While it’s true that simply taking a page down probably won’t do any serious damage to your website’s ranking, there are some potential risks involved.
In this article, we’ll look at those risks and what you can do to avoid them.
Why Remove a Page in the First Place?
Sometimes your website may get old, outdated, or just rusty. When this happens, the next logical step is to consider removing or redirecting it to a new page.
For example, let’s say you have a product page for a product you no longer sell. Or maybe you have a blog post that’s now way out of date.
In either case, taking the page down makes a lot of sense.
Here are a few other reasons you might want to remove a page:
- The page is no longer relevant
- The page is getting very little traffic
- The page is duplicate content
- The page has thin content
- The page is hard to navigate
- The page has a bad user experience
What Qualifies as Outdated Content?
Have you ever been browsing the internet and come across an outdated article?
Maybe it’s an article about a celebrity gossip story from five years ago or a how-to guide on using a now-defunct piece of software. Whatever the case may be, outdated content is all around us.
That said, here are a few types of content that classify as outdated or obsolete:
- A Piece of content that serves inaccurate information
- No backlinks
- Covers outdated or old events
- Has thin content (below 500 words)
- Refer to old services
- Not relevant to the user
- Features irrelevant or outdated announcements
- Introducing your former employers or team members
- It shows old, time-sensitive news
- Refers to discontinued products
- No longer drives traffic
What Are The Risks of Removing a Page?
The risks associated with removing a page are primarily twofold:
Let’s take a closer look at each of these in turn.
When you remove a page from your website, any inbound links to that page will no longer work. Anyone who clicks on one of those links will see a “404 – Page Not Found” error.
That can be frustrating for your website’s visitors.
What’s more, if you’re removing a page that gets a lot of traffic, you could see a significant drop in overall traffic to your website.
While this may not be a huge concern if the page in question is not particularly important, it’s something to keep in mind.
Harming Your SEO
In addition to losing traffic, removing a page from your website can also harm your SEO in a few ways.
First and foremost, every time someone visits a page on your website, it signals to search engines that the page is treasured. So, when you remove a page, you’re telling search engines that the page is no longer helpful.
This can hurt your ranking.
Additionally, when you remove a page, you also lose any “link equity” that the page has built up. Link equity is essentially the value that search engines assign to links pointing to a given page.
The more link equity a page has, the higher it will rank. So, when you remove a page, you’re effectively giving up any link equity it has built.
Finally, removing a page also means losing any social signals that the page has generated. Social signals are votes from social media users that signal to search engines how popular and influential a given page is.
Losing social signals will also hurt your ranking.
Redirect or Remove: Which is Better?
If you’re thinking about removing a page, your first instinct might be to just delete it. But that’s not always the best idea.
Before you delete anything, mark the reason for the removal. That will help you determine whether to redirect the page or delete it.
When you redirect a page, you’re telling the server to send anyone who visits that page to a different page. That’s usually done using a server-side 301 redirect.
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect, which means it will stay in place indefinitely. So long as the redirect is in place, anyone who visits the old page will be taken to the new page.
For example, the content could depend on a past event, like a conference or exhibition. You could redirect the content to a similar page if it is still relevant.
On the other hand, if the content isn’t relevant anymore, you might want to delete it altogether.
It is important not to delete a page without thinking about it first. Consider whether redirecting it would be a better option.
You Still Have Two Other Options
Deleting and redirecting aren’t your only options here. You still have two other potential choices:
Keeping the Page and Updating the Content
The decision to update or delete a page should be based on its relevancy and usefulness. If the page is still relevant, then you should update the content.
That’s especially true if the page is getting some traffic. Don’t delete a page just because it’s not getting a lot of traffic. Instead, try to improve the content.
Even if a page isn’t getting much traffic, it could still be ranking for some long-tail keywords. If you delete the page, you’ll lose those rankings.
Noindex the Page
Another option is to noindex the page. That tells Google not to index the page, effectively making it invisible.
There are different ways to noindex a page. The easiest way is to add a “noindex” tag on the page.
That is a good option if you want to keep the page but don’t want it to appear in search results.
Alternatively, you could also add a canonical tag.
That tells Google that the page is a duplicate of another page and that they should index the original page instead. It’s effectively the same as a noindex tag, only that it gives them an alternative page to index.
There are other few cases where you wouldn’t want to see the user access some of your web pages.
Before proceeding with anything, you must first consider whether the webpage has any link equity or is receiving traffic.
If it has some link equity and receives a decent amount of traffic, then perhaps you should consider redirecting it (301 redirects).
