Removing Old Content to Help Your Website Grow

This week we got a call from a station asking if their news posts could be set to automatically expire after a certain day and time. For example, you post a local news story about a new farmer’s market being held in your town square this Saturday.  On Sunday, the news story will be old news and you’ll run the risk of someone reading and thinking that it’s the following Saturday instead of the one that just passed.  So, their question is a valid one.

However, there are certain implications to consider when you remove any content from your website.  The main one is Google, as well as other search engines.  When Google indexes website content so that it can be found in search results, they expect it to be valid.  When someone clicks on a search result and they find a “page missing” error, the search engine gets a pingback saying errors were found. Therefore, they penalize your entire site for the content no longer being there.

Google’s mission since its inception is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”  They’ve shifted this slightly to serve only the most relevant information. Old information is no longer relevant or useful.  So, the biggest problem is that the bots that index your content have no way of knowing that your content is still relevant and useful.

I’ve always been told to never remove anything from the internet because it will hurt the search engine optimization of your website. I can understand that for major things like switching domains or major pages with information that lots of people see and use on a regular basis, or even a news story with significant historical value.  But for a news story about a date-specific farmer’s market event?

Google spokespeople have different views about the idea of removing old content. Google’s Gary Illyes talked about removing content a couple of years ago saying,
“It’s not guaranteed that you will see any positive effect from that…”

Google’s John Mueller has also opined on the topic in a Google Webmaster Hangout:
“Improving it means that the rankings can only go up, whereas removing it, can cause loss of rankings instead of the gains that some people think content removals will do.”

Both of these Googlers go against the idea of content removals. But Google’s Michael Wyszomierski said in 2011, “In addition, it’s important for webmasters to know that low-quality content on part of a site can impact a site’s ranking as a whole… Removing low-quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.”

These different recommendations conflict. So, which tactic is right?

Remove or Edit?

Google defines quality content as useful and informative, more valuable and useful than other sites, credible, high quality, and engaging.  How much of your old content check most of these boxes?

As a radio station, I believe it’s safe to assume that your listeners and website readers are most concerned with what happened recently, what’s happening right now, and what could be affecting them in the coming days.  It would be much different if you were a business blogging about how to properly change a tire, repair a window, or paint a fireplace.  That type of content is more evergreen than the daily news content we are likely populating our websites with.

And if you are producing new content daily as you should, then any hit you may receive from Google from a missing post from a year ago should be inconsequential, because you’re delivering more relevant content each day to replace it.

A year or so ago, Hubspot CRM recently deleted 3000 posts from their blog and their SEO improved dramatically.  Here’s what they did to improve their SEO:

Want Your Content to Remain?

If you want the content to stay forever, you should do one of three things to ensure someone doesn’t consider the outdated content as current.

1) Write in such a way that no specific dates are inferred.  For example, you title your farmer’s market example post as “Farmer’s Market Weekend” and then go back and edit the article after the event to tell what happened instead of what’s going to happen.

2) Edit the title so that the reader knows that the content is expired or no longer relevant.  For example, adding the prefix “Expired:“ to the title.

3) Change the category of the post so that it remains on your site, but perhaps on the homepage mixed in with other current information.

Ready to Remove Old Content?

If you want to remove old content, you can investigate plugins (WordPress users) that will automatically expire posts on a specific date and time.  “PublishPress Future”, formerly “Post Expirator” is a free plugin that can help you with that:

If you do have a plugin in place for expiring old content, there needs to be a plan among your content creators for this.

1) Authors should know what’s would be considered historical or evergreen and be left with no expiration.

2) There should be a consensus to know what typical expiration dates should be.  Some might think that post should expire within 30 days while some may think it should never expire.

3) In addition to starting with a plan now, audit your old content to remove outdated content. There are some website crawlers out there that can help you with this.  Some options that you can use to crawl your content include:

  • Screamingfrog
  • DeepCrawl
  • Oncrawl
  • Sitebulb
  • Botify

These tools will help you evaluate which posts are no longer receiving any visits.

And use Google’s definition of “quality content” as litmus.  If this post is “no longer useful and informative”, “not more valuable than anywhere else it can be found”, “no longer credible”, “no longer high quality”, and “no longer engaging”, then let it go.  Or, edit it so that it still is most of those things.

Keep in mind that you’ll want to monitor your posts scheduled for deletion.  If you’ve found that a post that was initially set to expire within 10 days has been shared often on social media or is getting lots of traffic, then the end date should be extended so that some of those late shares do not see a missing page when they click on it.  This can hurt your website’s reputation.  Unless a post has a specific end date, like our Farmer’s market event this Saturday, then it’s safe to pick a generic date in the future like 6 months to a year for expiration.

But what if an outdated post shows up in my Facebook memories? Don’t click on it or share it. Those are for you alone to share out as needed.  Your Facebook readers will not see this.

Our Stand on Content Removal

Should you remove old content?  Our stand is “yes”, especially if the content is news-related, not historical or evergreen in nature, and older than a year.  There’s really no reason to keep it on your site.  Removing old content can help your website from a server perspective as well.  With old content removed, your backups will be smaller and much easier to re-instate if your website ever goes down due to a hacker intrusion.  If you are developing your website in-house or DIY, then this should be a big factor for you.

The Search Engine Journal did a fantastic article a few years ago titled, “How & Why You Must Improve or Remove Your Old Content”: They really go into detail on things to look for in your audits and scenarios where you want to remove or keep specific posts.  It’s well worth the read.

Do you need help with your radio station website, reach out to us.

Jim Sherwood serves as the chief creative, brand strategist, lead developer, meticulous project manager, and station collaborator for all Skyrocket Radio sites and projects. Jim is a 30+ year radio veteran with a resume spanning several small, medium, and large markets including roles as Digital Content Manager, Program Director, Production Manager, and Morning Show Host.