When Should You Remove Old Web Content?

When should you take down old content from your website? It’s a great question we were discussing with a client last week, so much so that we thought it was best to share it with all of you.

The first thing to understand is there isn’t a simple checklist to provide you with guidance. It is both subjective and objective. So, you’ll need a good understanding of Google Analytics and the context within which the content was published.

If you want a plan to help outline both the science and art of culling content, follow the four steps below to help determine whether something stays online, or gets taken down.

Review the analytics

A good content marketer or digital strategist begins any decision process by looking at the data. Noted engineer W. Edwards Deming famously said, “In God we trust. All others must bring data.” We don’t make decisions in the digital world based on gut instinct or because it feels right. We review the analytics to make an informed decision by combining empirical evidence with professional experience.

The data in this case is most likely Google Analytics, so a solid understanding of the tool is necessary. Also, don’t make the myopic assessment that pageviews alone determine content value. These are the data points you should review. None of these is the sole indicator of quality content, but combined they paint a picture of content value.

Before beginning, the most important thing to stress is focus on relative assessments. This means, it’s more valuable to compare yourself to yourself than to some industry benchmark.

Compare analytics for pages across your website and over time to detect anomalies and statistically significant numbers. A single data point, independent of a comparative metric, isn’t of much value in your assessment.

Users and Pageviews

How many people viewed the page and how many total views were there? This indicates content reach. We assume more is always better, but I’d rather have fewer of the right people than just a lot of people.

Average Time on Page

How long are people staying on the page? If I have a small audience, but they’re staying a long time, that’s a good sign that they’re interested in my content. If I have a huge audience but everyone leaves after 15 seconds, that’s probably not a good metric.

Bounce %, Exit% and Entrances/Pageviews

These data points are often conflated, misinterpreted or misused. These are not useful aggregate numbers to apply across an entire site. Their value is at the page level to tell you how it’s performing.

Bounce % measures how often a visitor’s first page view is also their last (i.e., someone arrives at your homepage via Google and leaves without clicking to another page). A high bounce rate indicates content that doesn’t spur visitors to read more content. It’s not necessarily bad, because if people are staying on the page for a long time, it’s safe to assume the content is being read.

Exit % measures how often a page is a visitor’s last pageview (i.e., someone arrives at your homepage via Google, clicks to read your About page and then leaves, exiting your site from the About page). Similar to Bounce %, it’s not inherently bad. It is simply a signal that the page is frequently the last page viewed by a visitor.

Entrances/Pageviews measure how often a page is the first pageview of a visit (i.e., someone arrives at your homepage via Google and that counts as an entrance). A high Entrances/Pageviews percentage indicates the page’s role as an entry point to the website. Look into where people arrive from, whether it’s Google or a referral to see if this is what you want. And, look into the behavior of the people who enter via the page. Is their behavior different from those who come from an internal referral?

Count of Sessions and Page Depth

Are most visitors to a page, drive-by single time visitors? Or are they repeat visitors to that page?

Count of Sessions is a dimension in Google Analytics to denote the visit number for a user. A high Count of Sessions number indicates a loyal website visitor and potentially higher value for the content, being referenced several times. Analyze this number in conjunction with the above metrics to determine whether content is valuable.

Page Depth measures how many pages a user viewed during a single visit. A Page Depth of one would mean the user landed on the page and left from that page (e.g., a bounced visit).

If your page has a high percentage of users with a Count of Sessions greater than one, it means a large number of repeat visitors are coming to the page, which could be an indicator of high-quality, sticky content. If you have a large cohort of users with a Page Depth greater than three, it could mean the page is buried in the site, requiring too many clicks to discover.

Default Acquisition Channel

How are people finding the page? Are they arriving via referral, email, social or organic Google searches? If it’s the first, or the last of these, be very cautious taking it offline. And, have a very good reason for taking it offline, as well as a forwarding strategy to make sure people don’t get a page not found and instead land on a relevant related page.

Reread the content

After you’ve compiled and analyzed the data, it’s time for the subjective side of the process. Reread your old content and determine if it’s any good.

The previous step helps discern whether visitors think your content is valuable as evidenced by their behavior on your website. This step is where you decide if the content is valuable, reflects your organization’s views, or if it is still contextually accurate.

If the piece is about how your organization is responding to the previous presidential administration’s policy positions, that is probably no longer relevant. Think about how the content reflects on your organization today and whether the facts or opinions therein are relevant to your business now.

Rewrite the content

You reread the content, it seems relevant, but maybe needs some updating. Or, you have three posts that are topically similar in different sections of your website. It’s time to put your writing hat on to consolidate quality content and rewrite material to be more succinct and up-to-date.

Don’t keyword cannibalize

Your organization could be the preeminent authority on a niche policy issue and have unique perspectives on it. There could also be extensive high-quality content on the issue across your website.

If multiple pieces of content focus on the same topic, possibly have some of the same language and don’t address any tertiary topics, you might be creating an SEO problem for your website. The two pages could be competing for keyword ranking in Google.

There is a misconception that if you are the expert on a topic and you consistently write about it, you elevate your digital presence in Google. On the contrary, you are keyword cannibalizing yourself.

I’m not saying don’t ever write about a topic twice. Be cautious when writing about the same thing and make sure that it is thematically unique, lest you suffer the consequences of diminished search engine rankings.

Consolidate duplicate content

Looking back over your content catalogue, do you see similar pages? Now is a good time to combine them into a single piece. Reword, replace and rewrite old content to make sure what you have published on the website is unique and individually valuable.

Retire the content

If the previous steps lead to the conclusion that the content has little value and it can’t be rewritten or consolidated into another page, then get rid of it. Retire the old content.

Please, whatever you do, don’t archive the content and put it into a different section of the website. That is just about the worst thing you can do.

Your website is not a repository of anything and everything ever written by your organization. It shouldn’t be an internal reference tool. That’s what shared drives like Google Drive and Dropbox are for (or SharePoint, if you are a glutton for punishment).

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