However, if it has no link equity and you don’t want your visitors to access it, you may want to use a 404 or 410 redirect instead.
So, which one should you choose? Between 410 and 404 redirects?
A 410 response tells search engines the page is completely gone. It tells search engines that this page isn’t returning and that they should just forget about it completely.
Upon seeing a 410 redirect, search engines will remove the page from their index.
Pages that don’t want to be indexed should be orphaned first before they start returning a 410. You also want to make sure they’re not linking to or from anywhere on your site.
You’re justified to use a 410 redirect only when you have multiple pages creating index bloat.
For example, if your website gets hacked and the hacker creates multiple pages linking to other pages, you can 404 all the pages the hacker creates.
So, 410 redirects can come in handy when dealing with spam pages created mostly by hackers.
You’ve probably encountered a 404-page error.
Web pages return this error every time someone clicks on a missing link.
It’s a website telling search engines and users alike that a particular web page is missing or non-existent.
When search engines encounter a 404 redirect, they take it to mean that the page was not found and that they should return at another time to crawl and index it.
It could be that the web admin is still working on it, or it was pulled down to be crawled later.
What Google Has Two Say About the Two Types of Redirects
According to John Muller, Google search doesn’t read a 410 and 404 redirect differently. In both cases, they’ll drop the requested URL from their index.
They’ll also reduce their frequency of crawling those pages.
The only difference is that a 410 redirect will be dropped faster than a 404.
In other words, if you delete or naturally remove content from a page, Google will stop indexing it regardless of whether you use a 410 or 404 redirect.
We suggest you stop using a 404 or 410 redirect at all costs if you ever plan to get the pages indexed again.
Also, if you have no second thought about de-indexing a page, you’re better off sending a 410 redirect instead of a 404 one.
The General Rule of the Thumb
404-redirects are just bad.
While it’s unrealistic never to expect your page to serve a 404 redirect, they should be avoided at all costs.
However, 404 redirects are almost inevitable. That’s why you should have a game plan for remedying them immediately.
The best course of action is redirecting users to the next best page that satisfies their search intentions.
For example, if a product is missing, you might want to redirect them to an alternative product or a newer version.
If there isn’t a comparable page, consider redirecting them to a relevant category page.
And if all else fails, then redirect them to your homepage. The idea is to optimize your 404 redirects and turn the entire experience into a positive one.
Here are a few things you can do to turn the entire experience around:
- Add a search bar
- Link the page to 3 or 5 other pages
- Include a button that redirects the user to the homepage
- Be creative or use humor
Content Clean-up: How to Remove Low-quality Content from Your Site Without Hurting Your SEO
It’s your job to make sure your content is nothing short of stellar. That may mean pruning out low-quality content pieces.
That said, here are some solid tips on how to clean up your content without hurting your SEO:
Step 1: Start by Understanding What Search Engines and Users Expect from Your Content
Poke into the minds of the user and, by extension, Google and other search engines, and try to reason out what they’re looking for in your content.
What level of quality do they expect to see?
Here are the key attributes of what makes a piece of content high-quality:
- It’s unique and covers topics in great depth
- It provides deeper analysis and insights into topics, covering what hasn’t been covered by others
- It’s trustworthy and highlights the expertise and experience of the experts in the field
- It’s comprehensive, covering all aspects of the topic
- It’s complete and well-organized, highlighting the themes and topics covered in the article
- It’s share-worthy, worth bookmarking and sharing with your colleagues
- It’s edited and formatted in a way that makes it easy for the reader to read
- It’s well-written, with proper grammar, punctuation, formatting and style
- It’s well-structured, with a clear and structured layout and design
- It’s written by experts and professionals with the expertise to write it
- It’s easy to interact with, professionally presented, and free of factual errors
Quality Content Is Not:
- Mass-produced by unnamed writers
- Brief, shallow, and unhelpful (thin and useless)
- Hard to read, full of spelling mistakes and errors, and is generally sloppy
- Untrustworthy and questionable both in terms of the expertise backing up the content and its reliability
- Irrelevant and unrelated to the website it’s on
- A regurgitation of other content, not unique with nothing original
The idea is to understand your audience and the type of content they expect from you.
Step 2: Create a Spreadsheet and Two Categories for Your Content
Be prepared to work.
You can begin by creating an Excell or Google spreadsheet called Content Clean-up.
Create two categories: One where you’ll be listing high-quality content and two where you’ll list low-quality content that could use some improvement.
Create four columns under each category, with multiple blank rows under each header.
