Why you should audit & prune your content

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Why you should audit & prune your content

So, I’m here to talk to you today about why you should regularly audit and prune your website, take care of your website, in the same way that you would look after your hedge at home, you should do the same thing to your website. But perhaps a more accurate title for this talk would be: ‘why we’ve been a very, very bad content this year’. We’ve really not been doing our jobs well at all…

Why removing content is important

You may remember at the beginning of the year Ro gave a top called ‘Why destroying content is as important as creating it‘. Turned out this was actually very prescient, because we’ve spent a lot of our time this year destroying content, rather than creating it.

We’ve embarked on projects to audit, and prune, and tidy up client’s websites for seven clients this year. That encompassed around about 1800 pages on their website. So quite a big number. And actually, I was going back through the work we’ve done this year, and as a team we’ve published maybe 500 or 600 pages on the web this year. So, our net contribution to the internet in the last 12 months has been, we’ve taken about 1300 pages from it. So, our clients are hiring us to produce content, but actually we’ve got rid of more this year than we’ve created, which I think is interesting.

Across those seven clients that equated to, on average, about 40% of their websites that we were recommending that they got rid of, which is quite a difficult conversation to have with a client. You do an audit of website and you say: “Actually, we’ve identified that almost half of your website is completely useless and we think you should get rid of it.” It’s an interesting conversation to have, but our clients, at the end of the day, they’re not buying our services for content, they’re buying for the results that we give them.

How removing content has helped our clients

So, it would be interesting to take a look at what happened when we removed the 40% of those websites and, on average, taking the organic traffic from the month before we made the changes, to the organic traffic the month after we made the changes, we saw a 13.17% uplift in organic traffic.

So, obviously, getting rid of all this useless content has a positive effect on your website, and actually, if you look at the way search engines work, that makes a lot of sense. By getting rid of content that is completely useless, you’re making better use of your crawl budget, and you’re consolidating page equity into stuff on the site that actually matters. You’re not wasting effort looking after things that basically nobody’s looking at.

What I wanted to do today was just give you a very top level overview of the process we go through when we’re looking at these websites, and how we recommend clients approach this process.

How to identify useless content

So, the very first step is to grab some data, we’ve got to have some data to work with. The good thing about this process is you can kind of fold any data you want into it, you could put in eCommerce data, you could put in conversion rates, you could put in all sorts of stuff. But, at a very top level, the data I’d recommend you include are:

  • Sessions: you can obviously get those out of your analytics package of choice. Again, depending on the level of granularity you want from this analysis you could split it up be channel, so you could look at direct traffic, you could look at organic traffic, but fundamentally you want to know who is looking at the pages on your website.
  • The next piece of information you need is backlinks: you want to know how many links are pointing towards each page on your website, so you don’t accidentally delete a page that has a couple of hundred links pointing towards it, and you’re losing all of that equity. Unfortunately, this is where things get a little bit tricky, because for backlinks there’s not really any single source of truth. While we’ve been doing this analysis, we’ve seen links that Majestic has picked up that Search Console and SEMRush hasn’t; we’ve seen links that SEM Rush, that the other two haven’t, etc. etc. etc. So, if you want to put in as many safeguards as possible when doing this process, I recommend you extract the data from all of the tools you have available and combine them into one.

And then once you’ve assembled those two pieces of data, you’ll end up with a big spreadsheet, obviously this is quite a small spreadsheet, but it’ll probably be quite a lot bigger, that’ll look something like this. You’ll have the pages on your website, the associated sessions, the associated backlinks, and then from there it becomes a process of making recommendations for each of those pages.

Using data to make decisions

So, what you can do as a first step is apply some blanket rules. If a page has zero sessions, and zero backlinks, it’s doing nothing, it’s just wasted bits on a server, so you may as well get rid of it. So, we have a piece on this website about link building, and it’s got no sessions and no back links, as you would expect because nobody’s doing that anymore because it’s not 1998. So, we’re going to go ahead and we’re going to delete that page.

The next step is where the blanket rules get interesting, because you’ll notice we actually also have on our page a privacy policy, as we have to, by law. It has no sessions, it has no backlinks, so according to those blanket rules we should get rid of it, but actually we can’t get rid of it because we have to have it on the website. So that one, we would actually want to keep.

