Share article:

Your old blog posts and existing website pages can hurt your rankings and kill your reputation. 

That’s right, publishing new high-value content is an important aspect of doing well in the search results, but your work doesn’t end once a page has been published. As time goes on, content gets outdated, becomes irrelevant to your business goals, or stops performing well. If you don’t pay attention, you may even create duplicate content.

Not only does this make you look bad to new leads, it also affects your site’s performance. Luckily, content pruning helps you solve all of these problems by ensuring you only keep relevant and high-quality content on your website.

What Is Content Pruning?

Content pruning is the act of removing old, thin, outdated, and bad-performing pages from your website so that what remains for both users and Google to see is high-quality, well-visited, converting, and relevant content.

It’s a form of maintenance akin to removing the weeds from your garden that threaten to suffocate your flowers and sting your visitors when they come over for a picnic. 

Content Pruning Benefits

Improved rankings

Search engines don’t just look at your content on a page-per-page basis to decide if they’ll rank something. They also take into account the overall quality of a website. That means that if you have a lot of content that doesn’t rank, gets little to no traffic, and gets little to no user engagement, Google is likely to rank your site less well overall.

In other words: having more content isn’t necessarily better for SEO. What is better is having high-quality content. 

It’s therefore important to remove or deindex pages that are outdated and underperforming beyond the point of salvation. The higher the overall quality of the content on your site, the higher your chances of ranking in general. 

Sites with great content overall also tend to rank new pages faster than sites that have a lot of low-quality, non-ranking content.

Optimized crawl budget

Google and other search engines have a set crawl budget per website. This refers to the number of pages their bots visit on that website within a given time frame. And until Google has crawled a page, it won’t get indexed and thus it won’t show up in search.

Google also regularly recrawls pages to check whether they’ve been updated and this too costs crawl budget. 

If you have a lot of low-quality, outdated pages on your website, you might be wasting your crawl budget on those pages, leaving new and optimized pages to be crawled (much) later. By pruning your content so that only high-quality pages are left, you guarantee that the search engines crawl those pages and pick up on any updates you make, increasing your chances of ranking.

The above chart from the last content audit we ran for our own site illustrates how long it’s been since pages on the site have been crawled. The majority of our content gets crawled regularly – which is great! – but you can see there are some pages that deserve some attention. Pouring your data into a graph like this makes it visually very clear where your site is at.

Having less content also makes it easier to keep your website well-organized and set up clear internal linking between your pages, which benefits crawling as well.

Less content to maintain

This one is obvious: when you get rid of all of your low-quality and outdated content, there are fewer pages left to maintain:

  • To update the statistics and other information of.
  • To (re-)optimize the headings and keyword implementation of.
  • To add media elements to.
  • To optimize the CTAs of.
  • To improve for conversions.

 On top of that, you’ll be putting your efforts into content that is more likely to lead to conversions, whether that’s in the form of email signups, demo requests, or free trial signups.

Better user experience

Imagine spending several minutes reading a how-to guide only to realize that the information in it isn’t correct anymore. Or getting excited about using a tool after you read a use case for it but then noticing that the price of that tool has gone up since the publication of that use case.

Those are the types of experiences that will leave your users frustrated and likely to take their business elsewhere.

They’re also perfectly avoidable.

When you effectively prune your content, all that remains are high-value pages that contain the up-to-date information your target audience is looking for. That doesn’t just apply to blog content. It also means your users will be able to find the correct pricing for your different plans, the one page that has all of your correct contact details, and the most updated information about your product features.

This makes you come across as trustworthy and helps build your brand reputation. If, on the contrary, your site has a lot of outdated information pages, your audience will quickly get frustrated and take their business elsewhere.

A Word of Warning

Chart illustrating when content on the Flow site was last updated

While the goal of content pruning is to have a website with only high-value, up-to-date, and well-organized content, that doesn’t mean that you should just go ahead and delete everything that’s x years old and has never been updated. 

Instead, do a thorough analysis of the performance of the content on your website and only then decide whether that content should be pruned. How old a certain page is, or when it last has been updated, is an indication that it may need some attention, it is not a factor that decides whether you should prune that page or not.

