Why Deleting Your Content Can Improve Your Website Traffic

by | Nov 8, 2018 | Actionable SEO Tips

Delete ButtonDid you know that you can improve your website traffic by deleting content on your website?

Yes, you read that right. Deleting your content can help your website traffic. It’s a tried and tested approach that can give your website a much-needed boost.

For many years, content creators packed their sites with as much content as possible to get the best chance to rank for everything they wanted.

It was a case of quantity over quality.

Quality Over Quantity

More often than not, daily e-letter content gets added to websites as a strategy to build content on different topics, but often with no thought behind how it would affect the website’s performance down the line.

The fact is daily e-letter content is designed for readers to respond to a call-to-action.

But that can, and has, led to issues.

Content can quickly become irrelevant or out of date, making it difficult to relate to current and up-to-date content. This leads to having low-value content all over your website.

Low-value content and thin content can harm your website. Thin content is content that has little or no value to the user. This includes content with a low word count. When Google crawls your website, you want it to find quality and you want it to find up-to-date content with substance; rather than old content that visitors no longer find useful.

That’s where content pruning comes into the picture.

Content Pruning?

The term ‘content pruning’ probably gives away exactly what you’re doing – analyzing the content on your website and removing pages with little or no value to your website visitors.

Put simply, it’s about cutting pages from your website that are doing more harm than good.

When we think of content, we need to always think quality. Having meaningful, helpful, and resourceful content is the way forward to rank higher and to give your website the best opportunity to convert your visitors.

Pruning has been an SEO tactic since Google released its original Panda algorithm update way back in 2011. This update forced websites to assess the quality of their content, and eradicate low-quality articles from their websites. Each Panda related update since 2011 has targeted thin, duplicate, and low-quality content.

Nowadays websites need to look more closely at what they’re putting out there, and asking Google to index. Instead of producing multiple lower quality articles targeting single keywords, Google now expects websites to produce high-quality content on topics. These articles should provide really valuable information to visitors where one in-depth article might target, and rank for, dozens of keywords related to a topic.

Why Should I Prune my Content?

Currently, when you add new content that’s similar to older content, both are competing against each other for the same keywords and rankings.

As you add more and more content to your website, keyword cannibalization becomes an issue; meaning that more than one article on your website is ranking for the same keyword. Although both articles are ranking, it usually means that neither piece of content is ranking as highly as it should do. Your content isn’t getting the full SEO value that it deserves.

The content in these articles usually covers the same ideas, and although the newer article may be a new take on the same subject, both likely talk about the same general topics and therefore compete against each other.

Content pruning helps prevent this cannibalization of your keywords – and gives the better content a chance to rank higher for the desired keywords.

By eradicating cannibalization issues, and removing lower quality, sometimes duplicate or outdated content from your website, you’re sending improved signals to Google about the quality of your site.

Content pruning also encourages a review of your content on a regular basis, which will help improve your rankings.

How to Prune

It’s important not to rush into any mass content deletion, but rather have a clear direction of what you’re trying to achieve.

You might want to focus on content in a specific time period, look at visitor sessions, investigate certain topics, conversions, links… whichever it is, be clear from the start so you’re focused on the end result.

Try to use more than one factor that will identify the content that does not serve your website the way it needs to.

Where to Start

Start by deciding on the benchmarks you want to use to weed out the content you want to delete. For example: content pre-2012 plus no sessions in the last 12 months.

Be specific. Don’t leave it to chance and end up deleting content that you don’t mean to.

Using software like Screaming Frog is a great way to dig into your website content. This allows you to link to your Google Analytics account and break down the information in the format you need to decide what content you want to prune.

Screaming Frog
Once you’ve isolated the content that you want to prune, you need to decide how you want to prune it.

For instance, pages can be no-indexed or removed from your CMS completely. (In WordPress, for example, using Post IDs is the easiest way to remove content – you can get a list of them from your website team.)

It’s also important to deal with any links that may be going to those pages.

Moz and SEMrush can both give you details of any backlinks that the content may have. It’s vital to jump in here and redirect these links to other relevant pages on your website so you don’t lose these important links.

Here, you can find the section in Moz to check links:

Inbound Links
Similarly, SEMrush also has a way to check links:

SEMRush Backlinks

Link equity to your website is an important ranking factor. The URLs of any deleted pages with referring domains should be redirected to a relevant post on your website. This way, if old links to the deleted content are clicked, they’ll lead to similar relevant articles on your website. Otherwise, you may lose these valuable links.

What Kind of Results Can I Expect?

Results from content pruning can vary depending on your website, content, size and many other factors.

Case Study:

A recent content deletion plan brought about an increase in organic traffic.

This strategy looked at all website content (no timescale) and filtered by traffic to all pages (no traffic for 12 months). In total, 750 pages were pruned from the website in this case.

Comparing to the same time periods, this deletion of old content brought about a:

  • 23% increase in Unique Organic Pageviews after one week
  • 31% increase in Unique Organic Pageviews after two weeks
  • 39% increase in Unique Organic Pageviews after three weeks


Pruning Chart

Blue = three weeks after pruning
Orange = three weeks before pruning


Content pruning should form an important part of website and SEO planning. Don’t consider it a one-off, schedule it as part of your yearly SEO plan.

  • Don’t rush into deleting your content
  • Decide on the criteria that you want to use
  • Identify low-quality content that is of no benefit to your website visitors
  • Redirect any backlinks to your site after you’ve removed the content
  • Make sure to monitor your Analytics/Rankings for the effects
  • Checking your daily e-letter content before you post it can save you time in the future to prevent cannibalization occurring (you can no-index or canonicalize any problematic posts)
  • Rather than just the benefit of better-quality content, this strategy can also uncover older content which may spark new ideas and fresh angles for new content. Make a list as you work through the content and revisit it after you’re done.