Having lots of content on your website helps your SEO, right?
Yes and no.
Yes, your ranking depends on your ability to publish good content that answers your users’ questions. However, publishing hundreds of thousands of pages of content doesn’t automatically grow your traffic. In fact, in many cases, churning out too much content could be hurting more than helping your rankings.
Which pieces of content should you cut? Let’s identify the most common types of low-performing or harmful content and help you remove them.
Content that adds no value to SERPs—whether that means failing to answer a user’s questions or failing to add an original opinion to a heavily searched topic—is what Google calls “thin content.” Thin content is basically content that’s poorly written, low quality, or worse, plagiarized. Examples include:
- Duplicate, superficial, or keyword-stuffed articles
- Machine-generated content
- Stolen or plagiarized content (this includes copy/pasting and rewriting or re-arranging small portions)
- Doorway pages
- Pages with more ads than valuable content
How does thin content hurt SEO?
1. Higher bounce rates
When your content fails to answer users’ questions, users will bounce and go somewhere else.
2. Fewer backlinks
Your authority depends, in part, on how often people share your content on social media or backlink it in their own blogs. Of course, few people, for the sake of their own reputations, will endorse content that’s loaded with ads or only deals superficially with the topic.
Lastly, if Google suspects you’re publishing too much thin content, they won’t just reduce your ranking: they’ll take you out of their SERPs all together. At that point the only way to rank again would be to replace thin content with new content that adds value.
How should you deal with thin content?
You have two options here: rewrite or remove.
● When it’s worth it, rewrite. Some, but not all, thin content is worth salvaging. Your content strategy may have hit the mark: topic, keywords, even the title may have been right, but you failed to execute. If the content feels important to your business, write it better. Guide your users with questions and make sure the solutions are easy to read and clear.
● When it’s not, remove it. Take a second look at the examples we gave for thin content. If the content in question resembles one or more of these, get rid of it. It’s not worth recycling, and it’s pulling your ranking down, not up.
Sometimes you are better off combining pieces of content into a mega post rather than just removing the content all together, especially if those pages have built up backlinks. More on that later.
Finally, keep in mind that Google wants to serve the user the best answer to their questions. If you keep content that exemplifies this and remove content that doesn’t, Google will reward you with a higher ranking.
Head over to our article on how Google evaluates content quality if you need more tips on grading your content.
Keyword cannibalization happens when multiple articles on your website target the same keyword. They may cover the same topic, or answer the same user question, but either way, they’re competing against each other.
How does keyword cannibalization affect SEO?
You may think, “If my website is the authority on my niche, wouldn’t multiple articles that target the same keyword help ranking?” Sometimes, yes. However, most of the time, it has the opposite effect. Here are three examples of when keyword cannibalization goes wrong.
1. You split link building over multiple mediocre pages
A portion of your page’s ranking depends on how many users link out to its content. Multiple pages, assuming they’re helpful and worthy of being shared, will split link building among them, which can have a negative impact on SEO.
2. You risk devaluing the better page
If two high converting pages rank high in a SERP, that’s great. However, you may find that a less desirable page ranks higher than a more desirable one. This is keyword cannibalization at its worst: you’re losing good traffic (and potentially profits) by having a poor page rank above a better one.
3. You’re stretching content thin
Keyword cannibalization often points to a deeper issue: you have multiple mediocre posts when you could have one central article. Google wants a one-shop-stop, not a shopping center. The more second-rate articles you have on a single topic, the less likely you’ll rank high for that specific keyword.
How do you stop keyword cannibalization?
Keyword cannibalization isn’t always noticeable, but there are several proactive things you can do to prevent it.
1. Merge and purge
First, look through your content and identify articles that are answering the same question or targeting the same keyword. For small sites, you can do this manually. However for large enterprise websites, this task needs to be automated at scale, with a tool such as RealKeywords in Botify Analytics. Lift the content from these separate places and organize them into one. A single article focused on one keyword is far stronger than several articles that touch aspects of it. When in doubt, remember the old SEO adage of one page, one purpose.
