Each website is a garden: every post and page on the site is a plant within the garden. Some sites are tidy, well organized, and flourish as a result of each plant getting enough water and sunlight; other sites are a jungle, poorly organized, and the plants – aka posts – within them all struggle to thrive.
Google can understand whether your site is a tidy garden or a jungle-like one, and as web owners, we need to do constant work to keep search engines happy with our horticultural skills. Deleting blog posts is a way to prune the garden that is your site, and tame it from jungle to orderly and beautiful.
In this post, you’ll learn how – and WHY – to delete blog posts in alignment with the best practices of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). The best way to keep the garden of your site content tidy and beautiful is not only by planting seeds (publishing new content) and tending existing plats (updating old content) – it’s by removing the weeds and blooms that no longer fit your plan (deleting content). After reading, you’ll know how to do that in a way that helps your site traffic and income grow.
Why Delete Blog Posts?
The first – and most important – question is: why delete blog posts at all?
The garden analogy I opened with is apt: having a neat and tidy site structure helps readers and Google understand your site better. There are intrinsic benefits to this, such as gaining more authority and other E-A-T factors, and ranking higher – thus bringing you more traffic and income.
Additionally, I’ve long believed that Google – which we all give data through Google Analytics – can see our “average traffic per post” and ranks our sites accordingly. If you have lots of “zero traffic content” on your site, Google can see – and might assume – that your site should be a “zero traffic site.” By deleting low-traffic posts, you can increase your average traffic per post and improve your traffic overall even with fewer blog posts.
In short, there’s almost no harm in deleting blog posts that aren’t bringing you traffic anyway – and you might actually see a benefit!
Can I No-Index Blog Posts Instead?
To be fair, you can absolutely just no-index posts and keep them on your site. That’s a simple way to skip this whole process I’m going to outline.
I personally don’t no-index any blog posts that aren’t in line with my current content strategy; the only posts I no-index are personal ones (like my yearly mantras, birthday updates, trip reports, and photo journals, etc.). Why?
I don’t want readers to find low-quality and/or irrelevant content on my site – ever.
Blog posts that you decide to keep as no-indexed content are that way for a reason. If they’re personal (if they “spark joy” in Marie Kondo’s language), keep them; if they’re just not what you want to be known for, it’s worth deciding whether to delete them.
Step 1. Identify Posts for Deletion
The first, and most important, step in cleaning up your site is to identify which posts you want to delete. However, it’s obviously important that you choose the right posts to delete – just as you make strategic decisions and research which posts to write, you should be thoughtful in deciding which posts to delete.
Traffic is obviously an important consideration in whether a post is performing well enough to justify keeping or deleting. While you could wade through Google Analytics trying to understand each individual post and whether it’s performing well, I always use my BOSS spreadsheet for these kinds of decisions. I created this spreadsheet – and my course teaching you how to make one – to help make it easier to get a high-level view of your entire site, but also to dive into individual posts and their data easily.
As a threshold, I usually flag any post getting 60 pageviews per month or less, over the past six months. If <2 people are visiting a page each day on average, nobody’s going to miss it if it’s gone from my site.
If a post is seasonal or focused on a holiday or event, I look at the average traffic across the last year as well as the peak traffic – I don’t have a hard and fast rule here since it depends a lot on the content you create to make that determination. (I do however create lots of seasonal content on my sites, so that suggests I think it’s valuable to have that type of content in the first place!)
The other factor I keep in mind is how well the content fits into my SEO strategy; if a post is totally in line with the topics I normally cover and am building EAT in, I make a note of that – if it’s out in left field, that certainly makes it less likely I’ll keep the post on my site.
Step 2. Decide What to Do (aka Triage)
Now that I have a list of posts I might want to delete, I need to go back through them individually and make a decision about them. Back at my last traditional job, my boss hated when I deleted posts – but I actually have a pretty sophisticated decision tree that helps me decide what to do with a post that isn’t performing well from a traffic perspective.
Here are the possible outcomes that might happen for each post, using various statuses I’ve set in my own BOSS spreadsheet. (I literally opened my spreadsheet to make sure I didn’t forget to include one of the options!)
