What Should You Do With Outdated Content on a Website?

How can you properly update old website content without losing existing traffic? Here are some tactics to consider.

Video Transcript

David: The first topic today was submitted by Dave Braun. He said he couldn’t join us today. It came out of our last question last week from Stephanie. Stephanie asked last week, what do you do with a website full of old content? Let’s say you had an article about recent Facebook updates from five years ago, and you were doing a great job blogging every week. Like, wow, that’s great. But some of that stuff is outdated. Some of it’s probably not even accurate anymore.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: And some of it is just there. So, what do you do? So, I’d like to talk about that today. So, have you heard of this problem before? Have you encountered this problem?

Tricia: Yes, I have this problem.

David: How about the rest of you?

Lidija: It’s a great question. And some things are maybe worth reworking, whereas some are not.

Tricia: Even if they aren’t worth reworking, if it’s getting traffic, what then?

David: Yeah. And Tricia, when you launched your new site, we had this discussion at that point because you had a lot of stuff on your old site.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: So, I definitely want to take time with this because I think it’s a really valuable conversation. In fact, I started it with one of my clients who faithfully blogs every week. I’ve worked with them for eight years. So, eight times 52 is the beginning of how many posts they have, right? There’s a lot of content on that website. So, I think that what we have to avoid is knee-jerk reactions. I’ve heard people say, well, I’m going to launch a new site and start from scratch. Boy, that’s a really radical idea, and it would really hurt you because you’re already getting traffic from some of that. You will just immediately stop getting traffic. But one of the things we all think we need to think about when it comes to content is that sometimes, content like articles does a great job attracting links to our website. So, all those links to our website, if we 404 those pages, no longer give us credit either, and we lose all the credit for those links. And so, a combined effort of just starting over and throwing everything out is going to have a two-fold, terrible impact on your new site. So, we have to avoid this knee-jerk reaction to just kill off everything. When I’ve worked with new clients who just launched new websites and the traffic dropped, this is number five on the things I look for. Did they just remove a massive amount of content from the blog, right? Because it’s really common. So, the first thing I like to check is if any of these old posts are still getting traffic. Right? And if they are, then we kind of think about it, and we say, okay if they’re still getting traffic, are they still relevant or not? If they have traffic and they’re still good, don’t touch them. Right? Maybe take a little bit of time and make a little bit of an update. But just make sure you keep them. If they have traffic and they’re not relevant… So, let’s say it was from a product or a service you no longer offer. Or maybe it’s a brand that you no longer provide. Or maybe it’s even a recommendation you no longer would make.

Tricia: Yeah, like technical stuff that’s changed.

David: Right. So then, it’s worth considering how you can improve it. And so, that’s the first thing I would do is start on the ones that already have traffic but are wrong, incorrect, or no longer relevant. So, let’s say it’s about a brand that you no longer provide. We no longer provide Nike shoes at our store. But you have a high traffic for Nike. Maybe you should update the post to say why we no longer offer Nike. It was just too expensive. The quality has gone down. I know that it’s a popular brand, but we’ve decided not to offer Nike anymore.

Tricia: And what do you recommend instead?

David: Yeah. Exactly. So, that’s worth it. If it’s a recommendation you no longer make, it might even be like adding a paragraph at the top. This is an outdated recommendation, and I know there are a lot of people still recommending it. And I’m keeping it here so you can find it and hear me say, I no longer think this is a good idea, and here’s why. So, the point is to update it. If it’s still getting traffic now, the more changes you make to the update, the more you risk losing some of that traffic. Right? So, if it’s outdated, let’s say because of SEO tactics. Let’s say it was the tactic of how to submit your website to a directory. Well, we don’t really do that anymore. If you now say don’t do this anymore, and you change the entire post, it’s not going to show up for the people looking for that anymore. And you’re going to lose the traffic because you’ve kind of unoptimized your page. So, you have to kind of think about that and understand that you might lose traffic if you completely rewrite it. So, maybe it’s a way to margin it and say, this isn’t the best idea, but there are still some good directories out there that are probably worth it, but it just doesn’t work as well as it used to, for instance, if that was the topic.

Tricia: So, a question here. You’re talking about, basically, rewriting. So, I Want to make sure I understand. If we’ve got something that has lots of details, and it’s like, well, this isn’t the best. And we recommend XYZ instead. Should we take out all that content and say we previously wrote about this, and this is why we no longer do it? And blah, blah, blah, and this is what we do instead. And just remove the old content? But at that URL, put that information instead? Or are we keeping the old there and referencing it?

David: Good question, because I’m ambiguous in my answer. And it depends.

Tricia: Okay.

David: If you completely rewrite the page, you take a chance of losing some of that traffic. Right? Because the page is about a totally different topic, even if you keep the same URL.

Tricia: Yes. Right.

David: So, you have to decide. Okay, is there a way to bring this more up-to-date and keep it on the same topic? Well, then, great. Then that’s easy. Just make it more up-to-date on the same topic. If it’s totally obsolete and a bad idea, then maybe you can use in WordPress there’s the DEL function, which you can actually surround text with the DEL tag. It redlines it, and then you can write a whole bunch in front of it and say why this is a bad idea.

Tricia: Oh, but leave the red line text?

