You won’t see success with your webcopy, blog posts, or guest posts if you just set it and forget it. Every so often you need to sort through your content and determine what’s working and what isn’t.
Everyone has leftovers and old containers in their refrigerator that they completely forget about. One day, those containers will get your attention — and you won’t like the way they smell when they do.
Old, duplicate, and thin content works the same way. Instead of a funky odor, you get a precipitous drop in your domain’s search rankings.
Most of the time, expired or duplicate copy is a result of a content strategy without governance in place. It gets published, duplicated, and forgotten if it’s buried deep within your site or not on the conversion path. Unfortunately, like those smells brewing at the back of the fridge, expired content can hurt you one day, and without warning.
It’s time to clean up your stale, underperforming content before your search rankings take a dive.
Why It’s a Problem
In addition to triggering potential Google penalties, outdated and low-quality content creates everyday problems that can hurt your search rankings.
If you have 10 pages containing old content, and Google’s crawlers have to review and index each page, Google has less time to crawl your fresher, higher-performing pages. Fewer crawl cycles means your better content has less of a positive impact, potentially hurting your rankings.
Cannibalized Traffic and Link Juice
Instead of having one power page that does some serious ranking for one keyword phrase, duplicate pages split your backlinks and engagement metrics between multiple pages. You steal traffic and inbound link signals from yourself, potentially sabotaging your rankings.
Poor Engagement Signals
It’s no secret that Google relies more and more on engagement signals when it evaluates URLs and domains for SEO rankings. Your expired and buried pages that hardly drive traffic won’t entice visitors to stick around. If a user does end up on an outdated page, you can expect high bounce rates, short times on page, and hasty returns to the search results after clicking to that page. This tells Google that visitors are passing on your content, which causes them to say “no thanks” to ranking you on Page 1 of the search results.
Panda and Phantom Penalties
Google’s Panda penalty slashes rankings for domains that have an overabundance of pages with low-quality content. Even if you have some pages that rank high and convert visitors for you now, they may not be enough to balance out signals of low-quality, expired content.
Additionally, starting in 2015, many SEO experts noticed a quality update dubbed “Phantom” by the community, even though Google hasn’t confirmed it as an update to its search algorithm or an official penalty. Phantom seems to drop rankings for domains with poor user engagement signals, which are typically related to thin, duplicate, or otherwise low-quality content.
Bottom line: If your content frustrates the user, it’s likely to summon the Phantom, which can hurt your search rankings.
Identifying Problem Content
In its 2015 Search Engine Rankings Factors Study, Moz revealed that the top negative rankings factor was unnatural inbound links to a site. The second and third things to drag down a domain’s rankings were duplicate content and thin content — issues that can pop up where you least expect them.
Unless you’ve really been cutting corners, you’re probably not copying other domains’ content and pasting it onto your site. Most duplicate content issues happen unintentionally. Here are a few examples:
- www vs. non-www. Most domains exist in two formats: http://www.yourdomain.com and http://yourdomain.com. If you’re trying to rank pages on both instead of rerouting everything to one — for example, routing all non-www to the www version — then you have duplicate content, and you’re potentially stealing traffic from yourself.
- http vs. If you’ve switched to https in an attempt to boost search rankings without redirecting your http content to your new https URLs, you could have a duplicate content problem.
- Same content, multiple URLs. If you run an e-commerce domain, and you have 10 URLs for the same product (e.g., 10 colors of one item), and you use the same boilerplate title tags, meta descriptions, and product descriptions on each page, you have duplicate content.
- Printable pages. If you offer both browser-friendly pages and printer-friendly pages featuring identical content, Google may view those pages as duplicate content.
- Manufacturer product descriptions. E-commerce sites that sell products from specific manufacturers often copy and paste product descriptions from the manufacturer’s website to their own, creating duplicate content.
Thin content is light on length and most importantly, value. Although there’s no perfect word length for a given page, thin content is easy to spot:
- Stub pages. Did you start a page on your site assuming you’d finish it later? If later never happened, you have a URL that’s just hanging out with some placeholder text, possibly hurting your search rankings.
- Doorway pages. Have you created multiple URLs, perhaps even on multiple domains, designed to rank for specific keywords or geographic locations that then funnel visitors back to a single page? Google views doorway pages negatively because they take up space in search results without offering users real choices. They also typically contain thin, spammy, advertorial content.
- Low-quality blog posts. If you’ve published some low-quality guest blog posts or, before you became a master blogger, if you published some forgettable posts, you might be better off rewriting them or redirecting the URL to somewhere else.
- Insufficient text. If your business pages contain different images on different pages but offer minimal text, your content is too thin. At the same time, if your page is filled with fluff text that offers no useful information or is stuffed with keywords, it qualifies as thin content.
Basically, if a URL contains thin or duplicate content, or even if it’s a page that does nothing except generate bounces, you should flag it as potentially expired and come up with a plan to do something about it.
When you’re taking expired food from the fridge, you typically hold your nose, throw it away, and get it out of your house as quickly as possible.
Here’s where expired content is different from expired food: it’s not always a good idea to dispose of your content.
Completely deleting duplicate URLs or thin pages that were getting at least some positive rankings signals can obliterate their search ranking positivity. For example, if you published a guest blog post on a high-quality site, and that site was directing some serious link juice to an inadvertently duplicated page on your domain, and you delete the page, then you’ve lost one of your site’s most influential backlinks, and you’ve only made the problem worse.
An SEO agency can give you tips on the best way to handle expired content on your site without hurting your SEO rankings. Solutions include:
- Updating it. Some pages that have thin, outdated content can significantly improve if you lengthen and add depth to your text. Rewriting isn’t just about adding words; it’s about adding real value to your site and to potential visitors.
- Redirecting it. Redirecting multiple expired content pages that rank for the same keyword to one power page can deliver a serious rankings boost to a great page — but only if you do it correctly.
Have a Governance Plan — Keep Existing Content Fresh
Many organizations have a “publish it and forget it” approach to creating content. They publish something new, track its performance for a while, and then move on to a new project.
It’s important to treat every piece of content you create like a long-term asset, which means having a governance plan for its creation, publication, and value production. You need a centralized place to track your existing content along with a regular schedule for revisiting it and refreshing it.
Content that later becomes inaccurate due to a Google update diminishes authority and trust in your brand. Less authority and trust, paired with the technical SEO challenges posed by thin and duplicate content, both hurts your search rankings and damages your brand.
Need Some Help?
A content audit from Digital Current can help you identify expired content before it gets really smelly — and overwhelms your SEO rankings. We can also work with you to create a governance plan for future content production. Get proven, Google-friendly solutions for your SEO challenges. Contact us today!