On an office hours hangout, Google’s John Mueller discussed a common mistake publishers make when removing content for SEO.
He then focused on the best way to remove content for more traffic.
Can it Help SEO to Remove Pages?
The publisher asking the question wanted to know if removing non-performing pages helped SEO.
The idea is that removing “dead wight” will help Google focus on the pages that matter.
Can it help SEO by reducing web pages by marking our product pages noindex, which have almost zero impressions in the last 16 months.
Currently 10 to 15% pages are like this and they’re just dead weight on our site.
I was wondering that after noindexing such pages we will submit fewer pages to Google in the sitemap and Google could focus on the rest of our site better.
It Depends on Why a Page Doesn’t Perform
Mueller answered that this is not a yes or no question.
He said that removing pages does not automatically cause the remaining pages to perform better.
It’s something that I know some sites do.
I think it is not a totally unreasonable approach to say that the pages that nobody cares about I essentially removed from my website.
But it’s something where I wouldn’t just blindly do this.
So if you’re just blindly focusing on the number of impressions that you have for individual products and you drop them from search then it’s very easy to drop things that are actually useful but they’re just not that common.
Ask: Why is a Page Not Performing?
Mueller’s answer means that whether a page it depends on why the page is removed depends on the reason why the page is not performing well.
Mueller explains that maybe not that many people are searching for that particular keyword phrase.
So the metric of impressions isn’t necessarily the best one to use for identifying pages to noindex and block Google from crawling.
John continued with his answer:
It might be that maybe it’s an archived version of a product or page where people after a certain period of time they need to go back there to find instructions for repairing this product or they want to look up historical information about this item.
And that’s not something that happens every day. So if you just purely look at the number of impressions and it’s easy to accidentally include a lot of things that are actually still useful for the web, they’re just not that commonly used.
On the other hand looking at the number of impressions and the types of pages that you have on your website, that can give you a little bit of a better understanding of which types of pages are more important for users.
And that can either guide you to saying, well this type of page is something that maybe I don’t want to provide anymore or perhaps it can guide you into saying, well this type of page is currently not seen as being that useful.
Ask: Can this Page be Improved?
Mueller now touches on the important analysis of whether a page simply needs updating.
For example, if a product has been replaced by a newer and better one, ranking for the old product can be an opportunity to announce that the product is no longer available (good information!) and that a better product is available.
If the new product costs about the same then note that fact to encourage a user to consider the newer product.
This is Google’s John Mueller’s recommendation on removing content:
For informational content it might be useful to see if new techniques, technology, or jargon has changed. Not all informational content is evergreen. If it can be improved then that’s definitely a good thing to consider doing.
Maybe if I significantly improved it, it would be different. And that’s also something where you don’t just go and… blindly look at the number of impressions but rather you have to make a judgment call and look at that and see does it make sense to.. remove this?
Does it make sense to improve it?
And a lot of times it does make sense to improve things on the web.
Fewer Pages Doesn’t Cause Higher Rankings
There is an idea that removing non-performing content will provide lift to the rest of the webpages.
Mueller affirms that this isn’t an automatic outcome.
It may be helpful for some sites and not so helpful for others.
John’s remarks on removing pages for SEO:
With regards to just having fewer pages and those fewer pages then ranking higher, I don’t see that happening so much. It can help for a very large website to reduce the number of pages that they provide just purely from a technical point of view and that if we can like crawl 1/10th of the pages on a website and it’s a lot easier for us to pick up those 1/10th of those pages a lot faster.
That can in turn help us to figure out well maybe these are the pages that are really important for the website. But if you’re just dropping a handful of pages here and there, I don’t think it changes anything for crawling and probably not much for the website in search overall.
The Right Way to Remove Content for SEO
The important consideration when removing content is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for improving rankings.
Removing pages does not automatically help all sites rank better.
Furthermore it’s important to assess whether a page simply needs improvement.
Removing content is an old solution for traffic issues.
There was a related SEO solution for removing content, called Content Cannibalization.
Then somewhere around 10 years later the technique was rediscovered and renamed Keyword Cannibalization.
In this version of the strategy, it was hypothesized that content that was too similar would eat into the rankings of the other pages.
The solution was to remove pages.
The thing is, regardless if one is considering removing similar content or low performance outdated content, it might be useful to consider updating the pages to make them unique or serve a different user intent.
Removing content doesn’t solve all problems.
So take your time and analyze why a page is not performing well and then decide if the page can be improved or serve as an upgrade path for potential clients who need a product upgrade.