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How & Why You Must Improve or Remove Your Old Content




Kristen Vaughn: Thank you guys so much for joining us today. We're super excited to talk about improving and removing your content. I figured we could just kick things off and kind of get to know everyone a bit, some of our experts with some fun facts. Let's start with Julia.

Julia is actually working on a new book that's a complete deviation from her normal genre. It's a narrative nonfiction memoir which she's talking about how she escaped a cult that she grew up in...definitely sign me up to read that.

Also, Jeremy, passing things over to you here, is a marine corps vet which is amazing. He's also finishing his second book which is super exciting. This book is going to be about effectively marketing your business during a recession. Sign me up for that too.

Danny is all-around fantastic obviously. His writing, his editing skills, how he's grown Search Engine Journal which we're going to dive into a bit more today. But something that you didn't know about Danny because you definitely knew all of that is that he is a Christmas movie addict.

And then a little fun fact about myself too. I have a pet ferret. His name is Chomper. I don't know if anyone's seen Land Before Time but he was named after that. 

Myself, Kristen Vaughn. I'm a director of online marketing at KoMarketing which is a B2B agency based out of Boston. My specialties are SEO, content marketing, social media, and super excited to be your host today. 

Danny is the executive editor of Search Engine Journal which I'm sure you're all aware of. He's an editor, a writer. He was a ghostwriter in the marketing space. He has more than 10 years of experience.

Julia McCoy is the CEO at Express Writers where she runs all the behind the scenes, operations of the content creation agency. She's also an author of two books and now it seems like another one coming up soon as well. She hosts The Write podcast. She's named an industry leader by Forbes as well. 

Jeremy Knauff also is the founder of Spartan Media based out of Tampa. He has nearly two decades of experience in the industry, so really bringing a lot to the table today. He's an expert in web design, SEO, and social media, and contributes to several leading publications including Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land, lots of good stuff there.

Now that we know everyone, I figured we can just jump right into things here. Just kind of introducing the topic a bit more. Today we'll be talking about what to do with your old content on your website. 

Could old content be hindering your website performance, and if you were to update it or remove it, could that improve things? Google has actually advised against doing this, but the results clearly show otherwise. 

We're excited to jump right into that. Danny's going to be kicking things off with the presentation here. Then after the presentation we save some time to go over your questions. 

Google’s Search Engine Model and Why SEO Still Works

Danny Goodwin: Okay, perfect. Welcome everybody to the fabulous Capitol. At The Capitol there is one overriding mission aside from obviously making lots and lots of money for The Capitol, it's to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.


Now, how do they do this? Well, The Capitol is relying on millions and millions of creators to fuel it with content. That's what makes all its money. But lately, over the last few years, The Capitol has gotten a lot greedier. They're continuing to steal more and more real estate. They're taking up space with ads, news, knowledge panels, local carousels, et cetera, et cetera. In fact, they're giving us less and less clicks to us all the time. 

According to this latest data from Jumpshot and SparkToro, 50% of all searches now are no clicks. Basically, everybody is fighting for a whole lot less. 


And of course people have rebelled over the years, but The Capitol has lashed out at them, unleashing updates like Pandas, and Penguins, Hummingbirds, and of course Core algorithm updates most recently. Yet we continue to feed them because we need to survive and so do they. Basically, what it comes down to is we're all fighting for visitors and customers and revenue and our content is starving. Yeah, it's getting kind of brutal out there.

There's hope because there is one district out there that was struggling but now is thriving, and we call it district SEJ. That's for Search Engine Journal. District SEJ is defying the almighty Capitol, despite all this bad stuff. We're at two million pages a month now or actually over 80,000 on our email newsletter subscriptions, or a million sessions a month, 870,000 visitors. And this is all growth, growth, growth. 


There's more good news. It's not just that. We're also seeing record revenue. We're not quite making Jennifer Lawrence money, but we're doing pretty well for ourselves.

And how have we done this? Well, we're turning our weak content into warrior content. Year over year organic traffic is up 74-plus-percent. 

Did somebody say SEO was dead? Sorry but no. We're seeing 71% of our traffic coming in from organic search, so it can be done. How are we doing it? 


