Content Pruning - Did You See an Increase in SERP Visibility?

Ryuzaki

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So I'm going to write up a big post for my case study about why I'm talking about this later (look for that if you care), but the basic question is:

Have you tried content pruning?

Obviously I want to know about results too. I just read about 10 blog posts about it, with this one from CognitiveSEO being the most worthwhile. It has a lot of case studies in it, but you know how those go. Who knows how much of that is fluffed up or properly isolated.

But they're promising. If you are to take it all at face value, people are seeing results within a month of the pruning.

Some of them:
  • Flat out deleted posts
  • 301'd them around
  • No-index'd the pages but left them on the site and sitemap
  • Improved a handful, deleted others
They range from people cutting their sites from 2000+ posts down to ~70 posts. Some involved cutting 10,000 pages out of the index (eCommerce sites). And some were chopping a site from 100 posts to 50 posts.

What is Content Pruning?

Content pruning is the act of finding low quality pages, whether that be zero serp visibility or traffic, low word count, low value to users, outdated content that won't become relevant, and anything else that can bloat the index like accidental media file pages or search results.

So what's the point of this? I see it having several reasons, some being fact and others being theory:
  1. Better user experience
  2. Less places for juice to distribute and become diluted
  3. Better 'focus' of keywords across the site, tightens relevancy (in my case)
  4. Panda possibly looks at how much crud you have bloating the index and gives an average 'quality score' to your site based on all pages.
My Situation

The basics of my situation is my main site started with an idea that isn't feasible any more, and I also used a certain section to post "easy stuff" in order to keep freshness up. I'm looking at about 300 posts that I plan on cutting down to about 150 posts. Even if I get no results, I'm going for it anyways, because it'll tighten my focus and cut a lot of work off my plate.

All 150 posts of mine are absolutely dead weight. I read an interesting term on that CognitiveSEO post. Someone started talking about "algorithmic drag." They also talk about the iceberg metaphor of how the more ice you have growing at the bottom of the iceberg, the heavier it is and the less mass can pop out of the water at the top.

Anyone dealt with this? I'm going in and will report my results here, but I won't start till mid-December probably. I'm guessing it can get done in one to two days, and we'll see what happens after the holiday dip.
 
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I did this after the first Google update this fall, then moved up big time, then fell down again and currently as bad as the first update.
However, I somehow question how this integrates with the idea of running a blog. Do you noindex short blogposts? Wouldn't that mess with syndication metrics in Google's algo?
I do hear quite a few successful affiliate SEOs in my country talking exactly like that.
 

Ryuzaki

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However, I somehow question how this integrates with the idea of running a blog. Do you noindex short blogposts? Wouldn't that mess with syndication metrics in Google's algo?
What do you mean by 'syndication metrics?'

When I say blog, and for the most part everyone these days, I don't mean like a LiveJournal style of "Dear Diary, today I blah blah and here's my favorite song of the day." I'm talking about business blogs, or at least those intended to provide high value to a large audience, versus one being written for a small group of friends that's far more casual.

Short doesn't automatically mean low quality to me. A short post can be getting 1000's of organic search visits because it succinctly deals with the intent of the search. If I wasn't going in with a broad sweeping axe, I'd get out a fine precision scalpel and look at tons of metrics well past search visits and word count.
 
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Ok, I agree with you there.

Syndication, I'm talking the way the blogosphere and larger news syndication works with a lot of sites, linking a blog post, having an excerpt, maybe adding a few lines of commentary. That's an integral part of the internet right? And I imagine this kind of syndication effect tells Google what to put at the top of trending topics. It could however be construed as prune worthy content.

If webmasters begin noindexing "thin" posts like that, then that might mess with Google's ability to do that. I know it is hypothetical, because most bloggers don't use SEO in that manner.
 
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I straight deleted some posts about 2 months ago and definitely have higher vis. I simply sorted my posts by views (my theme keeps track) and deleted the ones under 300 words. However now I want to go deeper on this, so have extracted views from GA and have them in an Excel sheet.

Don't know if due to this though as Google pushing many updates.

If anyone knows of a method to grab a bunch of URLs from a spreadsheet and bulk change their status (ie to pending) or noindex them via Yoast in Wordpress that would be appreciated. I guess there is a MYSQL query I could work out. At the moment I think I could kill over half of my posts (around 1K posts) and my views wouldn't suffer.
 
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I just went through and deleted about 500 more posts, around 20% of the total posts on this site. I also went back and did a keyword search of the titles and am 301'ing posts I picked up via that to 3-4 key pages on my site. The rest are straight deleted. Let's see what happens...
 

infotech

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My Situation

The basics of my situation is my main site started with an idea that isn't feasible any more, and I also used a certain section to post "easy stuff" in order to keep freshness up. I'm looking at about 300 posts that I plan on cutting down to about 150 posts. Even if I get no results, I'm going for it anyways, because it'll tighten my focus and cut a lot of work off my plate.
What is your promotional to informational post ratio? Back when Fred hit, you suggested keeping something like 1:5 ratio. You'll be pruning promotional & informational post alike?
 

Ryuzaki

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What is your promotional to informational post ratio? Back when Fred hit, you suggested keeping something like 1:5 ratio. You'll be pruning promotional & informational post alike?
My promo to info ratio will definitely decrease but will quickly rise again. These will be all info/entertainment posts that get the axe. It won't take a lot to drive the ratio back up. But even then the ratio will still at least be... 1:3 or so. That'll quickly climb again.
 

Ryuzaki

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It's done. I've officially removed 147 posts from this site. These were low quality, non-targetted, non-evergreen posts that were getting very little impressions in the SERPs and even fewer clicks. A lot of it was seriously trash that was around from the first days of the site when I had different ideas for those posts.

We'll see how it reacts over the next month or two. I'll report as soon as I see some kind of consistent confirmation that my organic traffic has changed (for better, let's hope). The only other thing I plan on doing that's semi-major is adding lazy loading, and my site is fast enough that it won't have any huge impact. As a matter of fact some of the sites doing better than me are insanely slower.
 
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The only issue with reporting results is significant Google updates seem to be happening every other week these days!
 

Ryuzaki

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The only issue with reporting results is significant Google updates seem to be happening every other week these days!
Well hold on to your butts, because there's another update today it seems:

 
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Yes, noticed movement today, looked positive to begin with. Crossing fingers it stays that way.
 

turbin3

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I have content pruned on multiple sites more significantly in the past 2 years roughly. I have been seeing good, consistent results over a long period of time now.

On the best performer, started out with around 800 posts. Ended up trimming down to maybe 400 posts. I more than doubled the number of categories.

My focus was trying to get at least 10 posts per category (no reason for the number, just figured anything less seemed poor). Some had quite a bit more, but the main thing was I didn't want any thin categories. This made the categories significantly more targeted instead of such broad subjects as they were before.

I consolidated by:
  • Aggregated maybe 10-20% posts in to fewer, larger posts on similar subjects (think top-of-silo posts when the sub-topics were just too thin to warrant their own posts)
  • The rest I redirected to their most relevant posts. At least 2 or 3 categories were full of fluff pieces and entertainment that was totally irrelevant. I spread those 301's around so as to not "deathray" the homepage with redirects. Redirected to a mix of other posts and category pages.
  • Migrated a few posts to another couple sites where they were more relevant, then 301 redirected.
  • Checked Google Analytics, year over year under the Site Content report. If pages consistently had no traffic/engagement for long periods of time, I used that as a significant indicator I might want to prune.
  • Improved site navigation with a better megamenu, helping reduce some of the click depth of posts.
If a terrible blog post in the forest falls into the deleted pile, does anyone care? ;-) LOL

For this best performer, I've seen consistent organic growth for around 12 months now, and last I checked well over a 200% increase. The other interesting thing is I consistently picked up a ton of long tail ranks, with many of them hitting the first page, and within the top 5, and staying there consistently now for many months. That was all without any promotion, since I couldn't justify it for the current ROI on that site.
 

animalstyle

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Giving this a whirl on a site that's been online since 2014 that has definitely stagnated (shot of past yr and a bit):



Site has 900 pages in the sitemap, 1000 indexed by G.

