Whether or not to delete content

Whether or not to delete content is one of those ‘big’ content questions. It can be a polarising one too. So what's the right answer?
A close-up image of an Apple 'Delete' key

I’ve got a scenario for you. You’re working on a website that has a decade’s worth of old event listings on its website, over 3000 pages in total. They aren’t listings for the organisation’s own events, but for third party ones. A few of the pages still get some views from long-tail organic search keywords, but most get just a few or none. The bounce rate is very high, goal conversion is very low.

What do you do with those pages?

  1. Keep them as they are. Traffic is traffic.
  2. Improve them. Perhaps you can add a new call to action to the page.
  3. Delete them. They’re out-of-date and not useful.

I see scenarios like this one all the time. Whether or not to delete content is one of those ‘big’ content questions. It can be a polarising too. There are the minimalists who want to strip everything back as much as possible. And then there are the hoarders who want to hang onto everything, just in case.

The pros (and cons) of deleting content

I lean towards minimalism. I look for opportunities to delete content that doesn’t need to be online anymore whenever I can. I do that because some good things can happen when you cut back your content:

  • It might be good for SEO. Getting rid of low quality content can have a positive impact on your organic search performance. Removing poor content means the chance that someone will have a poor user experience is lower. Google uses this as a ranking factor, and the quality score of your domain should improve. Learn about what Google defines as low quality content.
  • It’s good for users. Less content on the site should make it easier to search and browse. This is particularly beneficial if you’ve got duplicated or overlapping content.
  • It’s good for you. A smaller site is easier to manage and keep up-to-date. You should ideally be iterating and improving your content on a regular basis. The less content you have, the more time you’ll have to focus on the good stuff.
  • It’s good for reducing risk. Old, outdated, unloved content can represent a risk – for some sectors more than others. If you’re hoarding old content, it might contain outdated, inaccurate information that puts you at risk of doing harm to your users, and your reputation. It could even mean a lawsuit in a worst-case scenario.
  • It’s good for the environment. The servers and other infrastructure it takes to operate a website all create carbon (unless they use green energy). Plus, page views create carbon. According to Website Carbon, the average web page produces 1.76 grams CO2 per page view. For a website with 10,000 monthly page views, that’s 211 kg CO2 per year. Just keeping content online uses energy, so if that content isn’t being used or isn’t relevant anymore, that’s a waste. If you want to find out more about the carbon cost of your content, read Gerry McGovern’s book World Wide Waste.

For balance, I have to mention a couple of cons too:

  • The content is gone. This is an obvious one, but it’s worth mentioning. The content might not need to be on your website anymore, but there are some scenarios where you might need to archive it or move it to a different location instead. For example, if this is important knowledge/information that your organisation needs, or something that you have a regulatory requirement to keep. Other organisations have a responsibility to act as archivists. Think it through before you delete anything.
  • You might lose some traffic. If you delete content that gets visits, you’re going to lose some traffic. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the content isn’t useful or business critical, you can’t improve it, and the traffic is bouncing, what are you really losing?

How to decide whether to delete content

There’s no right answer to the delete/keep debate. Ultimately, it comes down to your specific content and context. I use this five-question framework to help me decide:

  • Is it useful to the user?
  • Does it meet a business/organisation goal?
  • Does it contain essential information?
  • Is it up to date?
  • Is it getting much traffic?

If the answers to most or all of those questions are ‘no’, I’d suggest that you can safely delete it.

If the answers to two or more of those questions are ‘yes’, I’d suggest that it’s a piece of content you should keep and improve to make sure it’s getting a ‘yes’ across the board.

Let’s go back to the scenario we started with, and work through the framework.

  • Is it useful to the user?: Maybe, maybe not. It depends on the keyword and intention.
  • Does it meet a business/organisation goal?: No. It’s not creating any value for the organisation, and it doesn’t have a responsibility to archive content for the third parties.
  • Does it contain essential information?: No.
  • Is it up to date?: No.
  • Is it getting much traffic?: Overall, no.

In this scenario, I think the pros of deleting the content outweigh the cons of deleting it.

If this has got you thinking about what content to delete and what to keep, you might be interested in my content audit toolkit. It has lessons, frameworks and templates to help you create an inventory of all your content, then work out what to delete, improve, archive, and keep.

Content audit toolkit

Find out what’s really going on with your website. This toolkit is made up of 12 modules and 4 templates to guide you through planning and carrying out an effective audit. Spot ways to improve your user experience, increase conversion, and reduce your carbon footprint.

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