Parsing pages: Is it better to update or remove thin content?
There are three basic strategies for dealing with thin content: update, redirect or noindex. Contributor Kristopher Jones looks at each and says to always keep the purpose of the content in mind when making any change.
Some people look at the changes Google makes to its algorithm as adding new rules and penalties, but most of the time, the company is just reshaping the existing order.
The Panda algorithm of 2011 introduced a new structure to Google’s ranking factors and was implemented to keep poor-quality content from ranking well. Panda had a seismic effect on our industry and changed how the search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) industries approach content creation. Under the new algorithm, not only did thin content devalue a web page’s value, but it also devalued the quality of your domain as a whole.
In general, parsing pages should be taken case by case to evaluate different strategies that would fully utilize the value of each individual page.
There are three basic strategies for dealing with thin content: You can update or redirect it or use a noindex tag on the web page you don’t want in the search index. There are advantages to each strategy, although your decision should depend on the purpose and equity of the content itself.
Ask Google engineers whether it’s better to keep thin content, update it or remove it entirely and you’ll receive a couple of different answers. Here is Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller saying to noindex thin content:
Considerations for updating content
Depending on the size of your site or blog, you may have hundreds of thin or outdated posts that need to be optimized. We define thin and outdated content as:
- Articles/posts with less than 400 words.
- No keyword focus.
- Unoptimized for best SEO best practices (stuffing keywords, spammy link profile and so on).
- Outdated material/content.
- Duplicate content.
Not all people consider thin or outdated content to be “bad.” There are a lot of situations where it can be adding value to a website. For example, if someone had an old blog post titled “Best practices for web design” that is still a significant source of backlinks and traffic, they may not want to change the post for fear of losing the traffic.
The key question here is “How old?” If that post was written in 2012, there is a high likelihood the pages currently serve no purpose to the end user; too much has changed in the web design community.
In this case, consulting the data is important, such as traffic flow, backlinks and keyword rank, but over time, poor user signals will erode the value of this web page in Google’s eyes. No one looking for web design information today is interested in content from 2012.
When deciding between removing or updating existing content, ask yourself these questions:
- What role does the page play in the buyer’s journey today?
- Is this page still relevant to my industry or business offering?
- Do I still receive traffic or engagement from this web page?
In highly technical verticals, such as the medical, accounting or legal field, content needs to be updated regularly to comply with current regulations.
With all this in mind, let’s look at which situations may require removing or updating thin content on your site.
Redirecting or removing content
There are many reasons you would consider removing content altogether, such as if it was duplicated or user-generated. But there are additional reasons to consider removing content before replacing it:
- Content doesn’t align with current product mix.
- Location pages don’t reflect current business locations.
- Evergreen content does not reflect current industry trends or best practices.
- Topical content is outdated and no longer current.
- Content does not comply with current regulations.
Aside from this, you may consider updating or replacing content that doesn’t provide value for your customers and has a high bounce rate.
I do not recommend inserting a 404 gateway on a web page with any keyword ranking and would instead recommend a 301 redirect to a relevant web page to retain its equity. For all duplicate or outdated web pages, inserting a noindex tag is a good way to prevent disrupting your internal navigation, while also removing it from search results.
If a web page still receives some positive metrics, but it ultimately doesn’t conform to your current product mix or industry trends, consider placing a 301 redirect to a relevant source that would add value. This strategy should be followed for outdated product pages, as well as outdated legal pages.
Instance to update content
On the other hand, there are probably some blog posts and old pieces of content that could still add value to your SEO if properly optimized. This presents many advantages over creating a new piece of content:
- Less labor-intensive.
- Already contains backlinks and equity.
- Could increase in keyword rank.
- Maintains the size of your website, increasing your indexation rate.
Even scheduling your content management system (CMS) to update your posts to make them appear fresher in search results could increase keyword rankings. You could also consider updating all headlines, meta descriptions and available snippets to increase the post’s click-through rate (CTR) and relevance to specific keywords.
Consider repurposing old content and updating it with multimedia content. Consider creating an infographic or video to support a piece of thin content and share over the social networks and through your email channels.
A smart strategy is to update and rewrite content when you can. As an investment, you don’t want to remove web pages you took the time to create but if it makes sense and adds to your brand, I would do it.
Audit content regularly
Parsing pages is a difficult task. One bad 301 or 302 redirect could present grave problems for your user experience (UX) and internal navigation.
To resolve issues of content becoming outdated, it’s important to schedule an annual content audit that goes through each web page to evaluate performance and its relevance to your current website focus. Use tools like Screaming Frog and Moz to help you go page by page to analyze where thin and underperforming content exists.
Regular audits could be a first step in finding new opportunities to reach your customers and provide more value.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.