What’s the Best Way to Remove Old Content? Google Answers.

2 min read

In the November 2022 edition of Google’s Office-hours Hangout Q&A Session, Gary Illyes, a Google Webmaster Trend Analyst, addressed a question regarding removing old content from a website. One of the participants inquired about the specific methods for removing old content and preventing it from being indexed by Google. Gary emphasized various approaches to retiring a page, but the choice ultimately rests with the users and their preferences. Contrary to popular belief and apprehension, he stressed that the priority should be making sense to users rather than catering solely to search engines.
Now, before delving into the actual question and response, let’s explore the reasons why someone might consider deleting a piece of content in the first place.

Should you even delete old content?

Indeed, without a doubt. However, deleting outdated content should be an integral part of your broader content strategy to enhance overall content quality and bolster your topical authority. This becomes particularly crucial with the introduction of Google’s Helpful Content System in 2022, underscoring the importance of not harboring unhelpful, subpar content on your website.
Looking ahead and with compelling reasons to support this notion, it’s evident that crafting content primarily for search engines is no longer a winning strategy. On the contrary, it jeopardizes your search engine rankings and tarnishes your brand’s reputation. Hence, the removal of old content becomes imperative. As you’re undoubtedly aware, it’s worth noting that if the ratio of helpful pages substantially outweighs the unhelpful ones, you’re still likely to perform well. Nevertheless, when executed correctly, a thorough cleanup is always a prudent course of action.

So, what is the best way to remove old content?

Here’s the complete question that the viewer pitched in with.

“What’s the best way to remove old content and stop it from being indexed? Redirect? If so, what’s the best page to redirect to?”

And here’s what Gary had to say about it.

“Interesting question. You can either delete altogether a page and serve a 404 or 410 status code for its location when you want to retire the page. Or redirect it to another page that will still help the user in some way accomplish their goal. It’s really up to you how and what you do. Ultimately, it has to make sense for you, not search engines.”

When should you use redirects?

There are instances when the URL retains its value even if the content it hosts becomes obsolete—a rather peculiar occurrence. Why does this phenomenon occur, you may wonder? Possibly, the content was once pertinent and resolved numerous user queries. In specific scenarios, high Domain Authority (DA) websites may still direct users to this URL, funneling targeted traffic your way.
If you suspect this to be the case, it’s advisable to steer these users toward another page you deem beneficial. This is where the utility of creating a 301 redirect becomes apparent. However, establishing a 410 redirect is essential to remove a page permanently. This signals Google that the page’s disappearance is intentional, dispelling any notion of it vanishing miraculously. Over time, Google will exclude that page from its search results, leaving you in good stead.
Ultimately, the choice regarding what to do with the page rests entirely with you, but making an informed decision is imperative. The information provided above will aid you in making a prudent choice.