Sometimes, content on your website becomes irrelevant or out of date, and you need to decide whether to update it or delete it. It’s part of your regular content maintenance activities. There are several ways to go about this and this article helps you decide what’s the best solution for your old content!
Update old content that is still valid
Let’s start with an example: On our blog, we have an article on meta descriptions that needs constant updating to keep it relevant. We just have to make sure it stays up to date with all the changes Google keeps making to the way it handles meta descriptions. Sometimes it seems they can be a bit longer and sometimes they seem to go back to the old length again.
Our post helps writers and editors to write meta descriptions, even though the advice changes over time. Although the article itself might be what we call cornerstone content, its content must be updated to keep up with the latest standards – constantly.
You can easily create new, valuable content from your old posts if you update it and make it current again: old wine in new bottles, as the saying goes. You could, for example, replace older parts of that content with updates, or you could merge three old blog posts about the same subject into one new post. If you do this, please remember to redirect the old post URLs to the new post, using a 301 Redirect. More on that later.
Delete irrelevant posts or pages
It’s likely that you have old posts or pages on your site that you don’t need anymore. Think along the lines of a blog post about a product you stopped selling a while ago and have no intention of ever selling again, an announcement of an event that took place a long time ago or old pages with little or no content – so-called thin content pages.
These are just some examples, but we are sure you know which posts and/or pages we are talking about. This old content adds no value anymore, now or for the foreseeable future. In that case, you need to either tell Google to forget about these old posts or pages or give the URL another purpose.
When we talk about deleting old content, we don’t mean just pressing “delete” and then forgetting about it. If you do that, the content might show up in Google for weeks after deletion. The URL might actually have some link value as well, which would be a shame to waste.
“301 Redirect” the old post to a related one
When a URL still holds value because, say, you have a number of quality links pointing to that page, you want to leverage that value by redirecting the URL to a related one. With a 301 Redirect you’ll tell search engines and visitors there’s a better or newer version of this content elsewhere on your site. The 301 redirect automatically sends people and Google to this page.
Say you have an old post on a specific dog breed. You need to delete it, so the logical next step would be to redirect that post to a newer post about this dog breed. If you don’t have that post, choose a post about the closest breed possible. If that post isn’t available, you could redirect it to the category page for these posts (e.g. “dog breeds”) and if that is also not an option, redirect to the homepage. That last one might be about “pets”, for example. It’s a bit of a last resort though, there probably are better options on your site.
Tell search engines the content is intentionally gone
If there isn’t a relevant page on your site you can redirect to, it’s wise to tell Google to forget about your old post entirely by serving a “410 Deleted” status to Google. This status code will tell Google and visitors the content didn’t just disappear; you’ve deleted it with a reason.
When Google can’t find a post, the server will usually return a “404 Not Found” status to the search engine’s bot. You’ll also find a 404 crawl error in your Google Search Console for that page. Eventually, Google will work it out and the URL will gradually vanish from the search result pages. But this takes time.
The 410 is more powerful in the sense that it tells Google that the page is gone forever, never to return. You deleted it on purpose, period. Google will act on that faster than with a 404. Read up about the server status codes if this is all gibberish to you.
Do you have old content to deal with?
Cleaning up old content should be part of your content maintenance routine. If you don’t go through your old posts regularly, you’re bound to run into issues sooner or later. You might show incorrect information to visitors or hurt your own rankings by having too many pages about the same topic, increasing chances of keyword cannibalization, which is a lot of work to fix later on. Therefore, go through your old posts, and decide what to do: update, merge or delete.
If you find it hard to decide what to keep and what to delete and redirect, this step-by-step guide to fix keyword cannibalization might help you out!
Good luck cleaning up your site.