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Old content on the site, update or delete?

Search Engine Optimization

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Old content, update or delete?

I recently wrote an article about why publishing less can lead to more conversions. Some questions arose about the structure of the site, cannibalization of keywords and crawl budget. Some readers sent messages wanting to know more about what to do with the site's old content. Update, delete or merge? What is the best option?

In this article, I’ll explain why you shouldn’t keep all the old content and what to do with each type of content.

Why not keep old content on the site

Writing is a challenge. It takes a lot of work and you stick to what you wrote. You don't want an article that took hours and hours of work to be thrown away. But is it worth keeping it published?

Often, the content on your site becomes irrelevant (for you, readers and searchers) or out of date. Do you need to make a decision: update, delete or merge?

You may be asking yourself, "But, Dilmar, can I leave the content out of date as it is?"

Here are some reasons for not leaving outdated content on your site:

Keyword cannibalization

You can produce the best content in the world, yet your site needs to be cleaned from time to time. If you don't, you will invariably end up producing content similar to another.

If you wrote two or more articles focused on the same keyword (or similar keyword), you will create an internal competition between these articles.

You are telling the search engine (and the user) that the two articles are relevant to a particular topic. It turns out, other sites can also write about the same topic:

SERP with keyword cannibalization
Search for “formula 1” on Google

Note that in the example above, the search for “formula 1” reveals pages from the Motorsport website in the 4th and 5th positions, but not in the first three positions. The two pages may be competing with each other.

In this case it is likely that a single page, well optimized, could bring better results. Do not forget that the CTR of the first position of the searches is much higher than the other positions.

Crawl budget

Search engines crawl your website's content daily. However, this tracking is not as linear or homogeneous as we would like.

The image below shows the crawl of a small website:

Crawl stats for a small site
Tracking statistics for a website with approximately 12,000 pages.

Note that an average of 30,000 pages are crawled per day. This site has about 12 thousand pages, that is, some pages are being crawled more than once a day. However, this tracking is not homogeneous. Some pages are crawled more often than others.

The performance of the website (server, pages) is essential for the search engine to properly crawl. If pages take too long to load, fewer pages will be crawled in one day.

Crawl stats for a small site
Number of pages crawled is lower when performance is worse

Realize that, when website performance is lower, fewer pages are crawled.

Likewise, if we have too much outdated or irrelevant content “asking” to be crawled, we may stop crawling relevant content.

This is generally not a problem for sites with few pages, but it sure is for sites with millions of pages.

Craw stats for a website with millions of pages.
Tracking statistics for a website with approximately 1 million pages.

The image above shows the crawl of a website with more than 1 million indexed pages. Since Google crawls some pages more than others, it is easy to conclude that certain pages are crawled at longer intervals.

Read too: "Google Page Experience: UX as a ranking factor

Authority and user experience

One of the most frustrating things for the visitor is to reach a page, looking for important information, and come across a lot of outdated content.

If you want to be a reference in your industry, you cannot afford to keep content that is out of date and not relevant to your visitors.

Read too: "What is it and how to create quality content?

Outdated content impairs the user experience and its credibility as an authority in the industry in which it operates.

So, let's see what to do with old content.

Update valuable content

Is outdated content valuable? When I say valuable I mean: you receive a lot of traffic, convert (or assist) in conversions or are totally aligned with the message that your company wants to send.

If this is the case, it is very worthwhile to keep this content updated. Your most important articles should never be out of date. Use reminders and tools to ensure that this content evergreen are always up to date. My suggestion: reassess the content every 6 months.

Improve your website structure

If you produce content on similar topics, be sure to use and maintain the structure of your site properly. Organize content under categories and tags in order to create a hierarchy consistent with your content.

Place your most important pages at the top of the hierarchy. Link the least important pages to the most important ones. This way, you tell Google which article deserves the most attention and you can keep both published.

Read too: "6 website structure errors and how to avoid them

Delete (and redirect) outdated content

Is your article out of date, has invalid information or is no longer useful to the visitor? Erase it. Include in this category articles that announce an event that has already passed, the launch of a product from years ago, articles with little content and manuals with outdated instructions.

These articles have become useless on your website, why keep them up?

Erase them, but do it the right way.

How to properly delete content

When deleting content from your site, you need to tell Google not to follow this post or to follow another post instead.

If you simply delete content and don't tell Google anything, the search engine will try to crawl the deleted content for weeks and continue to display it in search results.

After deleting your outdated content, you can take three paths (only two are acceptable):

Delete and report nothing to Google

This is the worst thing you can do: do nothing after deleting content. By deleting content and not informing Google you are allowing the search engine to continue looking for the content on your site for a few weeks.

When Google cannot find a page, the server usually returns a status of "404" (not found) to the search engine's bot. You will also find a 404 crawl error in your Google search console for that page. Eventually, Google will solve the puzzle and the URL will gradually disappear from the search results pages. But it takes time.

Remember: you will be consuming your crawl budget if you do not inform Google of the removal of the content.

Delete and redirect (301 redirect)

When the content you deleted still has some value, either because it had some links pointing to it or because you think visitors would like to see new content on the topic, use a definite “301” redirect.

A 301 redirect will tell searchers and visitors that there is a better or newer version of this content elsewhere on your site. The 301 automatically redirects people and Google to this page.

If you don't have similar content, you can still redirect to your website's home page. However, consider whether this makes sense to your visitor, whether it is really necessary.

If you have nowhere to redirect the visitor, you can go to the last option: redirect 410.

Delete and inform that the content has been deleted (redirect 410)

The 410 redirect is not exactly a redirect. Basically you are telling Google to forget that that content already existed by informing “410” (deleted) to the search engine. You are telling the search engine and visitors that the content has not disappeared or is inaccessible but that you have deleted it for a reason.

The 410 is more powerful in the sense that it tells Google that the page is gone forever. You erased it on purpose, period. Google will act faster with this content than with a 404.

Merge similar content

If you write a lot about a topic you are likely to have several articles with similar content. In these cases, it is often possible to take advantage of parts of one or another content and make new, updated content, merging these publications.

Transform one, two or more outdated content into a current publication, with relevant information and that can generate results. Do not forget to make the appropriate redirection in the articles that will be deleted.

Promote your updated content

Every time you update content, promote it. Reactivating your “remanufactured” content can be a good alternative to show your visitors that there is something new that interests them.

If you make minor changes, you can choose to just update the content without changing its publication date. When you merge or completely rewrite the content, you may want to change the publication date as well.

Use social networks, newsletter, promote it on the cover of the site or through a video / podcast. It is important for people to know that there is fresh content on a given topic.

Updating content is also a good way to fill gaps in your editorial calendar and bypass those days when you’re not too inspired to produce new content from scratch.

Read too: "How to prioritize content production in an SEO strategy


Updating old content and the measures described above should be part of your site's maintenance routine. If you do not periodically review your publications sooner or later, you will encounter problems with structure, keyword cannibalization or performance.

Remember if:

  • Update valuable content;
  • Erase outdated content;
  • Mescle similar content.

In cases of exclusion and merging, use the appropriate redirects to keep your site healthy with search engines.

Keep reading: "Content SEO: content optimization for searches

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