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Google Warns Businesses Against Culling Old Website Content

Google has said deleting old content to improve a site’s SEO “isn’t a thing” and that old content can still maintain value.

Danny Sullivan, Search Liasison, Google

“Are you deleting content from your site because you somehow believe Google doesn’t like “old” content? That’s not a thing! Our guidance doesn’t encourage this. Older content can still be helpful, too.”

The Search Liason account posted that statement over on X in response to CNET’s culling of old articles in an attempt to improve its Google search ranking. Called content pruning, CNET has deleted thousands of articles in recent weeks based on metrics such as page views, backlink profiles and how long it had been since the page was last updated.

It took this action because it believes it’ll give it an advantage over its rivals.

CNET Internal Memo, via Gizmodo

“It (content pruning) sends a signal to Google that says CNET is fresh, relevant and worthy of being placed higher than our competitors in search results.”

Fighting to stay relevant

According to the internal memo, content pruning “removes, redirects or refreshes URLs that are no longer relevant or helpful to our audience”. Alongside improved search results, content pruning aims to improve domain authority and user experience.

CNET strongly believes that there is a problem with having older content on its site, said its senior director of marketing and communications.

Taylor Canada, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, CNET, via Gizmodo

“In an ideal world, we would leave all of our content on our site in perpetuity. Unfortunately, we are penalised by the modern internet for leaving all previously published content live on our site.”

Google – content pruning isn’t worth it

There’s only one problem with that belief – Google says sites will never be published for simply having old content. According to Google’s Search Liason, old content may not rank well for its individual page, but that doesn’t mean the site as a whole will be penalised.

Danny Sullivan, Search Liasison, Google

“The page itself isn’t likely to rank well. Removing it might mean if you have a massive site that we’re better able to crawl other content on the site. But it doesn’t mean we go “oh, now the whole site is so much better” because of what happens with an individual page. We’re not adding up all the “old” pages on a site and deciding a site is so “old” that other pages shouldn’t rank well.”

Despite that, content pruning is a strategy that many sites take to improve SEO results. For big sites, removing content that has no helpful purpose anymore could help Google crawl the site better. Plus, old content could also return declining numbers because search deems it less valuable for users. For instance, old content could include outdated information. In that case, it could be useful to audit and update old content to ensure it stays relevant and useful to people.

If you really want to do something about your older content, Google’s Senior Search Analyst has some things in mind. In a nutshell, you should ignore it and focus on the new.

John Mueller, Senior Search Analyst, Google, via Search Engine Round Table

“My primary recommendation would be to focus on the new content (since that’s what – probably – drives the visibility and traffic of your site). Regarding the older content, I don’t think there’s a simple answer that works for all sites.”

Mueller also said that deleting old content probably won’t change how Google crawls the site, and it won’t significantly impact how it indexes it, either. If your new content is what drives your visibility, there’s not much to be gained from content pruning. However, he did have something interesting to say about evergreen content.

“If, on the other hand, you have a ton of evergreen content that also drives a lot of visibility, then I could imagine that a cleaned-up site around that evergreen content makes it easier to recognize it as being useful.”

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