The Easiest Guide to Content Pruning for Publishers

Brock Munro
January 27, 2021
April 4, 2024
The Easiest Guide to Content Pruning for Publishers

Content Pruning – A Definition

Content pruning is the process of identifying and either updating or removing content on your website that no longer contributes to:

  • A measurable return on the site’s investment
  • Good Search Engine Ranking
  • Quality User Experience
  • Optimising conversion rates

Content pruning involves a site, section or niche-wide audit of all (or most) of the publicly available elements of your website.

Content that should be audited for pruning includes:

  • Rich Media
  • Video
  • Written articles
  • Static information pages
  • Resource pages
  • Slideshows
  • Infographics

Content that might make a suitable candidate for pruning:

  • Outdated pages
  • Thin (short word count) content
  • Duplicate content
  • Poorly written content from a user perspective
  • Content that is poorly optimised for search engines

The Goal of Content Pruning

The goal of content pruning is to:

  • Improve user experience
  • Improve technical aspects of a site such as a pages loading time
  • Improve the potency of internal linking
  • Gain more traction in search results

While the goals cited above are all good goals, and while it makes sense from a quality point-of-view to deal with problematic content, it’s important to weigh up the pros and the cons of undertaking a Content Prune.

So, before we dive in, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of content pruning and how it might impact you and your site.

Pros and Cons of Content Pruning

Since, for most people, the initial goal of content pruning would be to improve search engine ranking, it is important to give a general overview of how search engines rank website content and what it is that influences search algorithms.

All sites have what is called an optimal ranking and an adjusted ranking.

Your optimal ranking is where it should be, given the competition. It includes factors such as:

  • Backlink profile
  • Trust factors
  • Authority factors
  • Site technology (including page speed)
  • Click-through and bounce rates
  • Time on site and
  • Content quality (originality, level of specificity, on-page SEO, etc.)

Your adjusted ranking is where the site actually ranks after a search engine examines your content and adjusts your position for the factors above.

Instead of thinking about Google as giving you points for each thing you get right, it is better to think of Google as deducting points for things you get wrong.

In other words, whenever Google crawls your site, it is effectively doing a full-blown audit that leads to point deduction.

That might sound like bad news, but it isn’t. For, while it can and does take a reasonable amount of time to build up to your optimal position in Google, you can quite literally influence your adjusted ranking in hours, if not days.

I have seen real-time improvements in rankings for a single page just by going through the process I am going to show you here.

The Cons

  • Content auditing takes time and resources – both human and digital
  • You may over or under-prune and see little improvement for your efforts

There may also be other factors (usually off-site factors) that influence the results. But, that said, the Pros speak for themselves, in my opinion, and any improvement in your on-site ranking factors is a win, both for you and your users.

The Pros

  • Improved user experience
  • The possibility of a very quick uplift in search position
  • An increase in traffic
  • An increase in conversions.
  • A great way to re-evaluate your brand’s mission and purpose
  • An excellent opportunity to sharpen your strategic content marketing

Take a look at the chart below. It outlines some nice examples of a win for websites that have submitted to a content pruning process. The evidence for investing your resources in a content prune is fairly compelling.

Completing a Content Audit

Before deciding to undertake a content prune, it makes sense to audit your content and get an overview of what the likely workload will be.

A content audit can be broad or narrow, depending on your goals. As an example, you may be in a position (or circumstances may demand) to do a site-wide content audit.

If you want to get your feet wet slowly, you can opt to only deal with one section, subject matter, niche topic or content hub at a time, measuring as you go and weighing up the benefits on a smaller set of content assets.

Completing a Content Audit

A content audit consists of the following major tasks:

1. Generate a list of all of the content you wish to examine

Use a Spreadsheet or whichever Analytics tool you prefer to line up your content for easy examination, action and editing.

2. Gather these key metrics from your favourite tool:

  • Titles
  • Ranking position of main keyword/s
  • Organic traffic
  • Bounce rate
  • Backlinks
  • Internal link structure and navigation
  • Time on page
  • Total Social shares, likes, etc.

Google Analytics and Google Search Console can provide you with most of these metrics.

3. Measure duplicate content using Siteliner or similar tool.

 Measure duplicate content using Siteliner or similar tool

The duplicate content here refers to duplicate content appearing elsewhere on your site for any given URL. Anything above 15% is problematic. Anything above 25% should be either considered for optimisation or removed.

The content audit should reveal thin, uninteresting, poorly written or poorly ranking content. Most site owners and content marketers will readily identify such content as it stands in stark contrast to the successful and perennially popular content on their site.

Identifying Low-Quality Content

Low-quality content is content that is underperforming by comparison to the rest of your content or according to your optimal rank.

Underperforming content may refer to:

  • Lack of sign-ups or low conversion response
  • Low time on page
  • High bounce rate
  • Poor position in Google or target keywords
  • Slow page loading

Thin or low word-count content, low keyword and semantically related keywords, poor sentence structure and formatting may also be indicators of low-quality content.

Slow loading pages could possibly be easily fixed if they relate to rich media, video, pop-ups and heavy images.

A small number of inbound links (depending on the source of those links) may also indicate that the page – while well written – is just not link-worthy when placed alongside your competition.

Conducting the Content Prune

Before conducting the content prune you need to separate out the content you have analysed. Regardless of your content audit outcome, split your content into three categories:

  • Most important content (impacts sales, traffic or some other conversion factor)
  • Worth Keeping if it can be improved
  • Not worth keeping – contributes nothing to your business aims, trust or authority

Focusing on the most important content that appears problematic in your list should be the first set of content you deal with.

