Earlier on this year, I did a content audit on my website and deleted 74% of my pages. And the result? An over 80% increase in organic traffic. And in this video, I’m going to show you the exact process and give you the template I used to get these results. If you’re in, then stay tuned.
What’s up marketers? Sam Oh here with Ahrefs, the SEO tool that helps you grow your search traffic, research your competitors and dominate your niche. So today, I have a jam-packed tutorial, and it’s actually a scary topic to talk about because a lot of it involves deleting content. So before we dig in, take note that the things that I’m about to share with you are from my own experiences. But also know that my experience isn’t as unique as you’d think.
For example, Siege Media pruned around 15% of a website’s pages and saw a 50% increase in organic traffic for a much larger site. And Robbie Richards saw a 79% increase in search traffic. And this comes from an SEO strategy that we call a content audit or content pruning. So what is a content audit? In its simplest form, it’s a way to get rid of underperforming, low-quality pages with the goal to improve the overall “health” of a website.
Bloating your website with low-quality pages does more harm than good. In fact, John Mueller said, and I quote: “From my point of view, if you’re aware of low-quality pages on your website, then that’s something I’d try to fix and find a solution to, be that either removing those pages if you really can’t change them or, in the best case, finding a way to make them less low-quality and actually making them useful, good pages on your site.” So let me give you a quick background on the website that I performed my audit on. A few years ago, I bought a blog with nearly a thousand pages in their sitemap. And honestly, I had no idea what I was going to do with the site.
But what I knew was that I needed to narrow in on a topic to start building authority in the industry. Translation? I had to purge a lot of content and create new content around my chosen topic. Now there were two main challenges. #1.
My largest traffic source at the time was through a social network. So I had to be careful with deleting pages that didn’t get organic traffic, but still got a meaningful level of traffic from other sources. And #2. The content was so widespread that if I had deleted everything other than the content within my focus category, I would have been left with like 12 out of 1000 pages, which I wasn’t ok with. So the goal was to tighten up my site by consolidating content and to maintain link equity while growing my site in a new niche that I knew nothing about.
Quick side note: you already know that I had a positive experience, but I can’t attribute the organic search growth to the content audit alone, because I was publishing new content and a few of those pages gained links naturally. But I can say that very little link building was done, which to me, shows that the content audit had some merit. Alright, so when you’re doing a content audit, you’re going to have to make a lot of decisions. And that’s because you don’t want to randomly choose pages to delete or redirect. There are basically four different actions that you’ll need to take as you manually review your pages.
And these are: Delete your pages and return a 404 or 410 response code. Use a 301 redirect and consolidate it with other content. Update the page. Or leave it as-is. And before you choose one of these actions, you should ask yourself all of these questions, which will bring clarity and result in smarter decisions.
And I had to use these questions from a private webinar that Matthew Barby did for the Traffic Think Tank group because I couldn’t have articulated it better myself. Here they are. #1. Is the page older than 6 months? And the important point with this is that if you haven’t given your page a chance to rank, then you shouldn’t make any rash decisions.
Give your pages some time to get results, see how they’re performing and then go from there. #2. Is the page about a core topic related to your business? And this is pretty self-explanatory. If you write about social media marketing, and you have a dedicated post on your trip to France, then your travel adventures probably won’t be a core topic.
#3. Is the page targeting a keyword with “meaningful” search volume? And “meaningful” is super subjective. For example, top of the funnel keywords will likely have higher search volumes and bottom of the funnel phrases will have lower volumes. Search volumes will also vary based on industry, so use your best judgment when answering this question.
#4. Does the page have thin content? #5. Does it generate a “meaningful” level of organic traffic? And there’s that word again.
“Meaningful” is subjective. #6. Does it generate a “meaningful” level of non-organic traffic? So this would include traffic sources like social, referral, and direct traffic. And #7.
Does it have any external backlinks pointing to it? Alright, so let’s jump into a few scenarios. And I won’t be able to cover every single one, but I’ll simplify a few examples for you based on the most common situations I faced. First are pages that you should consider deleting. If a page has little to no traffic, has 0 backlinks and isn’t a core topic related to your business, then it’s probably worth deleting.
