Is Content Pruning an Effective Strategy?

The short answer is, “Yes, under the right circumstances.”

What circumstances, you ask? Well, that’s a trickier question, and one we’re going to address today. Content pruning is receiving some attention these days, so we wanted to take this opportunity to address the question and explain how, why, and when to use this specialized tactic to help with your SEO strategy.

When to prune content is a contentious issue.

In truth, content pruning is not something we recommend very often. Under a limited set of conditions, however, it can be used to good results. For the majority of sites and situations, there are other tactics that will have more of a positive impact on your organic reach, and by extension, your conversion rates.

Page Count Matters

According to Google, if a site has under 1,000 unique URLs, their bots will be able to index everything without incident. “Unique URLs” means each individual page, including each separate blog post. Hubspot recently conducted an experiment on themselves by cutting approximately 3,000 of their 30,000+ blog posts to see what the impact on SEO would be.

The results were quite clear cut—the pruning had virtually no impact whatsoever. Average post visits increased at a rate exactly proportional to the number of pages cut, but actual page visits stayed stagnant.

What does this experiment tell us? If a highly ranked and heavily trafficked site like Hubspot can prune 10% of their pages and see zero impact, it tells us that pruning isn’t a very effective tactic to increase organic reach. And it certainly won’t do much for conversion rates on the remaining pages.

Of Course, Content Matters, too

If you’ve been following Aspiration Marketing for any length of time, it should come as no surprise at all that content would factor into this article. That’s for one simple reason—publishing content your audience finds valuable is the #1 way to increase organic reach and conversions. Bar none.

Relevant content never goes out of style, so you can continue linking to it from social media posts, referencing it in new pieces or ebooks, and your audience will continue sharing it with their friends. Anything people find online that helps them with a pain point is something they’re going to bookmark and spread around. 

Once you have a solid base of articles posted and are getting traction, consider building pillar pages and linking back and forth with relevant articles. This creates so-called “topic clusters,” and Google loves topic clusters. They call it “authority” and it’s a major player in their ranking algorithms. The more authority they vest your site with, the better your organic reach will be, and the higher you’ll rank in the SERPs for your keywords. So if your content audit is turning up pages that are not drawing traffic, or are one-offs on a subject you’re not focusing on and don’t have pillar pages on, these pages are prime candidates for pruning.

Our Last Pruning Factor: Timeliness of Information

The goal with timeliness is to find the right mix of pieces that are timeless and those that are timely. So current events in your industry, mixed with how-to guides and other resource pieces that address pain points. If you find your mix is out of balance, then pruning some of the offending pieces in order to restore that balance is a great idea.

The main problem this will address is if you have an overage of pieces that relate to time-specific events or news stories. Once the month is out, will anyone remember that news conference? If so, keep it up and update as appropriate. If not, it's likely to become low-performing content and you can consider cutting it.

So, if Pruning Won’t Help, What Will?

We are so glad you asked! Optimize, optimize, OPTIMIZE!

There are three areas you want to keep in mind when doing a site audit and looking at pages for possible pruning: SEO, content relevance, and evergreen content.

Optimize for SEO first

If you’re considering cutting a page, think about maybe doing some behind-the-scenes SEO work first. You may find that traffic to that page increases from these changes alone, in which case leave the page alone and track the impact your changes have.

Your CMS likely has an SEO module (like in Hubspot) or a plug-in you can install (like Yoast SEO for Wordpress). Use these features to analyze your page’s SEO pull, then follow the software’s recommendations. There is almost always something you can tweak to improve SEO:

  • Title tags
  • Meta description
  • Subheads
  • Image alt text
  • Readability

To name but a few. 

Optimize your content for relevance

That how-to article you posted with the last update, last year? Read it through as part of your site audit to make sure the instructions are still accurate. Then fix anything that isn’t right. Then, add an “updated on” date to the post and send it out via social media to bring in new views.

The same goes for your list of industry updates, tutorial videos, and more. Keeping existing pages relevant extends their life well into the future and cuts the work necessary to craft entirely new posts when a simple update would work just as well. And that leads us handily right to our next factor to check for: evergreen content.

Check for posts that are evergreen

Evergreen content is the name given to those timeless pieces that can be up for years and continue drawing new visits. By removing the publish date and using an “updated on” date instead, you can continue reposting and linking new visitors to these pages well into the future.

Just remember to do a site audit every few months to check that these pieces remain current before posting fresh links. Update anything that’s out of date, or make other tweaks that you think can up the SEO pull of the page, then link away.

Returning to the Hubspot example from earlier, by optimizing their historical posts Hubspot was able to increase traffic to these pages by an average of 106% and double the leads generated by them at the same time.

Content pruning can be a useful, and effective tactic to have in your content marketing arsenal. In the right circumstances, it can have the desired effect. What’s important to realize is that that impact may not be as drastic as you imagine and that there are other techniques the pros recommend trying first. 

By optimizing your older content and only trimming those posts that are simply not producing AND can’t be updated appropriately, you can improve overall metrics, generate new leads, and retain your positions as a trusted advisor to your audience of readers.

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Jesse hails from Seattle, Wa. When he’s not creating great content, or staring at his laptop screen waiting for inspiration, he’s probably walking in the trees somewhere in the foothills of the nearby Cascade Mountains.


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