So, for a lot of this process you can rely on blanket rules, but it’s really important to go through and manually check each page on the website to make sure you’re not getting rid of something that you actually need to keep.

Then, looking at the next piece, from there you can kind of look at the next highest priority pages. So that would be potentially this one second from the bottom, we’ve got a page about ‘what is content strategy?’. That’s got a tiny little dribble of traffic, a couple of backlinks. Turns out maybe one of those backlinks is from a really high authority website that’s talking about content strategy, and that’s not something that we want to lose. So, rather than just get rid of that page, we might fold it into our main content strategy service page, so the recommendation there would be to redirect that page to the most relevant page on your website.

Then, we get into the meatier stuff, the high traffic, high back links, really authoritative stuff, things we want to be known for, and you can see we have an article there about ‘why voice search is important’. And think we all know why voice search is important, but it’s really important that we’re telling the world about that as well. So that one, obviously we want to keep that, which leaves us with Chris Philpot’s freestyle jazz.

Why blanket rules aren’t always enough

This is the highest performing piece of content on our website, it has 15,000 sessions in the last month. And this is interesting, because this is where we get into the part of the process where you can’t rely so much on blanket rules, this is where we actually need to have a conversation with people about whether we want to keep things or not.

Our website is about digital marketing. Chris, and I don’t know why he’s made this mistake, because he’s quite good at SEO, has decided to host all of his freestyle jazz on our website. It’s got a ton of back links, it’s got a ton of sessions, but actually, is it relevant to what we’re doing on the site? Does it need to be there? Should it move somewhere else? So, there’s lots of interesting discussions to be had around this stuff, I think probably five years ago would have been: “It’s getting us loads of traffic, it has to stay.” Actually, if that traffic isn’t contributing to whatever the goals for your website are, it’s just a vanity metric, it’s not really doing anything worthwhile.

So, this is where we would all have to sit down and have a little discussion about whether we think Chris’s freestyle jazz should stay on the website. So, the reason it’s really important that we have these conversations is because content has overheads, that can be things like, if you are a financial services firm, having your compliance team go back every year and review things that are on your website. It could be that you built a really popular resource that a lot of people rely on to do their jobs, so if you have this popular piece of content, there are maintenance costs to it. So, you could just think it’s sitting there generating free traffic, but again, if it’s not contributing to the overall goals of your website, and you’re having to spend time taking care of it, hosting it, it’s a net detriment to your website. So that’s why it’s really important to have a think about whether it should actually be there.

Top tips for pruning your website

So, just some top tips to help you prune your website with success – that’s a little question mark for you there Chris, we’ll talk about that afterwards. So just to make sure you can do this process in the most pain free way possible:

  • Get your redirects in place. That’s the most important thing, you don’t want to lose any equity in your website doing this stuff. When done well, it can have a fantastic positive effect, when done badly, it can have a disastrous negative effect. So, it’s really important to make sure that you’ve retained all of the equity in the website.
  • Don’t delete functional pages. There will be pages on your website that have no links, don’t seem to be generating you any revenue, aren’t generating any traffic, but they could be there for a reason. So, make sure you check with the person responsible for them, and don’t just go deleting them willy-nilly.
  • Combine similar pages that have average performance. I’m a big fan of consolidating equity into distinct areas of your website. So, if you have maybe an article on your blog that’s doing okay, that’s related to a landing page, maybe think about combining them and redirecting the blog post into the landing page.
  • After you have implemented, keep a very close eye on your analytics package for 404 errors. There may be things that you’ve missed, looking at where people are 404ing will help you very quickly find out where those errors are, and you can fix them really fast.
  • And potentially one of the most important things is document your working and annotate your analytics. If somebody comes back to this work in a year, it’s going to be fantastically unclear why all of these pages were suddenly deleted from your website. So, it’s really important that you make a note of why, document your methodology, annotate GA, put a link to your working document in there, make sure that if somebody comes back to your analytics at a later date, they can pick up where you left off, and they have a full understanding of why this work was done.

Thank you.