
Many websites have a few pages that receive the majority of traffic, leaving numerous underutilized pages.
By identifying and addressing these underperforming pages, website owners can streamline their site's structure and prioritize attention on pages with higher potential for attracting visitors.
Content pruning encompasses optimizing the crawl budget and improving the overall quality score of a website.
Additionally, improving the quality score of individual pages contributes to the overall domain quality score, which can positively impact search engine rankings.
Is content pruning only useful for large websites?
Content pruning is not exclusive to large websites and can be beneficial for websites of any size, including small ones.
While larger websites may have a greater volume of content to manage, small websites also accumulate outdated or irrelevant content over time.
By implementing content-pruning strategies, small website owners can ensure that their visitors have access to up-to-date and valuable information.
Therefore, regardless of the website's size, content pruning is recommended to maintain a high standard of quality and relevance, enhance user experience, and improve search engine visibility.
How often it should be done?
Content pruning should be an ongoing and regular practice rather than a one-time event.
It is recommended to incorporate content pruning into your monthly tasks to ensure that your content remains fresh, relevant, and aligned with your goals.
While periodic large-scale pruning exercises can be helpful, relying solely on them is not sufficient.
For websites with up to 1,000 pages, a general rule of thumb is to assess and prune content every 6 months.
This allows you to identify outdated, low-performing, or irrelevant content and take appropriate actions.
However, for larger websites with a higher volume of content, more frequent pruning is advised.
In such cases, conducting content assessments and pruning every 3 months helps maintain content quality and relevance.
Adjust the frequency of content pruning based on website size and the resources available to you, but strive to make it a recurring task to keep your content in its best shape.
Process of pruning
Content pruning may involve the following essential steps.
In the initial step of content pruning, you need to conduct a thorough content inventory to compile a comprehensive list of all the content on your website.
It is essential to include not only textual content but also images, videos, and PDF files in your inventory.
Supplement your content inventory list by exporting data from various sources.
This includes your CMS (Content Management System), web analytics tools, such as Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and Bing Webmaster Tools, site audit tools like Screaming Frog, and backlink analysis tools like Ahrefs. Incorporate this data to gather a holistic view of your content landscape.
While compiling the list, be cautious of duplicates, as they can change the accuracy of your inventory.
Ensure that you filter out any duplicate URLs to obtain a final list consisting of unique URLs representing your content.
For each line or URL in the inventory, provide additional information to enrich your understanding of the content's purpose.
This includes defining the goal(s) you aim to achieve through that particular piece of content, identifying the target audience it intends to reach, and determining the search queries for which it should ideally rank.
This information helps align your content with specific objectives and audience targeting, facilitating the subsequent steps of content pruning.
Content auditing involves assessing the performance of your content based on various factors.
Expand on the content inventory list from the previous step by incorporating the following information:
Evaluate the general performance of each piece of content by examining the visits and conversions it has received in the past 12 months. For regular web pages, you can find this data in your web analytics tool.
However, for downloadable images and PDF files, you need to track clicks on the links or rely on server logs to determine their performance.
If you have embedded videos, you can find their performance metrics in the platform where they are hosted.
Assess the organic performance of your content by analyzing the number of visits and conversions it has generated from search engine traffic over the past 12 months.
You can gather this data from your web analytics tool, as well as from Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
Consider all content types, including pages, images, videos, and PDFs, when evaluating organic performance.
Internal links and external domains
Determine the number of internal links pointing to each URL within your content inventory.
Tools like Screaming Frog can provide insights into the number of internal links.
Additionally, you can also use screaming frog to identify the number of external domains linking to each URL.
Analyzing internal and external linking helps understand the visibility and authority of your content.
Evaluate the social performance of your content by examining the number of shares, likes, visits, and conversions it has received from social media platforms.
Tools like BuzzSumo can provide information on the number of shares and likes. Combine this with data from your web analytics tool to gain a comprehensive view of social performance.
Determine whether your content contains outdated information. Check each piece of content initially to ensure its accuracy and relevance.
You can use smart search queries in Google to find mentions of previous years, helping you identify content that may require updating.
Identify pages with thin content by crawling the URLs using tools like Screaming Frog. Look for pages with a low word count, as they may lack substantial value or depth.
Thin content pages should be evaluated for potential improvement or removal.
Identify instances of content cannibalization, where multiple pages target the same queries or have similar content.
Analyze pages that rank for the same queries and look for pages lacking unique title tags, meta descriptions, and H1 headings.