Well, I'd like to welcome you all to The Content Hunger Games. I'm going to today teach you how we've stopped becoming a victim of The Capitol and how you too can become a victor. Because we're going to be talking about why and how to improve your content or remove it.

Why Improve Old Website Content?

Why should you improve your old content? Of course, we know content is king, but this is the big one. Google or Capitol as you may have figured out, they know about 130 trillion individual pages. That's out of 2016, so we know this number is way higher now. But only hundreds of billions of pages are actually indexed.

This sort of signaled to us, "Well, maybe Google doesn't want all your content anymore. Maybe they only want your best content." And we sort of thought that was the trend where Google's heading, and I think we're pretty spot on there.

You want to give Google only your best content. You want to make it optimized, useful, and relevant. That should be your mission. You know what Google's mission is, but this is your mission now.


We're going to talk a lot about content quality, but one thing before we get into that one, let's talk about content inequality. When I started for Search Engine Journal, we ran the numbers, and we found out that the top 3% of our posts were driving as much traffic as the bottom 97% combined, which is kind of ridiculous. 


What is Quality Content?

Why would you want to remove your old content? Well in a word, it's quality. Basically this is what you're looking at here is something Google published a few years ago. It's no longer live, but I put the link in there so you can find it. Essentially Google has defined what quality content is to them. The key things here are useful and informative, more valuable and useful than other websites, it's credible, it's high-quality, and it's engaging. 

And you are of course also what you eat or E-A-T. We've all heard a lot about EAT lately, which of course is Expertise Authority and Trustworthiness, which is in the Google rater guidelines.


What is the E-A-T? Don't think of it as ranking factors. Think of it as standards for your website. Expertise is basically your unique skills information or knowledge, your authority is that people know about that stuff and they recognize your skills or knowledge, and trust is people actually believe and what you think, say, or do, and they feel secure buying from you or endorsing you. It takes a lot of hard work to grow all this stuff, so yeah. 


Now when we talk about removing versus improving, what does Google say on that? As Kristen indicated in the intro, there's been some debate about that. Typically, Google has erred on the side of don't remove stuff, especially lately. Gary Illyes and John Mueller both said it. They say you should improve and add more high-quality stuff. Make thin content thicker. Never remove anything that someone could find useful. 

But then, if you go back to 2011, there's this old post that I sort of rediscovered that I wrote. Google came out with this tip after the Google Panda update launched; it was to remove your low-quality content. And why do they tell us to do this? Well, turns out that Google said that low-quality content on part of your site can impact your site's ranking as a whole.

They also said that removing low-quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content. We started doing this. We started doing some improvement and removing. 

Five Steps to Creating Killer Website Content

Let's first talk about how to make your content catch fire. And to do that we have to first talk about the content creation process.

That's basically five steps as most of you watching probably know this stuff, but if not, let's just do this really quickly. You got to research. Then you go and create your content. And then you got to promote it. Then you got to measure it. And then the final step is improve it or remove it. 

Now the thing with this process is everyone I talk to is really great with the research phase, they're great with creating the content, but then the drop-off happens. A lot of people just publish stuff. They don't promote it. Even less people actually measure, and then very, very few people are doing the improve or remove stage. It's an opportunity there that you guys should take advantage of.


This is how I personally define quality content. Your content doesn't have to be all of these things, but the more of these things you can check off, the better: accuracy, being original, making sure it's formatted and readable, friendly for mobile, that it's shareable easily, visually interesting, should be answering questions, solving problems, be entertaining, and always be informative, inspiring, or educational. The more that you can check off of this list, the better chance that you have that your content will be successful. 


How do we actually measure all that? These are the five things we looked at. We looked at pageviews. We looked at organic traffic, looked at our number of links, looked at our conversions. And conversions, of course, will vary depending on what matters to your website. It could be from how many people are subscribing, how many people are downloading stuff, what, signing up for demos, whatever the case may be. And you can also look at engagement. That could be stuff like time on page or bounce rate for example.


But the key thing to remember is don't just keep going after something if it fails a couple times. That's a sign that your audience just doesn't care about it. Yeah, don't waste your effort on a loser. 