The spreadsheet should look something like this:
Column headers for the first category should read as follows:
- High quality, extremely useful
- Three months traffic volume
- Status (Good, Needs improvement, Delete)
- Necessary Actions
Column headers for the second category should read as follows:
- Low quality, Thin, Outdated, Not Useful, Irrelevant
- Three-month traffic volume
- Necessary actions
Step 3: Categorize Your Content as Low-quality or High-quality
Categorize each page on your website as either high-quality or low-quality.
Here’s how to approach each of the two categories:
- High-quality: This is a highly helpful piece of content. It makes readers happy, providing immense value to their lives. It’s also up-to-date.
- Low-quality: This piece of content is lacking in some way. It’s not helpful, not comprehensive. It’s too thin (less than 2000 words), poorly written, and doesn’t provide much value to the reader. The bottom line is that it could use some improvement.
Categorize Your Content
Now that you know how to categorize your content, it’s time to place them where they belong.
You can begin by listing all of them. Your XML sitemap is the best place to start.
If your site is too large, with thousands of pages, you can work it in sections. For instance, you could start with your product or service pages and then move on to blogs and other areas.
The idea is to start with the most important pages and work your way to other areas.
Be honest with the categorization. If you’re undecided about any particular piece of content, then place it in the low-quality category.
You want the results to look something like this:
Step 4: Quantify How Much Traffic Each Page is Getting
Once you’ve sorted your products into their appropriate categories, it’s time to quantify how much organic traffic each page receives.
Google Search Console (GSC) can make a good start.
Go to the GSC => Performance (or Search Results) and set your date range to the last three months. If your business is seasonal, you might want to set it to the past twelve months.
Next, click on pages in the dimension table and expand the number of rows per page to 250.
Record the number of clicks each page receives in your spreadsheet.
Now that you have quantitative data on the number of clicks each page receives, you can make a more informed decision on the quality of its content.
Step 5: Analyze the Content and Assign a Status
Now that you know how much traffic each page drives, you next want to pair up that information with the qualitative analysis of each page.
Use this information to determine if a page is good enough, if it could use some significant improvements, or if it needs an update.
Good: The page serves its purpose to a T. It doesn’t need changes. It’s good enough to drive a sufficient amount of high-quality organic traffic.
Update: The content has some outdated section that needs to be updated. It could be that some sections of it are outdated or no longer relevant.
Improve: A page that falls in this category is relevant, helpful, and worth keeping. But there’s still room for improvement. It could use some polishing, clean-up, or more content added.
Delete or Redirect: You can set up a page for deletion if it’s no longer relevant, useful, outdated, and not worth your effort.
Update and improve status can go together.
Along with updating each page status, you want to list the necessary actions you can take to improve the quality of each content piece.
Step 6: Identify and Note Down all the Necessary Actions You Should Take
When you assign a page as “improve” or “update,” consider listing all the actions you can take to improve it or make it better.
You can start on Google and check all the pages that rank for that particular topic.
Find out what these pages are ranking for. Is it for covering the topic comprehensively, listing the key points, or including some factual, well-researched data?
There has to be something you can learn from these pages.
The idea is to go through each of these pages and see what gives them an edge.
Once you have established what makes these pages rank, you can go back to your page/post and make necessary improvements.
You want to create a high-quality, more helpful resource at the end of it all. You want to establish that particular page as the go-to resource for online readers checking it out.
Here are suggestions on the improvements you can make:
- If your content contains large blocks of text, you can break it into sections using headers and bullet points. The idea is to improve its readability.
- Expand the page or content to make it more comprehensive or longer.
- Provide more topically relevant insights curated from all over the internet.
- Integrate better keywords or keyword phrases relevant to the topic in question.
- See what questions users are askings. You can use alsoasked.com to find these questions and naturally integrate them into your content.
- Add relevant internal and external links. See what resources you can link to, starting with some of your internal pages.
- Add high-quality imagery, accompanied with descriptive alt text attributes.
- Edit the article for simplicity and clarity
- Include more relevant stories, lists, and examples
- Underline or bold the important keywords or phrases to make them easier
- If you assign a “Delete” status to a page, now it’s time to identify the page to redirect the URL with a 301 redirect.
You can include multiple courses of action. Note: you should always be going through your web pages and singling out which one of them needs improvement.
Step 7: Prioritize Improvements and Get to Work
Once you know what action to take, it’s time to get to work. Start with the pages that you’ve set up for deletion or redirection.
After that, you can move on to pages that need minor improvements before diving into bigger tasks or pages that need a complete overhaul.
Decide on how you will prioritize your work, but the bottom line is to pull together a work plan and take action.