Editor’s note: This case study was originally published in 2019. It has been updated for accuracy and to reflect modern practices.
Most eCommerce stores focus on improving and expanding their content to enhance their SEO performance. As you know, this often requires significant time and resources.
But, did you know that you can increase your organic traffic without adding a single new piece of content or improving your existing content?
The answer: Deindexing low-performing blog posts through a process known as content pruning.
Not only does content pruning typically require way less work than adding new content, it’s a relatively easy way to boost your organic traffic and revenue — making it an SEO tactic with amazing ROI.
Based on our experience auditing hundreds of online stores, we know that deindexing “dead-weight” pages can make a huge impact on your content marketing efforts. In today’s case study, we’ll give you an example of the strategy in action, explaining:
- How content pruning can benefit your SEO efforts
- How to determine which content to keep and allow Google to crawl
- How pruning pages for one of our clients led to a 64% increase in revenue from their strategic blog content
In short: If you want your best-performing strategic content to bring in even more traffic and revenue, you’ll want to read this case study.
Content Pruning Benefits for Your eCommerce Blog
It’s a common misconception that more content is better.
But, since Google first released its Penguin update in 2012, the search engine’s algorithm has increasingly focused on quality over quantity as part of its initiatives to improve user experience. No longer can websites mass-publish low-quality content and expect to rank in the SERPs; only the best-crafted, informative content gets to see Page 1.
Today, you can’t assume that all of the pages on your site are useful or helpful, either to Google or to your audience. Instead, poor-performing pages may actually be dragging your overall site authority down.
By deindexing or removing them from your site, you can direct your limited crawl budget to more valuable pages, speed up your website, and more — all important factors in your overall organic performance.
In our work with dozens of online stores, we typically deindex 5%–20% of a store’s product and category pages following a full content audit, leading to consistent lifts in both traffic and revenue.
Pruning Dead Weight: A Real Client Example
We know it sometimes takes a small SEO win of pruning a limited amount of content and seeing the results to get the confidence to do more. For that reason, we’ll occasionally start with a strategic content audit (sometimes called a blog content audit) to “prove” the results from pruning non-catalog content first.
After seeing the positive and measurable results, most clients go on to perform a full audit of their catalog content, as well.
This was the approach we took for HomeScienceTools.com, an online store that provides educational scientific products.
At the time, HST’s blog — called “Learning Center” — was hosted on its own subdomain. (That choice comes with its own SEO impacts, but that’s a topic for another case study.)
After performing a full content audit of this section of HST’s site, we handed off our recommendations of pages to prune in early August 2018.
Their team pruned roughly 200 pages (about 10% of the total blog pages), starting with the worst quality offenders. These were pages with little or no organic traffic, total pageviews, conversions, and backlinks — our basic criteria for what constitutes an “underperforming” page.
After the content pruning in August, we kept a close eye on a few key metrics for HST.
Initially, the site’s organic keyword footprint dropped slightly — but then went on to increase quite a bit in the 90 days after pruning (a typical pattern for these kinds of efforts). From there, the keyword footprint continued to steadily grow over time.
Organic clicks and impressions to the store’s website reflected the upward trend in rankings, too, as shown below.
In short, after pruning blog content from HST’s subdomain, the site saw some impressive results:
- 104% increase in organic sessions
- 102% increase in transactions
- 64% increase in strategic content revenue
While a full-on audit of the site’s vast amount of catalog content could yield similar but larger improvements, even our limited blog pruning scope alone allowed the best content on the site to stand out in terms of overall quality — and to get recognized by Google’s algorithm with better rankings.
What HomeScienceTools.com Had to Say
Of course, results are great — but satisfied customers are our top priority.
So, we followed up with Brandy Hansen, then-marketing director at HST, to see how our content pruning (and its results) fit in with her team’s ongoing improvements to the website.
Noting that they were continuing to see an upward trend in performance, Hansen also said:
“At Home Science Tools, we continually focus on improvement — what needs to be done to take our service, business, and offerings to the next level. This audit was timely, necessary, and strategic; it helped us not only appropriately remove underperforming assets but synergistically brought together what we needed in order to escalate our organic growth.”
