In Google’s November 2022 Edition of Office-hours Hangout Q&A Session, Google Webmaster Trend Analyst Gary Illyes answered a question about removing old content from a website. One of the viewers who pitched in with a question wanted to know if there is any specific way one should remove old content and prevent it from getting indexed by Google. Gary said there were different ways in which one could retire the page but it is entirely up to the users as to how and what they want to do with it. He went on to suggest that eventually it all has to make sense to the user and not the search engines, as is the popular opinion, a fear, rather. But why should anybody do it in the first place? Before we move on to reading the actual question and the response, let’s have a look at why a piece of content would require deletion to begin with.
Should you even delete old content?
Yes, absolutely. But deleting old content should be a part of your larger content strategy in order to improve overall content quality and increase topical authority. With Google’s new Helpful Content System put in place in 2022, it becomes all the more relevant that unhelpful, low-quality content should not be a part of your website. Going forward, and we have good reason to believe so, having content that is written primarily for search engines isn’t going to win you any favours. On the contrary, it will not only damage your search engine rankings but also your brand’s reputation. And that is why deleting old content becomes imperative. But it should also be remembered that, and you’d know better, if the helpful pages outnumber the unhelpful ones by a huge margin, you are still likely to do well. But yes, a good clean-up never hurt anybody. When done right, that is.
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 times when the URL still holds value even if the content on it doesn’t. It’s an odd anomaly. Why does this happen? It’s possible that the content written at the time was relevant and helped many bring their queries to a close. In certain cases, it’s possible that some High DA websites might still be pointing users to that URL, bringing you targeted traffic. If you think that is the case here, it is best to redirect those users to another page that you think they will find helpful. This is where creating a 301 redirect comes in handy. However, if you wish to permanently delete a page, you need to create a 410 redirect and inform Google that this page it is trying to crawl did not just magically disappear, and that it was intentional. Over time, Google will drop that page from the search results and you’ll be good to go.
It’s true that what you do with the page is entirely up to you. But you need to make a smart decision. We are hoping the information above will help you take one.