How to Prune Content

Don’t wait until you see your traffic take a deep dive before you start content pruning. Once you have a solid number of pages up on your site that are at least 6 months and ideally 1 year old, you can run an audit to determine whether all of these pages still have a right to be live.

Create an inventory of your content and its performance data

The first step to consciously and effectively pruning your content is to create an inventory of all the content on your website as well as how it’s performing. One of the easiest ways to do this is in a Google Sheet as it allows you to easily combine and manipulate data.

Flow uses SEO tools such as Google Analytics 4, Google Search Console (GSC), and Ahrefs to track and download the following data for each of the URLs of the site we’re auditing:

  • Organic users to a page (GA4)
  • Organic sessions to a page (GA4)
  • All sessions on a page (GA4)
  • The page’s engagement rate (GA4)
  • Conversions from a page (GA4)
  • How many clicks it has received (GSC)
  • Its top keyword (GSC)
  • The position of that keyword (GSC)
  • How many keywords the page ranks for according to Ahrefs
  • How many backlinks the page has according to Ahrefs
  • The page’s word count
  • How many incoming and outgoing internal links a page has.
  • What the page’s crawl depth is.
  • How long it’s been since a page has been crawled

Note that not all of these metrics are pure SEO performance metrics. Instead of only tracking organic traffic to a page, for example, we look at the total number of sessions a page gets as well. Why? Because pages that don’t do great from an SEO perspective might still get good traffic through email marketing, social media marketing, PPC advertising, or simply because they are pages users click to when visiting your site.

Another thing you may want to add to your audit sheet is the word count for each page. It’s an easy way to spot thin content across your blog articles.

When you’re adding data to your audit, track it across the same period. If you’re running a content pruning project in April, for example, you can look at data from March (the month before) and compare it with data from March the year prior.

Lastly, check and add to your inventory whether every page on your site is indexable and if it has been indexed. You never know that someone accidentally checked the “no index” box when setting up a blog post and it would be a shame to remove a piece of valuable content because you think it doesn’t rank at all when in fact, you told the search engines to ignore it.

Set your pruning criteria

Content pruning is usually done as part of a larger content audit. During this type of audit, you set criteria based upon which you decide the best course of action for every page on your site. That action can be to draft and redirect a page, but it can also be to update and optimize it, to merge it with another page, or to noindex it.

Here are the general guidelines we follow at Flow when auditing content:

  • Update and optimize: when the page has old, outdated, and/or underperforming content but the topic
    • Still fits the business’s goals
    • Is still relevant to its target audience.
    • Can be turned into high-value content that has a chance of ranking well. Note that this last criterion counts more for blog posts than other pages on your website. Your About page, for example, doesn’t necessarily need to rank but it’s an indispensable page on your site so it does need to be up-to-date.
  • Merge and redirect (semi-prune): when two or more pages target the same topic and keyword, you decide to merge the content of these pages onto one URL and optimize it on that URL. The other pages are drafted and redirected to the one URL you keep.
  • Draft* and redirect (prune): when the page has old, outdated, and/or underperforming content with no chance of turning it into high-value, rankable content and/or when the topic of the page does not fit the business and its audience anymore, but the page has backlinks.
  • Draft* and 410 (prune): when the content is old, outdated, or underperforming, the topic isn’t relevant anymore, and the page has no backlinks.
  • Noindex: when the content is old, outdated, and/or underperforming but there is a reason to keep it on the website. For example:
    • Company updates that show behind-the-scenes and build trust.
    • Republications of articles your brand has been featured in on authoritative websites.
    • Product announcements that show the evolution of your product.

*Draft instead of delete the posts you prune so that if for some reason you want to republish the post on the same URL in the future, it’s still there.

When you set criteria for your own audit, you’ll want to work with specific thresholds. For example, you can decide that to keep a post live and update it, it needs to have gotten an average minimum of x organic sessions a month over 6 months.

Whatever number “x” is, depends on what your overall website traffic looks like and what type of traffic you want to aim for based on the search volume for your niche. If your content averages between 400 and 1000 sessions a month, a page that only gets 40 sessions a month might need to be updated or removed. But if you’re in a highly specific niche with little search volume, 40 sessions a month might not be bad.