301'ed / 404'ed ~25 thin news articles.
Noindexed ~100 past event pages.
Removed a stagnated site section of ~90 pages.

Will report back.
 

becool

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I've kept an eye on this thread for a while and couldn't decide whether to prune my content, but I finally pulled the trigger moments ago. I will definitely report back. In the interim, here's some pertinent information to better understand any results/changes I report in the future. First, the site had approximately 130 pages. I removed a whopping 100 pages, give or take a page or two, by de-indexing the pages through Yoast. Second, the content I de-indexed wasn't necessarily poor quality, on the whole/generally. Rather, the content was all unique and largely well-written (with the exception of potentially a handful of articles/posts that could have benefited from revisions). Most importantly, the subject matter of the de-indexed content was duplicative of my main money pages' content, with certain nuances/specifics/details that were included in the de-indexed content but not addressed on the related money pages. From Google's vantage, I think, the content was garbage because it wouldn't rank (in several instances, at all). In retrospect, I should have done this long ago, but I've been slammed with other work and I couldn't think clearly about the site.

I will report back accordingly. I appreciate the thought and time that has been put into this thread by the above posters.
 

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I'm not sure if that flowchart is useful...

Right from the start, I don't think 6 months after publishing a new article is a good cut-off point to determine if it's worth keeping or not. Has anyone here not had articles that took longer than 6 months to get "meaningful" traffic? Think of every post on your sites that took longer than 6 months to start gaining traction, and now imagine if you had deleted them for no reason.

Then the box at the end kind of nullifies everything by saying "Btw, if you're targeting good keywords, you might want to just ignore this chart."

I didn't read the article or watch the video so maybe they explain it more, but just based on the chart itself I'd recommend caution.
 

becool

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What is the best practice (or, more likely, the recommended practice) with respect to 301 redirects and uploading a new sitemap to GSC after pruning?

I simply pruned, 301 redirected each pruned post to the most appropriate page and then uploaded a new sitemap to GSC (which now only shows the non-pruned pages). Is it worthwhile for me to create a new sitemap with the non-pruned pages and the pruned pages in order to encourage GSC to crawl the pruned pages in order to expeditiously detect the 301 redirects (as the pruned pages are still showing up in the index)? Alternatively, I can just wait, which is what I’ve done thus far.

Thanks!
 
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We just took a client's site down to around 400 pages, from over 30,000 crawlable URL's on a new site build. The best part is, we kept most of the content, they just had a ton of content that shouldn't have had it's own URL (think reviews, photos, testimonials etc all clickable and going out to their own page).

I can't wait to see the result from this serious pruning.
 
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We just took a client's site down to around 400 pages, from over 30,000 crawlable URL's on a new site build. The best part is, we kept most of the content, they just had a ton of content that shouldn't have had it's own URL (think reviews, photos, testimonials etc all clickable and going out to their own page).

I can't wait to see the result from this serious pruning.
I'd say this is not content pruning but just technical onsite optimization.
 

RomesFall

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Pretty funny that this subject is blowing up everywhere right now... Been doing it for years on my own sites and with clients (when I was doing client work).

It's also a big part of why I don't build sites as large as possible anymore.
 

Ryuzaki

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There's not a lot of chatter about it but there was a Google Algorithm update on February the 9th. This is the first update since I pruned my content (~150 posts) as well as removing a solid ~400 other pages out of the index, for a total of ~550 pages out of the index. There's still about ~80 to go, but...


There's only data for two days so far but the first day was about a +17% and the second was around +11% extra organic traffic for their respective days of the previous week.

This almost brings me back to where I was before the August update and the slew of related updates after that.

It could be the case that I got a good draw of the cards and it has nothing to do with the content pruning. Or it could be a good sign that it's working. I'm suspecting Google hasn't had time to process all of my changes etiher, so even if it's related to the pruning then it's likely not counting all of it yet. I'll report back if the traffic increase remains in the coming weeks, and hopefully we'll see another update and I can report another boost. That'd be a good sign in regards to pruning.
 
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@Ryuzaki, that looks promising. @Darth, how's your site shaking? You deleted a lot more content. I'd love to see a positive confirmation from you too.