Deciding the Fate of Outdated Content: To Update, Redirect or Rewrite?

For better or worse, we are witnessing a race to fill the Internet with information. Millions of pages are added each day at a rate far greater than they are removed, leaving lots of outdated content for people and bots to crawl through. Old info provides an unfavorable user experience, but is simply removing it from the website or search engines the best alternative? Find out in this guest post by Andrew Garberson, a non-profit SEO consultant at LunaMetrics.

The answer is no. And if the old page in question has inbound links, social shares or other SEO value, the answer is NO! For starters, deleting a page with oh-so-valuable links turns them into orphans because they point to a nonexistent address. Any SEO benefit derived from them is gone, leaving them to wander the world alone (and unlike Annie, they’ll never find their Daddy Warbucks).    

Take a look at a client of mine, who we’ll lovingly refer to as XYZ.org. It is a midsized advocacy organization that frequently adds content to stay current. Their longstanding practice was to delete old pages from their site, making way for the new and newsworthy. Then they met me. A quick glance at Google Webmaster Tools showed that they had about 100 broken URLs that resulted in 404 errors.

 

To make matters worse, those 104 pages had attracted several hundred inbound links that suddenly never made it home. All of that SEO credit was tossed to the curb.

Sometimes webmasters prefer to de-index old pages so search engines do not display them in the search results. That doesn’t exactly get me giddy, either. De-indexing old pages keeps them away from potential visitors, but it also keeps them away from potential visitors! See the problem? Cutting away at organic search traffic is never good for business.

So, if deleting content is not an option, and neither is removing it from the index, what’s a SEO-savvy webmaster to do? Well, you have come to the right place. Here are three healthy alternatives to consider.

  • Update the information. Perhaps a page has been live for several years and it is starting to show its age. The dates have long since come and gone and procedures and price points reflect different times. After all, a lot has changed in the business world since 2008. Simply revise the content to reflect current happenings. Small corrections do not impact on-page metrics so no need to fear a fall in ranking. Search engines will barely notice. Unless, of course, those little corrections are, say, in the title and headers. If that’s the case, it is probably best to consider a 301.
  • Apply a 301 redirect instead of making big changes to title tags or large portions of content. 301 permanent URL redirections automatically shuffle visitors to a more applicable page and send with them most of its predecessor’s page authority. A redirect is perfect for a retired executive’s profile. It likely accrued lots of links over the years and it would be a shame to let them go to waste. A 301 permanent redirect to the directory of managers or the executive’s replacement would serve the website (and all of its visitors) very well. For more general pages, however, a redirect might not seem appropriate. It would make more sense to simply create all new content under the existing URL. 
  • Write new content. Widgets were not selling well so the company decides to go in a different direction. These big changes can’t be made by updating tidbits, but the URLs and brand can be left as-is. It’s time to rewrite. Wipe everything clean but the URL, leaving the inbound links intact, and start from scratch: newly optimized title tag, appropriate Meta description and fresh content. It might not be the best option because search engine results and ranks will change, but all of those authority-building inbound links are spared from the orphanage, which is better than what would happen if you delete entire pages.

Moral of the story: don’t abandon accrued SEO credit. Never ever. Condemning links to a life of solitude on the street is neither good for you nor society. So, do your part and keep this world a better place.

For more insight from Andrew, read his article about SEO tips for non-profit blogs.