And then there are pages such as your About page and perhaps even your Contact page that in comparison to other pages might not get a lot of traffic, but that are essential to come across as trustworthy and to offer a good user experience.

Decide whether to remove, improve, or noindex

With your content inventory made and your content pruning strategy set, it’s time to decide which pages you’ll prune, and which ones you’ll update and optimize or noindex. 

At Flow, we have a column in our audit sheet to assign a “recommended action” to each URL. This makes it easy to filter for all the content that needs to be pruned once we’re done with our audit. We have a limited list of recommended action descriptions to choose from for uniformity and specify exactly what needs to be done for each URL in a separate column.

That looks like this:

A system like this allows you to take a step-by-step approach where you

  • First, create your content inventory,
  • Then analyze what type of action needs to be taken for each URL,
  • Then look more deeply into every page and decide what needs to be done specifically,
  • While having a way of tracking what has been done directly in your audit sheet.

Go easy and measure your results

When you’ve identified a lot of content to prune, you might be inclined to prune it all at once. While that’s not a bad approach when you’re certain that all of this content needs to go, it does make it harder to track the effects of your pruning efforts.

By pruning content in smaller batches and leaving some time in between each batch, you can track how each pruning step affects your overall organic traffic and rankings and make any adjustments to your planned actions if needed.

Track the same metrics you’ve gathered while creating your content inventory and don’t panic if you initially see a dip in traffic and rankings. This can happen, especially if you’re deleting content that may have still gotten traffic but wasn’t relevant to your brand anymore. 

Don’t forget to clean up your internal links

When you draft and redirect a bunch of pages, you’ll likely end up with some internal redirects. Whereas before, an internal link might have looked like this:

Page A > Link to Page B > Page B

It will look like this after you’ve drafted Page B and have redirected it to page C:

Page A > Link to Page B > redirect does it’s work > Page C

While the user won’t notice much when this happens, a lot of internal redirects can slow down your site and they are a bit messy. The best thing to do is to clean them all up, either by removing the internal links that redirect or by linking to the correct page directly.

If you’ve drafted and 410ed pages, you’ll also want to check for broken links and remove those.

Reduce Future Content Pruning Work

Ideally, you run an audit to check whether any of your content needs to be pruned once a year, or every 6 months if you publish new content more than once or twice a week. This doesn’t have to be a big undertaking each time, though. If you have a lot of old, unoptimized content, your first content-pruning session might take a while. The key here is to strictly adhere to your content pruning criteria.

But once you’ve cleaned up your content and only have high-value pages left, you can minimize future pruning work by being mindful of what you publish going forward:

The goal is to always create content that is highly valuable and relevant to your business, but not every page is going to perform as well as you’d hoped it would and sometimes you may need to publish something time-sensitive or your business’s direction may change. In those cases, content pruning helps remove low-performing content and keep the content quality and reputation of your website high.

Get Started on Your Content Pruning Process

Content pruning allows you to find and remove outdated, underperforming, and low-quality content so you can increase your website’s SEO performance. Setting up and implementing a content pruning process is an important part of any effective SEO strategy and if you haven’t done so yet, now is the time.

Want some help?

Reach out to discuss how we can take content pruning off your plate and help you get better SEO results.

Get in touch


Content Pruning FAQs

How many pages should you have when you prune for the first time?

Pruning makes the most sense when you have more than just the essential pages on your website. That means when you have more than your homepage, feature pages, pricing page, and contact page. This usually comes down to having a blog. The more articles you have, the higher the chance that some of them will become outdated, lose rankings, or, after a while, are no longer relevant to your business.

How often should you prune?

Once a year is a good frequency for most websites. Every six months is better when you produce a lot of content on a weekly basis.

When should you delete content?

Whenever: - The content of a page is outdated and it doesn't make sense to update it. For example: an event announcement. and/or - The content of a page isn't relevant to your business anymore. For example: an article targeting freelancers while you now only target medium-sized businesses. and - A page gets very little traffic. Whenever you draft or delete a page that has quality backlinks, remember to redirect it so you don't lose the link juice.


Sofie Couwenbergh
Sofie is an SEO-savvy content strategist, consultant, and writer. She helps brands generate more qualified leads and keep customers engaged with engaging optimized articles like the one you’ve just read.
Flow Blog

You may also like: