Pruning your content: should you delete?

Screenshot of WordPress backend with post deletion link circledI’ve got a lot of pages on this website that are lazing around doing nothing for me. Many of the pages I generated over the years seemed like a good idea at the time, but time proved me wrong. Or they were useful at the time, but have no value going forward (who cares what fixed a bug in WordPress 2.3, or what Google was on about in 2006?).

Useless content can be worse than useless because it dilutes site pagerank. The question isn’t whether to get rid of it: it’s how.

Breaking up with tired old webpages

You have three basic options:

  1. Rewrite the old, useless webpage into a good new page. This is obviously the best option, hence option #1. But sometimes there’s really nothing you can do with that crap blog post about your dog and that sweater he ate in 2004.
  2. Delete the page and let the search engine bots find a 404.
  3. Delete the page, but redirect it to something relevant, so the search engines find a 301 and, in the case of Google, transfer pagerank from the old post to the new.

Note that Option 3 is only an option if the old page actually has pagerank. Most often, they have PR2 at most. Transferring PR0 to a page does not do the receiving page any favors. Remember: a 301 transfers problems as well as good stuff. With underperforming posts, there are likely to be problems.

I think Option 3 is actually better when you’re reorganizing your content, not pruning. When you’re transforming three little bitty pages into a nice long article, for example, or converting a series of posts into one big article.

To prune your old content, the best option is rewriting, followed by just deleting it.

Defining underperforming

So, what constitutes a webpage that’s not performing well enough to be kept? That’s a matter of debate. On a site getting 100k visitors a month, you might want to get rid of every page that only gets 99 or fewer visitors per month. But on a site getting 10k visitors a month, you might need a lower standard – some golden posts may be lurking unread, waiting for the whole site to bloom before they can take off.

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Another metric is inbound links, e.g., if a page has fewer than X inbound links, get rid of it. Again, “X” will depend on how much traffic overall your site is getting.

Trust your instincts somewhat, too. Metrics help when you’re attached to pages just because you worked hard on them or something. But sometimes you have a strong feeling your page on Whatever will take off as soon as a few more people hear about Whatever, or the next time the economy goes up or down. Sometimes a page is worth keeping, and only your instinct knows why. Another option is to delete the page, but keep it on hand to be reloaded as soon as the time is right.

If you’re on the fence about a particular page and it’s the kind where people can leave a comment, one pretty solid indicator of worthiness is if spammers like it. Spammers don’t waste time on pages that aren’t performing by their metrics. They don’t necessarily hit your best posts – a lot of them aim somewhere in the middle. But if they like a post, it can’t be worthless from your perspective either.

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Last Updated:

August 26, 2021

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