Easy. The second scenario is one that you’ll likely see a lot of if you have a larger site. Basically, if your page has good backlinks, but does not have a meaningful level of traffic, then you should consider consolidating it with another relevant page. But you do need to take into account whether it’s targeting a keyword with search volume. For example, if you are targeting a good keyword, but you aren’t getting traffic despite having links, it may be worth reassessing search intent and/or updating the content.
Or if you’re not targeting a keyword with search volume, yet you have a super strong backlink profile, then you may want to consider consolidating it or using it as a hub to pass PageRank via internal linking. The third scenario is if you have a meaningful level of traffic that is related to a core topic in your business. And a simple answer is to leave it as-is or keep it up to date to continue getting traffic from it. Now the final scenario is if a page gets a “meaningful” level of traffic, but it’s not related to a core topic in your business. And this is the one that we tend to hate the most.
Because we’re forced to make a decision with so much uncertainty. So I’ll call it the “It depends” category. In some cases, you’ll choose to leave it as-is, other times you’ll find that it fits better if consolidated with another post, and sometimes you might choose to update the content. For example, I had one page that had thousands of visitors from social, but next to no traffic from organic search. It didn’t have a lot of quality backlinks, was completely irrelevant to my niche, so I decided to noindex the page and continue to collect affiliate commissions.
Was it the right decision? I can’t say for certain it was, but I wasn’t willing to let it go and I didn’t see much value in leaving it as indexable. Now, if you have thousands or tens of thousands of pages, this can be pretty time-consuming. So Josh and I put together a template for you that’s going to automate a large portion of the process and save you hours or days of work. Here’s what you’ll need to do to use our content audit template.
And I’ve left a link for you in the description. First, create a copy of the template by clicking on “File,” then “Make a Copy” and save it to your Google Drive. Once you get the template, you’ll have to add your data in the sheets at the bottom. So the tools that you’ll need are Google Analytics, Google Sheets, Ahrefs Site Explorer, and Ahrefs Site Audit tool. Now, if you don’t have all of these tools, don’t worry, I’ll give you some alternatives as we go through the setup.
So let’s speed through this, and if you’re trying to follow along, just pause, rewind, and rewatch the parts as you go so you can listen to my awesome voice. So within the spreadsheet, step one is to import your sitemap URLs. You can do this quite easily using the “Scraper” extension. Just install the “Scraper” extension for Chrome. Go to your sitemap and right click on one of your URLs.
Next, click “Scrape similar”. And I’ll just clean this up to just have the URLs as one column and then click “Scrape” to refresh the results. Finally, copy them to the clipboard and paste them into the Sitemap sheet. You’ll want to have the first cell as a header, but it doesn’t matter what it’s called. If you have other pages in different sitemaps, like a category or video sitemap, then you may want to add those too.
Now, if you don’t have a sitemap, you have a few options to get a list of URLs. #1. You can export it from the “Coverage” report in Google Search Console. #2. If you’re a WordPress user, you can download a plugin called “Export All URLs.
” And #3. You can run a crawl using Ahrefs’ Site Audit tool. After it’s done, go to Data Explorer, and you can select these preset filters to identify indexable internal URLs on your site. Alright, step #2 is to export all of your Google Analytics data over the past year. Now, this kind of comes down to personal preference, but I like to see underperforming content over a year’s time.
If you’re following along with me, then go to the All Pages report. And you can do this by typing in “all pages” in the search bar and choosing this option. Next, we need to add a segment. So click here, and then we’ll search for “organic traffic.” Select it and apply the settings.
Now, the amount of data that we’re about to export is likely going to be huge. So I highly recommend clicking on “advanced,” and then setting a filter to exclude pages that contain certain footprints. So for example, I’ll use a question mark. And the reason for this is because if you’re getting traffic from ads or from some social platforms, then they’ll often add query parameters, which you don’t really need for your export. Most of these will only have one or two page views anyway.