Such content duplication or redundancy can negatively impact search engine rankings and confuse users.
Additionally, be mindful of pages that are over-optimized to the point where they become barely readable to humans. Striking the right balance between optimization and readability is crucial.
Deciding upon your content's fate
In this step, you need to review the spreadsheet created during the content audit and mark the content that meets the following criteria:
Isn't getting any traffic in general: Identify content that shows little to no traffic engagement overall, indicating low interest or relevance to users.
Isn't getting any organic traffic: Highlight content that fails to attract organic traffic from search engines, suggesting a lack of visibility in search results.
Has few internal and external links: Identify content with a limited number of internal and external links pointing to it, which may indicate lower importance or authority.
Has poor social media performance: Flag content that exhibits inadequate performance in terms of social media engagement, such as low shares, likes, visits, and conversions.
Provides old information: Mark content that contains outdated information, as it may mislead or provide inaccurate guidance to users.
Contains thin content: Identify pages with thin content, characterized by a low word count and limited substantive value.
Is cannibalizing other content: Highlight instances where multiple pages within your website target the same queries or cover similar topics, potentially causing confusion and diluting search engine rankings.
All of the content meeting these criteria are potential candidates for pruning.
You can now consider the following approaches to salvage or manage the content:
Improve: Enhance existing content to make it more valuable, relevant, and engaging through revisions, updates, and optimizations. Address shortcomings, optimize for SEO, and improve user experience.
Remove: Eliminate irrelevant, outdated, or underperforming content to streamline the website, enhance user experience, and allocate resources effectively. Properly handle redirects to avoid negative SEO impact.
Hide/Make Non-indexable: Conceal or make specific content non-indexable to retain its usefulness for targeted audiences without affecting SEO. Useful for internal documentation, specific user resources, or outdated content.
Additionally, if the content is outdated but still valuable, clearly indicate the last update date and include a disclaimer notifying users that it may contain outdated information. Provide links to more up-to-date resources if available.
Limitations of content pruning
Content pruning, while beneficial in many cases, has its limitations that need to be considered.
One limitation is that if a website already has limited up-to-date content, pruning it further may negatively impact its ranking potential in relevant SERPs.
Search engines like Google may perceive a small website with reduced content as lacking the necessary depth and breadth of information to be considered authoritative in its niche.
Therefore, cutting down content without a sufficient amount may hinder the website's ability to rank highly in search results.
However, these metrics do not always provide a complete picture. For instance, an article with low traffic may still be considered high-quality if it has authoritative backlinks, ranks well for specific niche keywords, or attracts a dedicated audience, even if the overall volume is low.
Therefore, relying solely on metrics to assess content quality may not always accurately reflect its value.
When it comes to content pruning, there are several tips and best practices to consider for a successful implementation.
Here are some key findings and recommendations:
Foster a joint effort for success
Content pruning works best when coupled with a commitment to improving editorial standards.
Continuously producing low-quality content will diminish the effectiveness of pruning and hinder desired results.
Therefore, quality content and a positive reader experience should always be prioritized.
Be proactive in addressing content decay
Before reaching the stage of content pruning, regularly analyze the performance of your articles and be vigilant about content decay.
Over time, most articles will experience a decline in performance if they are not updated or repurposed.
Actively monitor the performance of your content and proactively update it on a quarterly basis.
Prioritize content quality before pruning
While content pruning can yield desirable results, it should not be the first strategy for newer brands with small websites and blog sections.
Instead, focus on creating high-quality content from the beginning that resonates with your target audience.
Build a strong foundation of valuable content that keeps readers coming back. Prioritize filling gaps in your content, updating older articles when necessary, acquiring backlinks, and promoting your content through appropriate channels.
These content marketing basics should be pursued before considering content pruning.
Keep track of content that will become outdated
To effectively manage content that is bound to become outdated, it is essential to keep track of such content and schedule updates accordingly.
While setting reminders in your calendar can work initially, as the number of reminders increases, it becomes beneficial to centralize this process through a content calendar.
A content calendar serves as a centralized hub where you can plan, track, and schedule content updates, including those related to outdated content.
Incorporating a content calendar into your workflow can help you gain visibility and ensure that they are executed in a timely manner.
Content pruning is a strategic process that involves assessing, optimizing, and managing website content to improve SEO performance and enhance user experience.
By selectively removing or improving underperforming or outdated content, website owners can streamline their site's structure, focus resources on high-value pages, and maintain relevance in search engine rankings.