How To Handle Old Content Without Wrecking Your SEO

Most websites that have been around for a long time have their fair share of old content. Not all of it is useful and some of it can take on a new lease of life; annoyingly appearing high in the search results for no good reason.

The way old content is handled varies depending on who is managing the website but it is usually dealt with in one of the following ways:

  • Give up and delete the old content as part of a spring clean
  • Create a new version of the same page and forget the old one is still live
  • 301 redirect to another page
  • Let old content fester in the archives
  • Re-purpose and (or) update old content

So let’s look at the impact of each of these in more detail…

Delete old content

This is the worst solution of them all. When faced with a huge archive of content going back a decade or more some website owners simply decide to cut their losses and dispense with all the old content as if they are cleaning out the cupboard at home. Unfortunately, this is likely to be catastrophic for the website. Old content can often be extremely valuable but if it is removed, then all the potential links into those pages, keyword rankings and the authority those pages may have had will be lost forever.

Creating new versions of an old expired page

This often happens on large websites particularly events and ecommerce sites where multiple versions of the same page are indexed and appear in the search results together. This can in some cases be beneficial if both pages are ranking prominently, you get to own more of the SERPS. The downside is, the website will be displaying duplicate content and if the old page is displaying old information, say for example an event page, then the older page can sometimes outrank the new one (see hidden twin pages) leading people to assume the website isn’t kept up to date. Again, this can be bad for user experience and discourage people from visiting the site again.

301 redirect to a new more relevant page

This is the best solution in most cases where the subject of the page continues to be relevant but the content itself is out of date or there has been a change of focus for the article or web page. The thing to keep in mind with this approach is the relevancy of the destination page.  A common mistake is to redirect every expired page to the homepage of a website which can in some cases be bad for SEO if the content isn’t relevant. If the page will never serve a purpose and drives no traffic, then there isn’t much reason to keep it live

Leave old content alone

Simply leaving old content alone is the easiest solution of all if you want to avoid upsetting any long tail keywords rankings and don’t want to go through the hassle of sorting through content and  adding 301 redirects. The main problem leaving old content live is the tendency for it to continue to appear in search results even when it is out of date. Again, this is bad for user experience and can increase overall bounce rates if there are lot of old pages still in the index.

Re-purpose or update old content

Sometimes old content can remain useful particularly if it is what is commonly referred to as ‘evergreen’ content. For example, you may have written a blog a couple of years ago with the year mentioned in the title. If enough of the content can be updated, then it is possible to preserve rankings and gain the best of both worlds. This is why it is important to avoid using dates in your post and meta titles to avoid content quickly going out of date. If there are a lot of these types of pages on the site then the easiest thing to do is redirect them to a new version of the post.

Every website owner will have their own way of handling old content and really it is a matter of using common sense to avoid any negative impacts that may inadvertently hit rankings and traffic going to the website. If in doubt consult an SEO expert to advice.