Should you keep old content?

Writing a blog post can be a challenge. It is hard work, but afterwards, you’re probably proud of what you have created. No way you are ever going to throw those beautiful articles away, right? But what should you do with blog posts that are really, really old? Should you keep all of those?

In this blog post, I’ll explain why you cannot keep all of your old content. Also, I’ll explain what types of content you should keep on your site and which kinds of articles should be deleted.

Why you cannot keep all your content

Even if your content is really awesome, you need to do some cleaning. Otherwise, you’ll be hurting your own chances of ranking in Google. You see, there are only a limited number of places in Google’s search results pages. Google will only show 1 or 2 results from the same domain in the search results for any specific query. If you’re a high authority domain, you might get away with three results.

If you have written 3 articles focussing on the same – or very similar – keywords, you are competing with yourself for those limited spaces in the search results. You’ll be confusing Google. That’s why you cannot blog endlessly about the same content and leave it be. You need to do some content management.

Read more: What is keyword cannibalization? »

Update, delete or merge?

There are three things you can do with old content. You can keep it, you can delete it or you can merge it. Not sure what to do? It all depends upon your content.

1. Update valuable content

Is an article still very valuable? Does it get a lot of traffic from Google? Is the post still in line with your site and your company? Old content that is still very valuable should, of course, be kept on your website. Do make sure that this content is updated on a regular basis. Your most important articles should never contain any outdated information. Setting reminders for yourself to update those evergreens every now and then is a great way to make sure your content is always up to date. 

Solve it with site structure

Keeping content on your website does come with a price, especially if you write a lot about similar topics. Make sure you add some structure and hierarchy to your website. If one of your pages or posts is much more important than the other one, you should treat it as such. Place that important page higher in your hierarchy. Link from less important pages to your most important page. that way you’ll be telling Google which article you want to rank highest with and you can keep both articles.

Keep reading: How to set up a cornerstone content strategy? »

2. Delete (and redirect) outdated content

Is an article outdated? Does it contain invalid information? Does it contain information that’s no longer informative? Every now and then you write about an upcoming event or you announce something new. After some time, these articles are pretty much useless. These types of articles should be deleted. Do make sure to redirect the article to something similar (or to the homepage if you cannot find an alternative).

3. Merge content

Have you written multiple articles about the same topic? Are they pretty much the same? Are they ranking for the same topics? These types of articles should be merged. Make one really awesome article out of the two (or three) you have written. Then delete (but do not forget to redirect) the old articles. I would write the new merged article on the URL that attracted the most traffic from Google.

Conclusion: continue to clean up

Checking, updating, structuring and deleting old content should be part of a process. Just like you need to clean up your kitchen closet every now and then, you also need to clean up your old content. As your site grows, you need to clean out the content and maintain the structure. This really needs to be a core element in every SEO strategy.

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How to properly delete a page from your site

Whenever you delete a page (or post) from your site, you also delete one or more URLs. That old URL, when visited, will usually return a ‘404 not found’ error, which is not the best thing for Google or your users. Is that what you really wanted to happen? You could redirect that deleted page to another page, or maybe – if you really want the content gone from your site – serving a 410 header would actually be a better idea. This post explains the choices you have and how to implement them.

Did you know Yoast SEO Premium has an awesome redirect manager that makes the redirection of deleted posts a breeze? Try it out!

Redirect or delete a page completely?

The first thing you have to work out is whether or not the content you deleted has an equivalent somewhere else on your site. Think of it this way: if I clicked on a link to the page you deleted, would there be another page on your site that gives me the information I was looking for? If that’s true for most of those following the link, you should redirect the deleted URL to the alternative page.

In general, I’d advise you to redirect a page even when only a handful of the visitors would benefit from it. The reasoning is simple: if the other option is for all your visitors to be sent to a “content not found” page, that’s not really a great alternative either…

Create a redirect

There are several types of redirects, but a 301 redirect is what’s called a permanent redirect, and this is what you should use when you redirect that deleted page URL to another URL. Using a 301 redirect means Google and other search engines will assign the link value of the old URL to the URL you redirected your visitors to.

Deleting content completely

If there really is no alternative page on your site with that information, you need to ask yourself whether it’s better to delete it or keep it and improve it instead. But if you’re absolutely sure you want to delete it, make sure you send the proper HTTP header: a ‘410 content deleted’ header.

404 and 410 HTTP headers

The difference between a 404 and a 410 header is simple: 404 means “content not found”, 410 means “content deleted” and is, therefore, more specific. If a URL returns a 410, Google knows for sure you removed the URL on purpose and it should, therefore, remove that URL from its index much sooner.

Our Yoast SEO Premium plugin for WordPress has a redirects module which lets you set 410 headers. The redirect manager is the perfect tool for working with redirects, automatically asking you what you want to do with a URL when you delete it or change the permalink. Of course, you can set any type of redirect.

The problem with serving 410 content deleted headers is that Google’s support for it is incomplete. Sure, it will delete pages that serve a 410 from its index faster, but Google Search Console will report 410s under “Not found” crawl errors, just like 404s. We’ve complained to Google about this several times but unfortunately, they have yet to fix it.

Collateral damage when deleting a page

When you delete one or more posts or pages from your site, there’s often collateral damage. Say you deleted all the posts on your site that have a specific tag. That tag now being empty, its archive’s URL will also give a 404. Even when you handle all the URLs of those posts you deleted properly (by redirecting or 410ing them) the tag archive will still give a 404, so you should make sure to deal with that URL too.

Even when you didn’t delete all the posts in a tag, the tag archive might now have 5 instead of 12 posts. If you display 10 posts per page in your archives, page 2 of that archive will now no longer exist, and thus give a 404 error. These aren’t the biggest problems in the world when you delete one or two posts, but if you’re dealing with a Google Panda problem and because of that deleting lots of poor content, creating a lot of 404s like this can take your site down even further, so proceed with care!

Read more: Which redirect should I use? »

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