Should I delete poorly written, hard-to-rank articles on my website or should I just let them stay? We get asked this question by our SEO clients a lot more times than we can remember, so we thought it wise to write a post about it.
Unfortunately, when it comes to content marketing, there isn’t a straightforward answer to this question.
In this post, we’ll explore what you can do about poorly written, hard-to-rank articles on your website, as well as the measures you can take to improve your search engine rankings and pick up that organic traffic we all badly love!
When it comes to SEO, the more competitive your keywords are, the harder it gets for your articles to appear on top of search engines results pages (SERPs).
For instance, let’s say you are targeting the keyword ‘freelance graphic designer’ for your newly set up graphic design business. Before you can start investing your time and money on SEO efforts, you need to first check other sites currently competing and ranking for that search term.
In our case, we’ve analyzed the top three organic search results for the keyword “freelance graphic designer” using the MozBar Chrome extension:
The first result, Upwork.com, has a domain authority of 91 – which makes it super hard to beat if your site is still new. The second one is Fiverr.com, which has an even higher domain authority of 92. Finally, the third result, 99designs.com, has a domain authority of 78 and a whopping 205,371 web pages linking to it!
If you’re writing blog posts optimised for the keyword ‘freelance graphic designer’ without a sizable budget for SEO, chances are that you will never beat these would-be competitors.
Before you start writing or editing existing (and probably low-quality content) for your website, first gauge the competition on SERPs to determine if it’s worth investing your money and time or not.
Take a look at the page one on Google search results. If high authority websites such as Wikipedia, CNN, Amazon and Forbes appear in the search results for your target keyword, it’s probably too competitive to pursue.
A few reliable tools we recommend for keyword analysis include Ahrefs, SEMrush and Moz. While at it, try to avoid short-tail keywords as most tend to be too competitive already. Instead, consider focusing on long-tail keywords that are not only easier to rank for but also drive more targeted (and higher-quality) traffic to your business.
For instance, if your website is about books, consider using a keyword like ‘best legal thriller books of 2022’ rather than ‘best thriller books.’ Don’t just go for a keyword blindly, though. Ensure that whatever you target gets significant amounts of monthly traffic and drives real value.
As a general rule of thumb, the main keyword should receive at least 100-1000 searches every month. You can check keyword search volume using paid SEO tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush or free ones such as Google’s Keyword Planner or SurferSEO’s Keyword Surfer extension.
On the surface, deleting content that does not rank properly on SERPs seems like a quick and convenient way towards achieving better traffic. However, it takes quite some work.
For starters, you need to create 301 redirects. The premise behind this step is to redirect visitors from the deleted pages to existing ones with relevant information. As Hubspot explains in this article, if done correctly, 301 redirections can be great for both SEO purposes and user experiences.
Unfortunately, creating 301 redirects can be such a time-consuming process especially if you have to delete a lot of web pages. Plus, creating 301 redirects can prove pretty challenging if you’ve never done it before.
With a few choices left, you could decide to rewrite your poorly written, outdated content to boost rankings. If so, here are two critical factors you must consider:
Let’s explore these two factors in more detail below.
Search intent (also known as user or audience intent) is the primary goal of a person searching for content on a search engine. Simply put, it’s the ‘why’ behind an online search.
There are four types of search intent:
When writing (or in this case rewriting) old content for your site, it’s critical to think about the search intent even where it seems obvious for your keyword. Essentially, you want to see the pages that already rank for that keyword to find out what Google considers ideal.
For example, say you run a tech blog and want to create articles on cheap smartphones; here are the probable results you will come across for the keyword ‘cheap smartphones.’
The search results indicate that this keyword has both commercial and transactional search intent. If you want your article to rank for commercial intent, consider using an alternative long-tail keyword like “best budget smartphones of 2022” instead.
When checking out the search intent of your keyword, you should also try to determine the media used by your competitors. If you see a lot of videos in the search results, you may want to focus on creating video content and work on improving your video SEO.
Content length is one of the most contentious issues in SEO. While some SEOs claim that content length is a ranking factor, others don’t give it as much weight.
According to Google’s John Mueller, content length isn’t a ranking factor. Instead, Google’s search algorithm prioritises providing users with relevant information that demonstrates expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness on a given topic.
Nonetheless, if you’re struggling to rank on Google and other search engines, writing long-form content can give you an edge over your competitors and help improve your ranking. By writing longer content, you can expand on your main topic and rank for more keywords.
For example, if you run a careers website, you may decide to write an article targeting the keyword “interview tips.” However, if you only use one keyword, chances are that you could miss out on other ranking opportunities.
This is why you should consider adding variations of the keyword to your H2 and H3 titles, such as ‘tips for before the interview’ and ‘tips for after the interview.’ Doing this can help your article rank for more keywords and consequently drive increased traffic to your website.
Even though rewriting and repurposing old pages is a smart idea, sometimes it’s necessary to delete them altogether.
Old posts that lack proper coverage of the topic they purport to cover, do not focus on the intended keyword, or contain inaccurate information (aka time-sensitive content) are worth negative value.
However, it’s reckless to delete a blog article without performing a proper content audit. Ask these questions to help you decide if it’s time to delete outdated content:
Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines describe low-quality content as content that is hard to read, improperly formatted, contains meaningless information, or even grammatically incorrect. Low-quality content is hard to rank because it’s less authoritative in the eyes of search engines.
Moreover, significant amounts of poor-quality content could impact Google’s ability to crawl a site. There are lots of site audit metrics you can use to gauge the content quality, including: time on page, conversions, bounce rate, engagement, backlinks, ranking, and more.
Depending on how many pages you have on your site, you have two causes of action to take: make changes or delete content. Some of the changes to make include:
However, if your site has a lot of pages with low-quality or thin content (say 10k+), then you know reviewing and adjusting all these pages can take quite a lot of work. In that case, deleting old pages could help search engines focus on other indexed pages that you care about most.
Like other pages on your website, you should optimise old blog posts for organic traffic. Because Google keeps updating its algorithms numerous times a year, some of your old pages may not be optimised for current SEO practices and ranking factors. There are a couple of popular ways to check if old pages are still receiving organic traffic, including:
Google Search Console can help you find pages that are no longer optimised as they used to—and pages that were never optimised from the beginning. Start by comparing data from the last 30 days with data from the same time one or so years ago.
On the left sidebar of the Search Console, click on “Performance”, then filter the dates to start the comparison. This lets you find out how many pages used to get a lot of traffic but no longer do.
Any old pages that users aren’t clicking on them could mean they’re outdated. For example, articles published as far back as 2011 may not be optimised for mobile users, hence receiving little or no traffic at all.
Another popular way to check if old pages are still optimised is using Google Analytics. Click on the ‘Behavior’ button in your account and go to ‘Overview’. You will find a fantastic overview of every page on your website.
To see the full report, click on the ‘view full report’ tab located in the bottom right-hand corner of the analytic tool. Then set the ‘show rows’ option at the bottom of the page to 5,000. You can open the file in Excel or Google sheets depending on your preference.
You can also sort by page views and bounce rate to identify pages that are no longer performing well. If you find pages with significantly low amounts of traffic or conversions, it’s probably worth updating rather than deleting them.
So try and consolidate several low-quality pages into one solid page that provides greater value to your audience. But before doing so, make sure to research the targeted keywords afresh. There is a good chance that the best keywords have changed since you last created the article, so find out what to target using tools like Ubersuggest.
Not every page can be saved, though. Some pages such as job ads that no longer exist, old news articles, or discontinued products may not be worth keeping. If a page can’t be updated, improved, or repurposed, then it's ripe for removal. Remember, however, that deleting old pages should be your last resort.
Google is on a mission to provide users with up-to-date, relevant, and authoritative content. If the content is no longer relevant or is legally incorrect nowadays, then it provides no value to readers.
Make sure to update completely irrelevant/outdated content by adding fresh chunks of information to make it more valuable to your audience. However, if you published content that could land you in hot soup, especially on a topic that no longer exists, it’s best to hit delete and forget about it.
For example, say you wrote an article on ‘top 10 superfoods that can cure cancer’. You have to do away with such content because it makes false health claims that are not proven.
But then again, removing content without taking appropriate measures could see your entire site drop in rankings. So instead of deleting content due to inaccurate information, just redirect the old URL to a fresh relevant blog post on the same topic.
While deleting poorly written articles may seem like a good idea, don't be quick to hit delete without taking proper precautions. Creating 301 redirects and deleting multiple articles can take a lot of time and are somewhat technical for most site owners. Plus, you will lose the little ground you may have made if you delete your articles.
As such, we recommend checking out the competition for your keywords and rewriting the poorly written content instead.
Finally, always remember that SEO is a long-term strategy. If you don’t see your hard work yield results as quickly as you’d like, don’t worry. Continue focusing on creating high-value content that matches search intent, refining your keyword research process, and building high-quality backlinks for your website. You need to think of good backlinks as the rocket fuel to your valuable content.
Are you struggling with doing all this yourself and would like a professional to take away the burden of SEO off your shoulder so you can focus on running your online business? Don’t hesitate to contact us for a free strategy call.
We specialise in bespoke link building and are happy to guide you on how to create high-quality content that others in your niche or related industries are willing to link to.
Get in touch with us now and let’s skyrocket your business to the first page of Google for your most profitable search terms.