When to Remove Old Content

Now, when should we set our old content on fire and just destroy it? Well, Google's also offered a little bit of advice here on what is low-quality content. We talked about E-A-T. If you have an inadequate amount of E-A-T, that could be a sign of low-quality content. 


Maybe you're using clickbait-y sort of tactics like exaggerated shocking titles or your ads or your supporting content may be distracting from your main content. Or you may have just an unsatisfying amount of information about the website or content creator or even negative reputation. Again, this is from the rater guidelines. It's not ranking stuff. It's just sort of standards. Think about having standards. 

Ultimately, low-quality content is doomed. If you don't have a target audience, if you don't have a goal or a purpose for the content you're creating, if you're not optimizing it; if you don't have these three things, you're going to be unsuccessful. We're past the time where we're just creating content for the sake of it. You need to have a purpose and an audience and just optimize the heck out of it every time. 

The rules for our Content Hunger Games are basically this: we have to evaluate every piece of content and decide what to do with it. Maybe the case that there are no changes needed. Maybe it needs an update. Maybe it needs a rewrite. Maybe you need to combine a bunch of posts into one. Or maybe we just need to delete it. How do we decide? 

How to Evaluate Existing Content

This is how we did it. I've sort of bucketed the criteria for this into column personas or tributes in this case. Our first tribute; this is what the content looks like. All your information is accurate or it has historic value, it has good traffic or engagement, it's attracted lots of quality links and shares, it's probably ranking in position one two three right now, and it's generating conversions. No changes are needed. Don't screw up a good thing. Sometimes it's smarter just to let it be unless it actually really needs an update. 


We'll move on to our next tribute. This sort of content, it may still be getting consistent traffic or maybe it used to get a lot. Over the years it's earned some valuable links and shares, still ranking on page one of Google, but the problem is with these next two bullet points. You're not getting a lot of conversions anymore, or you're getting poor engagement. What do we do here? 


Well, it's time to update or refresh the post. We have to make all the information accurate. We need to make it better than your competitors. And you'll ideally want to keep it on the same URL as possible, especially if you've built up any equity over the years there. If that's possible, keep it there.


Kristen Vaughn: Danny, one question that we got in the chat which I feel like kind of applies here too. When you're thinking about refreshing articles, do you usually recommend updating the publishing date in WordPress or whatever CMS is being used?

Danny Goodwin: Typically yes. What we typically do would be to refresh it and then change the actual publication date. I know that some people will also put a note either at the top or bottom saying this post was updated on, but I prefer to change the actual publication date. The key has to be that it's a substantial change.

We'll move on to our next tribute. This sort of content; you'll recognize it because it's getting little or no traffic. It's not getting any links or shares anymore. It's not ranking on page one anymore. Maybe it's not even indexed. You may be surprised sometimes content just falls out of Google, so make sure you check that. And it's definitely not getting any conversions. What do we do here? Well, it's time to rewrite it. 

You may have written something that was once useful but it's just not anymore. Make it more useful, make it more relevant, make it more helpful. Start from scratch. Update all the information. Make it accurate. For us, when we do a rewrite, we typically 301 redirect the old to the new post, especially if...it feels like it's just lost all its value. 

Google can forward PageRank but they don't always pass 100% of PageRank. The key to get the most out of that is to do a 301 redirect from pages that closely match. You want to go from the same topic to same topic. You want to only do 301 redirects when it's from page to page and the topics are the same.

We’ll move onto our next district, district number five. This is a case where you'll notice that you have multiple articles that are all on one topic. Maybe one piece is getting some traffic and the others are getting a little or none. This may sound like keyword cannibalization. 

You're also not attracting any new links or shares. You're not ranking on page one. Or the other thing you may see is that you have the wrong page ranking, like the one you want is not and some wrong page is ranking, or you may even have the case where you have two pages competing with each other. That usually happens because Google can't figure out which page to rank. They're basically split testing it for you.

In this case, it's time to consolidate all that content. You want to create one awesome piece of content. Start from scratch. Reuse anything you can from those, however many pieces you have. If there's anything you can save, save it, but yeah, you want to start from scratch. Just make it better than your competitor again. And then you want 301 redirect all the posts, the new posts to your brand new and awesome post.