After you’ve set your filter, set the date to around the past year or so. It doesn’t have to be exact, but I want to get enough data so I don’t potentially delete things like seasonal posts. Finally, I’ll scroll to the bottom of the page and set the report to show the maximum number of rows. We just need to export the file as a CSV and we’re done with Google Analytics. Alright, so back to your template.
Click on the GA tab, then click on “File,” “Import,” “Upload,” and drag and drop your Analytics export here. Once the file is uploaded, click on Append to current sheet” and click “Import data.” Next, we need to import our links data. To do this, you need to enter in your domain in Ahrefs Site Explorer tool. Then, go to the Best by links report.
This report shows you the number of links to each of your pages. Next, let’s set the HTTP code filter to 200. And we’ll export this report and import the data to the Link sheet, just as we did for Google Analytics. Now, if you don’t have Ahrefs, our template supports Google Search Console data too. So you can go to the link report, then click “Top linked pages.
” And you could export this report to CSV and import it into the Links tab instead. But be aware that there’s a major drawback to using Search Console data. Now while it will tell you the number of links and referring domains, it won’t tell you whether they’re followed links or nofollow links. And that’s pretty massive in my opinion. Ahrefs data, on the other hand, will show independent categories for these types of links giving you deeper insights to make smarter marketing decisions.
Alrighty! So this 4-minute process just saved you hours or even days of work. Check this out. If we go to the “Master” sheet, then you’ll see all of your sitemap URLs, your traffic stats, link stats, and suggested actions. Now before you take these automated suggestions as an SEO action plan, I want to make a few disclaimers.
Disclaimer #1. We did not include anything with e-commerce or goal tracking in this template. If that’s something that you want to add, feel free to. Disclaimer #2. The suggested actions are exactly that.
Suggested actions based on predetermined criteria. For example, if your Contact or About page doesn’t have any links or organic traffic, then it doesn’t mean that you should delete them. And disclaimer #3. If you have newly-published content, and by new, I’m thinking content that you published within 6-12 months, then you need to give it a fair chance to rank and get traffic. So don’t start deleting or redirecting them right away.
The key point here is to use some common sense and manually audit every page before taking action. Alright, so you might have a different set of criteria for “suggested actions” than what I used. So let’s jump over here to the “Start Here” tab, and you’ll see a “Conditions” table as well as descriptions of the suggested actions. So based on your own tolerance levels for getting rid of pages, you can modify these numbers to be a better fit for your needs. So based on the “Actions Descriptions,” if a page has zero followed backlinks, less than 365 visits, which averages out to around one search visitor per day, and less than 365 total pageviews as a whole, then delete the page.
The 301/Update action is based on having one or more backlinks, 365 or fewer organic visitors and 365 or fewer pageviews as a whole. It’s basically saying that your page doesn’t get much traffic, but has backlinks that you won’t want to throw away. So if you’re targeting a meaningful keyword with that page, you have the links to back it, then you may want to update that content to either better match search intent or provide “fresh” information instead of immediately redirecting it. Next is the 200 response code or the leave as-is. Basically, if you have at least 365 search visitors and at least 365 total pageviews, then you’ll be suggested to leave the page as-is.
Finally is the “Manually review” section, which is that “it depends” category that I was talking about before. If your page has less than 365 search visitors and more than 365 pageviews, then you’ll have to evaluate how you want to proceed. And it’s also important to note that if your page doesn’t fall into one of these categories, “manually review” will act as a fallback. Once you’ve gone through your pages and assigned actions, you’ll want to remove or update any internal links to pages you deleted or redirected. You can do this quite easily in Ahrefs Site Audit.
After you run your crawl, go to Data explorer, and just choose “URL,” then choose “Contains,” and enter in the slug here. Then click on the number of inlinks, and you’ll see all pages that are internally linking to your filtered URL. From here, it’s just a matter of executing your action and making the on-page changes across your domain. So if you haven’t already done so, download the template and make sure to like, share and subscribe for more actionable SEO and marketing tutorials. And as always, if you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments bellow, and I’d be happy to jump in.
So keep grinding away, manually review your content before taking an action, and I’ll see you in the next tutorial..