SEO, Thought Leaders

How to Boost Search Results By Killing Your Worst Content

August 29, 2018

by Quentin Aisbett

Director & Digital Strategist at OnQ Marketing

Identifying and handling under-performing content on your site has the potential to improve your search performance, increase traffic, and boost conversions. 

It wasn’t that long ago that popular opinion in the SEO industry was that "Google loves fresh content," and therefore your company should blog as often as you can.

Unfortunately, if you unwrap that suggestion, you realize that it’s aimed at satisfying search engines, not your audience.

Sure, more content might maintain your audience’s attention. But low-value, thin content does little to help your brand or user engagement. 

Allowing Google to crawl URLs of no SEO value or value to users wastes your crawl budget – the number of pages Google crawls on your site on any given day – and results in less crawling of your more important URLs. 

To optimize your crawl budget and improve the likelihood of your users clicking through to a high-value page, you need to audit your content to identify opportunities to improve the value of your blog through strengthening your high performing content and killing your low-performing content. 

Key Benefits of a Content Audit

If you have a blog on your website, then your objective is likely twofold: Attract more visitors and convert them to customers.

Maintaining a high-quality blog directly impacts both of these objectives.

First, though, you need to audit your site to identify the content that performs best on your site, both in terms of site traffic and conversions.

Quality Content Converts Visitors

Identifying your best-performing content is important because you then know the content you need to invest in to make it truly high-quality.

Quality content provides value in multiple ways:

  • Establishes authority: High-quality content demonstrates how much you know about your industry. By establishing authority, you separate yourself from your competitors.
  • Creates goodwill with your target audience: Answering your consumers’ queries through your content engages them on topics of their interest.
  • Shapes your brand: Every interaction your audience has with your business shapes how they perceive your brand. If your content is high-quality and compelling, that impression reflects on your brand. 

On the other hand, if your blog is littered with low-value posts, you hurt your opportunity to convert.

Even if consumers decide to persist with your content, you’re asking them to work harder to find something valuable.

Although it takes more time and investment to produce longer-form, evergreen content, that content continues to generate traffic and leads year after year, making the effort worthwhile. 

For example, Orbit Media can credit the majority of its conversions from just a few posts.


Conversion Rates for Top 50 Blog Posts_Orbit Media

Source: Orbit Media

As part of the content audit process, you should identify each post’s ability to drive conversions. The results will help you determine whether they can be optimized, need to be "noindexed," or should even be deleted (more on that later).

How to Audit Your Content

To measure how your content performs in terms of your blog’s objectives – generating traffic and converting readers into customers – you should first identify your goals for each post and then measure against that.

If you are looking to generate traffic, track the following metrics:

  • Total sessions and user sessions for each post
  • Total sessions and user sessions for the sales pages where the user landed on the site via a blog post

If your content objective is focused more on converting customers, then you should assess:

  • Conversions where a blog post was the landing page
  • Conversions where a blog post was browsed during a session that led to a conversion

To accurately measure conversions, set up your goals in Google Analytics.

Conversion Metric Goals

Source: Cutroni

There are a number of templates you can use to set up a goal in Google Analytics. The simplest is to have a destination page users can only reach upon conversion, such as a "Your Order Has Been Processed" page for an e-commerce website.

For non-retail sites, a goal could be triggered when a user reaches the "Thanks For Your Inquiry" page.

If these goal templates or destination pages are not right for your company, consider measuring user metrics such as:

  • Bounce Rate: Indicates how many visitors leave your website without browsing beyond the initial landing page. While this illustrates value by showing how many people visit your page, users who read your post to solve a query and then leave are recorded as a bounce.
  • Pages per session: Identifies how many pages the user browses. This can also be misleading because if the reader jumps around pages struggling to find an answer to his or her query, that doesn't necessarily mean your content provides value for them. 
  • Average time on site: Similar to pages per session, although having an average time on site of 10 minutes does not necessarily mean the user has achieved his or her objectives.

These metrics help to identify quality sessions on your site and demonstrate visitors who are more likely to convert. As noted, however, each can be misleading. 

Categorize Your Content Into 4 "Buckets"

As the final step of your auditing process, you should segment your posts into 4 buckets depending on their performance in attracting visitors and converting readers.

This process will help you identify the specific approach to take with each post.

1. High converting, high traffic: These are your top performers. They are the 20% of posts driving 80% of your traffic and conversions. There’s no immediate attention required for these.

2. High converting, low traffic: These convert well, so you definitely want to keep them. Your strategy should be to spend some time optimizing them to attract more traffic.

3. Low converting, high traffic: You don’t want to take any drastic action here because they’re a good source of traffic. Simply start testing how to convert them better. One option might be to strengthen your calls-to-action.

4. Low converting, low traffic: This is your worst-performing content. You must act on these. Asking Google to crawl and index these pages/posts wastes your crawl budget and diverts Google's and your readers' attention away from your valuable content.

4 Ways to Handle Your Low Converting, Low Traffic Site Content

Once you identify low converting and low traffic pages/posts, identify exactly what to do with them.

Use one of these 4 approaches to either optimize or kill your worst content. 

1. Optimize Content

If you have posts that have low traffic and low conversions but the topic remains relevant and you think you can optimize them, by all means, do so. Brian Dean at Backlinko explains how he increased his organic traffic by simply identifying the low-performing content and updating it.

2. No-Index Content

You may have pages/posts that still add to your user experience, but you don’t want them to be the first page that users encounter when they arrive on your site through search.

Examples of these are second or third-path pages that complement user conversion journeys or landing pages specific to a campaign.

You want search engines to crawl the page to help them interpret your site and respect the links within it, but you simply don’t want or need them showing up in search results.

The best approach here is to apply a “noindex” meta tag in the page’s HTML code. Applying the "noindex" tag, or "no indexing," tells Google that you do not want it to place a page in the search results.

If your website is WordPress, you can use Yoast SEO's extension to easily "noindex" a page.

Yoast no-index

Source: Yoast SEO

If you’re not using WordPress, consider adding the meta "noindex" directive within your robots.txt file, a file that outlines a set of rules to block or allow access to Google search bots and other crawlers to specific areas of your website.

Note that if you want Google to noindex a URL, it should not be blocked in your robots.txt file. If Google can’t crawl it, then it doesn't know that you want it noindexed.

3. “Disallow” Content

While a meta "noindex" directive stops your page from showing up in Google’s index, a ‘disallow’ directive within your robots.txt file will tell Google to ignore the URL altogether.

For example, if you have a search engine on your site (such as for flights or property listings), you may not want Google spending most of its time crawling each and every internal search result. You’d prefer it to be crawling your category or deal pages instead.

Other examples of when a ‘disallow’ directive is recommended are when you have private images, PDFs, or developing/testing pages.

Disallow using robot.txt

Source: Varvy

By directing search engines not crawl a URL, they will also ignore all content and links within it, which are potentially valuable.

4. Delete Content

You may have pages or posts on your website that were once time-related but are no longer relevant to your audience.

If your content is time-related, such as an event, and you have intention of covering future events, you can maintain a generic (no date) URL and simply update the post. If you have no intention of covering the time or event related topic again, delete the page.

When you do so, be sure to implement a "301 redirect" to another "evergreen" page or post that is relevant, so you can redirect users to an active page on your site. 

Examples of Successful Content Optimization

Two examples, in particular, illustrate how no-indexing and killing your worst-performing content led to improved search engine performance.

Example #1: Moz No-Indexes Low-Quality Member Profiles to Improve YoY Organic Traffic

In a technical case study, Britney Muller of Moz "noindexed" 75% of Moz’s pages and saw increases in organic traffic.

The team at Moz identified low-engaged member profiles and applied the meta "noindex" tags to tens of thousands of pages, which optimized its crawl budget and, in Muller's words, "reconsolidated our own site authority, and really cleaned up our index."

As a result of her efforts, Moz both experienced an increase in both organic users and YoY organic traffic.

Example #2: Inflow Prunes Client’s Content and Increases Sessions and Revenue

Denver-based digital agency Inflow published results for its "content pruning" for one of its clients. 

Inflow results of killing content

Inflow identified thousands of pages that had not referred any organic search traffic in nine months and "noindexed" them. The results were encouraging:

a. Revenue increased more than 28% within the weeks following the pruning of underperforming product pages.

b. Page sessions increased by about 31% during the same period.

This example highlights another instance where culling low-performing or low-value content increases sessions.

Culling your content can increase not just traffic but your bottom line.

Adjust Your Content To Improve SEO and User Experience

The modern consumer has an ever-increasing demand for valuable content. This is an important fact for search engines and publishers (you). If you can’t produce it and Google can’t find it, then they’re resourceful enough to find it elsewhere.

So, if your worst content isn’t meeting consumers' expectations, do something about it. Prune the worst-performing content on your site, and improve your standing in the eyes of both Google and your audience.

About the Author

Quentin Aisbett HeadshotQuentin Aisbett is the founder of Australian digital agency OnQ Marketing. He is a strategist with a particular focus on SEO, content marketing and analytics.

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