We also had John Mueller talk about combining content and he's actually said that that's a cool thing to do because he says here. "If you have three or four weak pages and you redirect them all to one stronger piece, that's a good sign of relevancy and it should help you." 

The final district here, district number nine, this is our thin content. For me, thin content is stuff that it's poorly written, maybe off-topic, maybe it's syndicated, or in some terrible cases, it may be stolen or plagiarized. This is the stuff you don't want on your website. This stuff will hurt you. You also can recognize the stuff because has absolutely no historical significance: there's very few pageviews and very few traffic, links, shares, conversions, or engagement, all of it is just terrible.

We're just going to kill this with fire. We're just going to decide do we want to delete this stuff or deindex it. If you do decide to get stuff out of the search engines, you have two options here. The question is always, do you want to do a 404 or a 410? The short answer if you want stuff to come out really fast, 410. If you wanted to just sort of slowly die out of the index leave it as a 404. Google will eventually drop it when they figure out it's gone. But I would suggest doing the 410.

I know Google advises against removing content but at this point, we've deindexed over 1,000 posts and we've deleted another 5,000. If it's getting any traffic, if it has link equity, if it's ranking on page one, or if anybody might miss it if it's gone, then yeah, it's probably a little dangerous to remove the content. But if you answer no to those and odds are with the low-quality content you will answer no, then no. I see no reason not to remove your bad content, especially if you don't want people seeing it. 


Improve your content whenever you can through rewrites, combination, or updating. And if you can't improve it, then deindex it or delete it from your website. It will help you I believe. And may the SEO odds be ever in your favor. Thank you. 

Changing Article Titles and Redirecting Articles

Kristen Vaughn: Awesome. Thank you, Danny. We had a couple of questions in here in the chat. One of the questions specifically was around titles and URL changes. Is it okay to change the title of an article and then 301 redirect it to a new URL? 

Danny Goodwin: As long as it's on the same topic you can change your titles to whatever you want. I would just make sure that the content is ... it's on the same topic. Obviously, if the title or the headline didn't work before, maybe it had a bad click-through rate or whatever the case may be, then you definitely want to change it anyway. The key thing with the redirecting from an old URL to new one is just to make sure that the content is very similar. It has to just be on the same topic. The headline isn't as important as the actual content.

Kristen Vaughn: If you have one article that works better, but a lot of other articles on that topic, should we redirect the weaker ones to the better content? I think that kind of goes back to your points around consolidating content, but I guess just is it okay to redirect more than one to a better piece of content? Maybe you don't even have to refresh it. 

Danny Goodwin: I mean you can. We have done that. If one of those pages maybe has a crazy high conversion rate or is just doing something that's driving business for you, you've got to be careful, you got to look at all the metrics first, but it can be done, absolutely. It's always, it goes back to your judgment. You have to just be looking at everything. 

Kristen Vaughn: Yeah. And I think like if that one piece of content is truly better, maybe that makes sense, but I would also look through those other assets and see like is there something else that I could add here.

Danny Goodwin: It could be the case too that there could be a long-tail term that you can better target. It's not like you're trying to all get on to one certain term. But it's almost like you could think about as supporting content or it's on a similar topic but you're helping to support that bigger piece that you want to rank well. 

Kristen Vaughn: Yeah. Yeah, I was just going to say, Jeremy, Julia, any other thoughts on that, redirecting multiple posts to one asset? 

Jeremy Knauff: I think you have to look at what the mindset of the visitor is when they're going to those pages because if they have a particular mindset that doesn't fit with where you want to redirect them to and they end up bouncing out of there because of that, that could screw things up for you as well. 

Kristen Vaughn: When it comes to editorial calendars, keep keyword cannibalization in mind. I've often run into this challenge with clients too where like say they have marketing automation as their big focus, just as an example, and they want to create every piece of content about marketing automation. That's fine to have marketing automation as the term you want to rank for, but make sure that each asset is offering something unique and maybe targeting a longer tail variation of that, maybe marketing automation challenges, marketing automation platform options, whatever that might be. But yeah, use this as an opportunity, this exercise to plan better too.