The three most important factors at the level of content are duplicate content, thin content and poorly optimised content.

1. Deal with the Duplicate Content

Siteliner will show you at a glance where the duplication is so you can go in and fix it.

Deal with the Duplicate Content

Run the report for each piece of your most important content. Make the changes and then re-run your report to see what progress you have made.

Don’t underestimate the value of this process. Duplicate content weakens the power of every page it touches and fixing it can yield great results.

2. Build Out Thin Content

Google is interested in original, high-quality and useful content. It’s hard to convince Google that you’re serious when you deliver a piece of content about Content Pruning in under 600 words. It might be okay for a well-optimised product description but not for instructional or educational material.

Here are some strategies for building out your content:

  • Compare your work to that of others on the topic at hand. What have you missed that you could share further expertise on?
  • Are there other media formats you could include to add value? Video, slideshows and infographics are a couple of simple examples.
  • Are there interactive elements you could add? Forms and surveys are two examples.

Another excellent way to build out your content, and improve the Search Optimisation of your article is to run it through a tool such as TextOptimizer.

Many of the resources you need can come from Google Analytics and Google Search Console, but these additional tools provide a huge amount of additional insights quickly.

TextOptimizer will analyse your page against real-time results in Google for your chosen keyword.

It will audit your formatting, vocabulary and syntax. Most importantly, it will compare your content against the top results in Google and bring back a quality list of words, phrases and sentences that are being used in the top results and allow you to easily add them to your work.

Build Out Thin Content

The tool will score your content, not based on arbitrary criteria but on actual results that are taking the top spots in Google or Bing.

Use these additional words, phrases and sentences in the most natural way to help build out your content further and enrich it with words that Google believes are most likely associated with your content.

3. Correct Poorly Optimised Content

Sometimes the biggest problem is simply a poor choice of words and structure. Good writing matters. Not only should your content be well written, but it also needs to be laid out in an easy-to-read fashion with well-positioned keywords, headings, and other meta tags.

A well-optimised page has the following characteristics:

  • Keyword in Title and URL
  • H1 – H4 headings in order or else in a logical sequence
  • Good use of bullet points to break up the text.
  • Short sentences and short paragraphs for easy user-experience
  • Low repetition of ideas
  • Good, natural use of Image alt tags

These elements will also have an impact on other search elements such as rich snippet consideration. Simply reformatting your sub-headings can be enough to get you that coveted spots on the first page of Google.

Optimisation includes user-experience, which directly impacts time on site – which impacts search position. So, keep your users in mind.

TextOptimizer will audit the likely user experience and you will find tools like SEO Quake provide a fast and useful tool for making judgements and improvements regarding search optimisation.

4. Reviewing and Optimizing Internal Link Structure

On-site SEO is by far the most powerful tool you have in producing content that ranks and internal links are one of the easiest ways you can get a lot of traction in relation to both user experience (time on site) and search position.

Internal links form an important part of your on-site optimisation. They act like backlinks and indicate the relative importance of any piece of content.

Reviewing and Optimizing Internal Link Structure

If most of your links point to your supporting content, then this is the content that matters (according to link popularity) most. If that’s not your intention then you need to revisit your internal linking habits.

The key points are:

  • Try and keep your links moving in one direction.
  • Do not cannibalise your links by having them point to each other, and thus cancel the value of both out.
  • Use the organisation of content hubs as a way of managing and improving your internal link structure.

Content hubs are a collection of supporting pieces of content that all point upward to the most important content for that niche topic or industry. Content Hubs have a narrow top with a wide base. Links may go side-to-side (in one direction) and up – but ordinarily not back down.

Doing this can have a positive impact on your ranking. Google only provides so much bandwidth for its crawls. When Google visits your site, you don’t want it diluted by weak content and you don’t want your link authority reduced by a weak link structure.

5. Consider No-Indexing Content

If you have content that you believe is important for users, but not for organic search results you can also consider no-indexing it. This may be useful if your site uses a lot of images (which you don’t need indexed) or for content that has been repurposed such as .pdf versions.

This will preserve some of the link value of your content for more important pages.

How to Measure the Results

If you are working with individual posts, or limited content hubs, you may begin to find that you get your results quite quickly.

Once you have finished pruning a post or a set of posts within a content hub (a collection of related and interlinked content), submit it to Google’s Index through your Search Console Account.

Then, depending on which metric you are looking for improvement, you can begin to test the results almost immediately.

For organic boost, you might see an improvement after a single day. For traffic, conversions and other ROI metrics, you may have to wait 1-3 months before you can begin properly assessing the results of your work.

Questions to Ask:

  • Has there been an improvement in organic results position for that content?
  • Has there been an uplift in conversions or sign-ups?
  • Has there been a clear improvement in time on site or a reduction in bounce rate?
  • Are you beginning to accrue new backlinks for that piece of newly optimised content?

Wrap up

Google is in the business of satisfying user queries. Content that endures is content that continues to meet user needs, month after month, if not year after year.

Content pruning should form part of your overall content marketing strategy. It should not be seen as a cleanup, but an opportunity to review, refresh and add further value to the content on your site that matters most.

Content pruning should become part of the monthly content strategy within the organisation and reviews on the performance of pruned content should happen quarterly.

Knowing which content assets are most valuable, how to improve them – and when to remove the clutter of content that obscures your most valuable content will lead to a much cleaner, faster site – and one that Google rewards.

Images courtesy of Mallee Blue Media Designs

This article was produced by the State of Digital Publishing team, a publication and community for digital media and publishing professionals, in new media and technology. We’re here to help industry members grow their audiences and forge successful media models together as peers.

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