- Probation – Sometimes, I stick low-traffic posts into this bucket and let them sit for 3-6 months to see if they might improve. Perhaps it’s the first year of a post on my site and it has seasonality I didn’t anticipate – that means I should let it mature a bit and ensure the data is consistently bad before deciding what to do.
- SEO Research – While I always do keyword research before writing a post, sometimes it’s worth re-doing that work if a post “flops.” I start by researching the main keyword I focused on to ensure it actually has potential, then I spend some time in Google Search Console understanding what the post is (and isn’t) ranking for.
- Link Building – In some cases, a post isn’t doing well because it doesn’t have good link juice. When I mark a post for Link Building, I start by improving my internal linking, and then look into possibly doing some link swaps* to help give it a boost too.
- Rewrite – Sometimes, posts fit my strategy/E-A-T/niche and have good keyword potential but just aren’t good enough As I – like you – have a million things to do, I usually don’t immediately mark a post to be rewritten. I typically let it sit in Probation and/or SEO Research for a while before deciding to rewrite a post.
- Rehome – This is a strategy that was suggested by Site School member Rebecca and I love it. If a post is of decent quality but not doing well for me – and not a good fit for my niche and E-A-T strategy, I typically try to “re-home” that post to someone else’s site in exchange for a backlink. There are Facebook groups where you can post the topic and people almost always claim them.
- Delete – Finally, what we’re all here for: if a post doesn’t get traffic, doesn’t fit into my current strategy, isn’t good enough to offer to another blogger in exchange for a backlink, and isn’t worth rewriting, it’s gotta go!
As you might be able to tell, deleting a post is kind of the last choice on a decision tree:
- Is the post old enough to understand the data? (Probation)
- Does the post fit your strategy? (SEO Research/Rehome)
- Have I done all I can to help the post rank well? (Link Building/Rewrite)
If the answer to all these suggests the post won’t improve in traffic and doesn’t really fit my strategy, then it’s time to delete the post (or posts!).
*I genuinely don’t think these have helped any of the posts I’ve done it for, so this is kind of an afterthought/last-ditch effort to help a post if it’s really in line with my SEO strategy and I want to keep it but also improve it.
Step 3. “Delete, Delete”
Now I’ve narrowed down my list of posts to ones I know need to be deleted. There’s nothing left to do but… well, delete!
In my head sometimes, I hear the Cybermen from Doctor Who: “Delete, Delete”
Personally, all I do in this step is send posts to the trash and let them sit for 30 days before they are deleted completely. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind if you want to do this properly:
- You may want to copy/paste the content into a Google doc or similar, to save for posterity or future use. (The Wayback Machine is also handy for finding old posts you deleted but didn’t save, if you can remember the URL.)
- Most SEOs will say, “if possible, redirect the URL to a related and useful piece of content using a 301 redirect.” There are good plugins, like Redirection, that make this easy and/or automatic. I personally don’t do this step – there’s nothing on my site that’s going to serve as a useful substitute for the content I’m deleting, and I personally hate getting redirected to something irrelevant; I’d rather just end up on a 404 page and understand that the content is gone.
- You should also consider any internal links to the content you’re deleting. These will all break and you might want to remove those links. I use a plugin called Broken Link Checker to keep an eye on – and fix – broken links across my sites.
In the end, what’s most important is to rip the bandaid off. Get started deleting, and get those poor-performing posts out of your mind, taking up space you can use to write better new content or upgrade strategic old content.
Step 4. Double-Check Technical SEO
If you do decide to do any technical SEO (i.e. 301 redirects, deleting to 404), it’s worthwhile to double-check that everything is working as expected after you delete the posts you’ve decided are goners.
Basically, all I mean is: make sure nothing in your site is truly broken after you delete. If you set up a 301 redirect, make sure it’s working. If you decide to straight-up delete, confirm your 404 page is showing up. Purge your caching plugin (if you use one), to make sure your readers don’t have a weird experience too. Test everything in Incognito Mode on your browser.
And that’s it. While I often encourage members of Site School to delete content, it’s not usually as simple as just hitting the “Move to Trash” button on WordPress – though it can be once you get good at identifying, triaging, and prioritizing the health of you site’s content “garden.”
Have any questions about how to delete blog posts in an SEO-friendly way? Let me know in the comments!