2. Remove content
As you’re looking through your content, you may see older, less-than-professional blog posts that offer no unique value or were written with no clear strategy in mind. Delete those immediately. You don’t want thin content to compete with your good stuff.
3. Find new keywords
If you find yourself writing multiple versions of the same article, you probably need to stop and do some keyword research. Look for variations of your essential keywords, as well as relevant questions that warrant a separate piece of content.
4. Follow a content cluster approach
One of the best ways to prevent keyword cannibalization is to plan out your content well ahead of time with a process called content clustering or a hub and spoke model. Planning ahead and keeping a detailed catalogue of the content on your site can prevent your writers from writing the same article over and over again, leading to keyword cannibalization.
If you need more advice on how to identify and resolve keyword cannibalization, head over to our step by step process on how to perform a content audit for SEO.
Pages with stale content
Some people assume when they publish good content, it will age well and continue converting forever.
It would be nice if that were always true. Unfortunately, it’s not.
Though it’s not easy to put an expiration date on content, it does have a shelf life. At a certain point your content gets old, a little less relevant, and slowly falls in ranking.
At this point, your content is stale.
How does stale content affect SEO?
Having lots of stale content weakens your website’s authority. When users come to your page and see content that lacks a current perspective, they wonder if it’s worth their time.
For example, imagine you see an article “7 Concerts You Can’t Miss.” If you’re reading it in 2020, would it matter if the article was published in 2019? Of course it would. The writer probably assumed you’d be okay standing around crowds of people, whereas in 2020 you might be looking for video concerts or shows with limited seating.
For this reason, Google prefers content that’s newly published and up to date. In fact, we found through data that in some cases the more changes you make to freshen up your content, the more likely Google will crawl your pages and rank them for more keywords.
This isn’t always the case—we also found where updating content didn’t improve ranking—but it’s important to remember that as content ages, it can start to lose SEO value.
So, what should you do about stale content?
If you suspect your content is stale, here are three things you can do:
● Refresh it. If your content used to work but has since fallen in ranking, refresh it. Check to make sure the information is still relevant, the sources are accurate, and the content still solves a specific problem.
● Delete it. If this piece of content has never worked, delete it. It’s thin content. It most likely doesn’t have a target audience, it was poorly written, and your website will perform better without it.
● Don’t touch it. If your content is converting well, don’t fix what’s not broken. As long as the information isn’t inaccurate or outdated, let it run. In fact, you may do more harm than good by updating it. Keep an eye on it, and when it starts get staler, refresh it.
Going over your crawl budget
Lastly, don’t forget to pay attention to your crawl budget. Your crawl budget is the maximum number of pages Google will crawl on your website. When your website exceeds its crawl budget, Google moves slower in indexing your new pages, sometimes stopping all together.
Small websites don’t need to stress over this, however, if you are an enterprise SEO managing hundreds of thousands if not millions of pages, this starts to become an issue.
How can you improve your crawl budget?
The content we’ve discussed here—thin, cannibalizing, and stale content—wastes your crawl budget by forcing bots to crawl pages that probably don’t have a high impact on your business while not finding or ignoring pages that do.
Here is a quick summary of steps you can take to optimize your crawl budget
- Delete thin content
- Remove or consolidate cannibalizing content
- Remove or refresh stale content
- Improve your internal linking so bots can find new pages easily
- Regularly update your sitemap and make sure all pages are 200 status codes
- Make sure your canonical tags are set up correctly
If you’ve done all of these and you’re still over budget, you may have a more serious issue on your hands. Reach out to us and we’ll help you take a deeper dive into your content’s data to identify which pages are problematic.
Is too much content hurting your ranking?
Before you prune your website of too much content, make sure you’ve identified the right things to cut. Removing content works best when you’re viewing it through Google’s eyes.
Botify was built to help you analyze your content from this perspective, so if you’d like an unbiased angle on it, let us know!