Julia McCoy: A good keyword research tool will help you find so many variations. Like what Kristen was saying, you can come up with, gosh, we see 10 or 12 variations for one stem keyword now. Like if it's blogging, we can find how to write a blog, how long should a blog be, what blogging topics should I write on. And those are like 6 word phrases that have so little competition in Google. Use a good keyword research tool. SEMrush is definitely a good one.

Updating All Website Pages & Deciding How to Improve Content

Kristen Vaughn: One question is around applying this to main site pages instead of blog posts. Does this strategy apply to main site pages? Has anyone here tried it? Say like a product and services page and what would you all recommend for that?

Jeremy Knauff: I mean it definitely applies there, just as much as with blog posts. 

Kristen Vaughn: Yeah, I know this is something that Danny actually, you wrote an article about this topic as well. I think, I mean, think about it in the same way, have the same mission for your main site landing pages, provide focus on quality, right? 

Danny Goodwin: Yep.

Julia McCoy: And it's interesting what ranks in the top of Google. For us, it's a mix between landing pages, blogs, and long-form product description pages. We've actually had a rank with a Buy Now link which Google has also said shouldn't really be ranking. That's ranked at the top of Google and there's a Buy Now button at the bottom. But it was a long-form product description. Definitely test and assess and measure. The last three steps of the creation process that Danny shared were really good for that. 

Kristen Vaughn: Yeah. Another question we have here, how do you decide what needs to go and what should be improved? I know we talked about this a little bit already, but kind of just diving into the specifics a bit more.

Jeremy Knauff: I was going to say I'll throw an example out there. In certain industries you're going to have things that are kind of like newsworthy, maybe legal changes or things like that, building code, stuff like that. Obviously those things are no longer relevant. That would be a perfect example of something you get rid of. 

Danny Goodwin: I mean one of our challenges was with some of our older news content. It was sort of the case where a lot of the stuff we, that Search Engine Journal covered back in the day, maybe it wasn't as relevant to SEO or PPC. You just sort of got to look at the topic. Is this part of my keyword universe? Like does it fit in anymore? And if it doesn't, just kick it out. 

Kristen Vaughn: Do you guys have like a, I guess, credential for how long you would give an asset from a timeframe perspective to pick up traffic? Say like would you not touch a piece of content for six months until you revisit it for optimizations, or do you all have like a credential for that? 

Jeremy Knauff: For me, it depends on what that term or what that topic's role is in the business. There may be somewhere it ranks for it, it gets no traffic, but it's something that people, their customers might have a need to have that question answered. Even if it's only a few visits a month, we still leave it there. In other cases it might be something where it's not important, it doesn't matter and if there's no traffic, then we kill it or improve it. 

Danny Goodwin: Typically my rule is if after two years it hasn't done much for us it's time to update it or get rid of it. But yeah, as a general rule. 

Julia McCoy: Our benchmark is 12 months mark. That's when we start reviewing. 

What to Change When Updating Content

Kristen Vaughn: Cool. Let's see what other questions we have here. What do I look at for in the content itself to update and improve when I'm rewriting? That was one question we had. But I think we also had another one specifically around Google answer box targeting. I feel like these two might be one to consider.

When you're thinking about what to rewrite in any piece of content, I would highly recommend really just getting in search results and taking a look at what's already ranking out there. And really that type of analysis is going to help guide your updates. We can't just give you a list of updates to make to your content. It's really going to be unique and targeted towards the keyword and the topic on hand. 

Do you guys have any general considerations there as far as things that usually need to be updated besides dates? 

Danny Goodwin: I mean when you're looking at updating, you want to just get subject matter experts. I think that's the biggest thing because they will know what should be there. It may not be the case you have to have them write the content, but maybe if you can have someone review it for you. You want writers. You want good writers. That involves paying for them. 

Jeremy Knauff: I was just going to say, obviously in addition to all that, you've got statistics and data and stuff like that, that obviously you want to take a look at. Make sure that's up-to-date, any kind of images or media, things like that, and throw in schema in there as well can be helpful.

Kristen Vaughn: Hopefully that answered everything for everyone. Thank you so much, Danny, for the presentation and Julia and Jeremy. 

Jeremy Knauff: Thank you.

Julia McCoy: Thanks for having us. 

Danny Goodwin: And thank you to SEMrush.

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