David: Right. So, that’d be an interesting way to approach it. And you might still get some of the traffic, and then people will find it and go, oh, yeah, this isn’t a good idea anymore. Dave brought up an example in the question he asked. What if it was about Facebook updates from two years ago? Maybe there’s an archival value to it. Hey, this happened a long time ago, and for historical records, we’re keeping this up here, but this is no longer active as of this date. And reference to a new blog post that talks about the new way.

Tricia: I can see how that would be useful because if they’ve changed the process so much, they may call it something else. So, you’re there looking for X, and you found that article, and you’re like, yeah, this is what I want. But you’re saying this is what it used to be, and they call it XYZ now. And that’s why you’re not finding it. That would be helpful.

David: Yeah. But you see what we’re doing here. This is an instance where we’re still getting traffic, but the article is wrong. And so, we would want to find a way to make it helpful and more useful so we can maintain that traffic and maybe even make it even have more traffic.

Tricia: Okay.

David: So, the first instance was, it gets traffic and is still true. Great. Maybe we updated it. The second instance is it gets traffic, but it’s wrong or outdated. So, then we want to improve it. A third instance is it does not get traffic. Now, this is where some people will just kill off everything like that. There have been, in recent words from Google, statements that suggest the quality of pages of your website is a function of the quality of the content on your entire site. So, if you have hundreds of low-quality pieces of content that are outdated or wrong and no one’s seeing them because Google doesn’t serve them in the search results, then that might be reflecting poorly on you. Right? But just because it’s not getting traffic now doesn’t mean it can’t get traffic in the future. So, there are a lot of things that affect traffic to, for example, a blog post. I mentioned a client of mine that had eight years, times 52 posts a year of articles. Well, an article eight years ago is buried 400 posts deep. That’s page 40 of their blog. If there are ten blogs on a page. The problem with that post might not be that the topic is bad. The topic might still be good. However, now it’s so buried that Google isn’t paying attention to it anymore. Remember, when Google crawls your site, it doesn’t crawl your entire site every time. It crawls a portion of it. And so, it may not get to those really old blog posts frequently. So, what I’ve done with some clients, this one in particular, is I’ll find all the articles that are no longer getting traffic. I will do the keyword research process to see if people are still searching for that topic or a version of that topic. If they are, I know that if I improve the article and change the date to a more recent date by pushing it forward in my blog, Google will be more likely to index it and show it. Of course, that pushes everything back. Right? So, now the 399th article is the 400th article because I’ve taken article 400 and moved it to number one. It wouldn’t work if you simply changed the order of your articles. You probably need to make a little update, too. This can be complicated if your URLs, for instance, have dates in them because now you’ve changed the URL. And so, if that’s the case, you’re going to have to set up redirects. Redirects work, but we want to avoid redirects if we can. Right? So, just plan ahead like that. Ideally, a blog URL structure has the word blog in the URL, or news, or something like that, and doesn’t have just the title. Because that will help you on so many levels in the future unless you have something that’s very dated, very connected to date, like the meeting minutes for this day, month, and year. That will always be true for that post. Weekly news for this day. Okay, that’s always going to be true. So, maybe that’s a good URL structure. But for a regular blog, it’s not necessarily helpful to have the date in the URL. If you’re going to do a process of improvement, because now you’ve moved blog post 400, which was published eight years ago, and you’ve changed the date, and now it’s got a new URL. So, now you’re not getting the benefits of that old URL. It’s a completely new URL. Right? So, once you’ve determined that even though it’s not getting traffic, it’s still relevant; you’ve updated it and you moved it forward in your blog because you’ve updated it, you might still find that posts are not getting traffic. At that point, go through and start deleting and redirecting. But all things being equal, it would probably be better to keep it in your blog until you’re able to update it. Then, it would be to delete it and then update it later. So, if you look through your entire blog and you see that there is some stuff that’s worth salvaging, keep it in your blog until you can update it, even if it’s lower quality. Because if you remove it, even if you put a redirect, Google’s going to de-index it, and then you add it again. Then they have to re-index it, and it might not preserve that. But for this, the tools that are helpful are Google Search Console. You can actually go into the Search Console and download a list of all your pages and see how many clicks and impressions they got. And you can almost pull it for like six months and just say, okay, in the last six months, nobody clicked on this article. Okay, people must not be very interested in it. Do keyword research to see if people are searching for it. And if they are, then it’s worth updating. Lidija, what are you thinking?

Lidija: I wanted to ask, if it’s a candidate for deletion, where would it be a good idea to redirect? To a general blog page?

David: Good question. Ideally, a blog page would be the best place for this. You don’t want to always just default to everything on your homepage. Right? You want to redirect to something relevant. So, the first thing I think I check is whether there is another blog post that’s more up-to-date that’s relevant. It’s always going to be better if you can redirect it to a new blog post. Or maybe it’s not a blog post. Maybe it’s a service or a product page. You can redirect to that is related to this topic of the blog. That would be great. But if you can’t find anything like that, then maybe the blog page or something like that. And in the last case, there are no other ideas. I don’t know where else to redirect it. Then, to your home page, but that’s the last place you should go. I guess what we’re trying to avoid is just redirecting everything to the home page. Because with the redirect, what we’re doing is not preserving traffic. We’re preserving any link equity to that post, and we’re passing that link equity to the page that the redirect ends up on. Typically, your home page doesn’t need a lot more link equity. It typically attracts the most links easily. But it’s those interior pages that need the link equity. And if you can redirect to a product page, a service page, or a more relevant blog post, now, that page will benefit from any link equity that existed for that post. Does that kind of hit all the circumstances?

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