Voiced by Amazon Polly

This content pruning case study demonstrates how deindexing blog content can lead to a better ROI from content overall.

Based on our experience auditing hundreds of online stores, we know that deindexing “dead-weight” pages is a relatively easy method to boost your SEO and revenue.

Most eCommerce stores focus on improving their content and expanding on it to improve their SEO. As you know, this often requires significant time and resources.

It’s counterintuitive, but you can increase the traffic brought in by your existing content without adding new content or improving existing content.

This can be done by deindexing low-performing blog posts.

Pruning low performing content typically requires way less work than adding more content. Thus, pruning is a tactic with a great ROI for eCommerce thanks to the high SEO impact and low investment of time and effort.

In this case study, we’re going to show you:

  • The criteria and process we use to quantitatively evaluate which content to deindex or remove.

  • How to determine which content to keep and allow Google to crawl.

  • How pruning pages for one of our eCommerce 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. (Or contact us to see whether your site could benefit from a similar SEO strategy.)

The Benefits of Pruning Blog Content

It’s a persistently common misconception that more content is better.

Google released their Penguin update in 2012 to reward sites for having quality content. This was Google’s algorithm adjustment to improve user experience during a time when many websites tried to rank through mass-publishing low-quality content (like those 300 word keyword-stuffed articles).

Despite current best-practices, the idea that more content will always help a site rank hangs around quite stubbornly.

The bottom line is: You can’t assume that all of the pages on your site are helpful. The pages with low stats might be dragging your overall quality down.

In our audits of online stores, we’ve seen many lifts in traffic and revenue following a full content audit of both blog content and content in the store or shop pages. This involves a comprehensive analysis, followed by executing the action steps that will lead to improvement.

Usually, this results in deindexing up to 5%-20% of a store’s product and category pages in order to create better SEO results.

That said, we know that sometimes it takes a small SEO win through pruning a limited amount of content and seeing the results to get the confidence to do more.

For that reason, we’ll occasionally suggest starting 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 an audit of catalog content as well.

For the subject of this case studyHomeScienceTools.coma store we assisted, benefited with a 64% increase in strategic content revenue after we helped to prune their blog content.

Pruning Dead Weight: A Real Life Example

HomeScienceTools.com is an online store that provides educational scientific products.

The “Learning Center” blog on this store is hosted on its own subdomain.

We performed a content audit of this section of the site and handed off our recommendations of pages to prune in early August, 2018.

This was followed by pruning roughly 200 pages, or about 10% of total pages from the blog’s subdomain. Starting with the worst quality offenders.

These pruned pages had little or no organic traffic, total traffic, conversions, and links pointing to them. These metric factors are the basic criteria for what constitutes an underperforming page.

The results after removing this blog content?


Rankings went down very slightly for HomeScienceTools.com primary domain initially, then went to spike up quite a bit in the 90 days after pruning (a typical pattern we see) – with a continuous increase.

Clicks and impressions to the store reflected the upward trend in rankings:

The stats after pruning blog content from the subdomain?

  • Organic sessions to content grew 104%
  • Transactions grew 102%
  • Strategic content revenue grew 64%

What HomeScienceTools.com Had to Say

We followed up to see what this store’s impression of the process was.

According to Brandy Hansen, marketing director at Home Science Tools, doing this audit was part of a general track of continuous audits and improvements to the website.

On the subject of continuous improvement, Hansen also stressed that they were seeing results continue to trend up past these cited numbers. In her own words:

“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: this was a crucial part of a larger overall growth framework for improving performance, and it provided tangible and significant results.

A full-on audit of the site’s vast amount of catalog content could yield similar but larger performance improvements.

However, even limiting the scope of pruning to the blog content alone allowed the best content on the site to stand out to Google in terms of quality…and get recognized by the algorithm with better rankings.

Link Equity Distribution

One reason that pruning low performing content works is because of its impact on link equity distribution.

The big idea here is: 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 quality 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 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 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.

Many sites unintentionally dilute their link equity over many low quality pages. A content audit and pruning helps to optimize link equity distribution and improve performance.

How to Identify and Remove Low Performing Pages

While you will be quantitatively evaluating pages according to their metrics and pruning them, there’s more than one way to prune.

Actual removal is generally better for SEO (for crawl budget reasons), but sometimes the content warrants a “noindex” tag.

There are going to be some low performing pages that meet most of the criteria for pruning but provide other value to your business.

For example, tag pages on a blog where categories are also present, because they help with navigating a site:

Example of a blog category / tag page on our own website listing published case studies.

In cases like tag pages that provide usability or some other value outside of their SEO and revenue metrics, a “noindex” tag reduces their weight from your site’s SEO while still allowing the page to remain usable outside of the search engine results.

The Strategic Content Audit Process

When we perform a content audit for client sites, part of that larger process is a sub-process specific to auditing strategic content.

The criteria are quite detailed but also systematic and easy to follow. You can get started with this process by downloading our content audit toolkit.

The outline of this process is:

  1. Make a copy of our “Strategic Content Audit Template” Google Sheet.
  2. Export strategic content URLs and their data to Google Sheets
  3. Determine Action and Strategy
    4. Look for Pages to Prune and Consolidate
  4. Look for Pages to Keep As-Is
  5. Look for Pages to Improve
  6. Prune Outdated and Off-Topic Content

Where should you draw the line on what to prune and what to keep?

A good general guideline is to prune pages with little to no organic traffic, little to no conversion data, and little to no links from external websites by removing them entirely.

Pages that don’t match this criteria but have other intrinsic value to your business or customers, such as blog tag pages, should remain on the site because they enhance user experience but cause SEO issues when overdone and indexed.

In these “keep” cases, you can either deindex the page or improve it if it needs to be indexed. While tag pages don’t usually need to remain indexed, the content that should be indexed are FAQ, About, and Author pages, and you can mark those pages for improvement if they aren’t performing well.

Results and Impact on Traffic and Revenue

We perform this strategic content audit process very often for clients.

As mentioned, it’s part of a general site audit where we find adjustments and improvements to make.

For clients who aren’t ready to do a full-on audit, we’ll often recommend to get your feet wet with a strategic content audit and track the results.

What tends to happen is a noticeable improvement from the strategic content audit (as in this case study). That proof helps clients become comfortable with pruning their low-performing catalog content, too, to create similar results.

A site with over 500 pages can benefit greatly from pruning. Generally, a bigger site will see bigger results from this process as the results become magnified by the size of the website.

To show you other cases of amazing results brought on by auditing and deindexing content, look at these case studies for further reference:

Conclusion

Regular marketing audits are essential to running any online business. Auditing content should be a regular audit for online stores, as eCommerce stores often deal with index bloat from too many low quality pages.

Dipping your toe into content auditing by pruning strategic content is a great place to start if you aren’t ready to do a full-on audit of your online store.

We have experience from helping hundreds of online stores perform this and other SEO audits. If you’d like to see how we can help, please contact us about auditing your site today.