In other words, our content pruning initiative was a crucial part of a larger overall growth framework for improving website performance, and it provided tangible and significant results to meet the brand’s needs.
Why It Works: Link Equity Distribution
One reason that pruning low-performing content works is because of its impact on link equity distribution.
If a page doesn’t bring you value through total traffic, conversions, or links pointing to it, then it’s dragging down the potential benefits provided by high pages that do carry their own weight.
In that case, pruning the low-performing content can (and should) be seen as a business decision to stop the flow of resources (link equity) to a part of the business that doesn’t bring value.
What is Link Equity?
Link equity is a search engine ranking factor predicated on how links distribute value and authority to pages.
When thinking about link equity, I liken it to having a set amount of money in a bank account.
You can distribute a link’s equity in any number of ways — but the more pages you distribute equity to, the smaller the amount transferred to each page.
Websites that distribute their link equity over a smaller number of pages tend toward more strength and value per page and thus a higher quality overall. However, many sites unintentionally dilute their link equity over many low-quality pages.
A content audit and subsequent pruning help to optimize this link equity distribution and improve SEO performance.
How to Identify & Remove Low-Performing Pages
Before you can begin the content pruning process, you need to first conduct an audit of your strategic content.
Because we perform these so frequently for our client sites, we’ve documented that process in a complete eCommerce Content Audit Toolkit.
Within it, you’ll find everything you need to audit your site’s content, including a step-by-step guide for gathering your metrics, organizing them, and deciding what to do with each URL.
In short, here’s what you’ll do:
- Gather your website data with a Screaming Frog crawl.
- Categorize your page types and sort your data by organic traffic and revenue.
- Determine your “threshold” that indicates low performance.
- Identify URLs that meet that threshold and mark them for deletion or consolidation.
- Identify URLs to keep “as is” or to mark for future improvement.
- Implement your recommendations, including pruning your off-topic and old content.
There’s a reason we recommend incorporating your content-pruning efforts into a comprehensive content audit. Your search engine optimization initiatives won’t be contained to the section you’re updating; the changes you make to some content could affect your entire site.
By starting with a full content audit, you have a better understanding of your overall performance — and can make properly informed strategy recommendations.
Want an SEO agency to conduct your audit for you? Take advantage of our team’s experience by requesting a free project proposal today.
Low-Performing Does Not Equal Low-Value
Where should you draw the line on what to prune and what to keep?
Any web pages with little to no organic traffic, little to no conversion data, and little to no links from external websites should be pruned by removing them entirely from your site. Typically, this will include thin content, outdated content, and other irrelevant content.
However, there’s more than one way to successfully prune — and it’s not always about the big SEO metrics.
Most likely, there will be some underperforming content on your site that meets the criteria for pruning but provides other value to your business.
Consider tag pages on a blog. They contain hardly any useful or high-quality content, but they are incredibly useful for navigation and for user experience.
In cases like these, where content provides usability or some other value outside of its SEO and revenue metrics, we recommend using a “noindex” tag instead. This allows you to reduce a page’s effects on your SEO, while still allowing it to remain usable to browsers outside of the search engine results.
Some exceptions to this rule (and pages you should keep indexed):
- FAQ pages
- About pages
- Author pages
You can always mark these for later improvement if they currently aren’t performing well.
Our Recommendation: Start Auditing & Pruning Your Content Today
Regular marketing audits are essential to running any online business. Auditing content should be a regular process for online stores, as eCommerce sites often deal with index bloat from too many low-quality pages.
Therefore, we perform this type of strategic content audit process frequently for our clients. In fact, this general site audit strategy, during which we find important adjustments and improvements to make, is often the first step in a long, successful marketing partnership.
For those clients who aren’t ready to do a full-on audit, we often start with this focus on strategic content — helping to get their feet wet in the SEO waters and truly understand the results these efforts can bring.
If you’re in the same boat, dipping your toe into content auditing by pruning strategic content is a great place to begin. And, depending on the size of your eCommerce site, you could see significant organic search results after just a few weeks of work.
Our team of digital marketing strategists can help make it happen. Let us craft a personalized SEO strategy for your eCommerce needs by requesting a free proposal today.
In the meantime, we recommend these other case studies of amazing results brought on by auditing and deindexing content for our clients: