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How NOT to Manage Your Content

When you are in the search marketing industry you often hear the phrase "content is king." This basically means that it is content (web pages, pdf's, word processing documents, spreadsheets etc.) which form the basis of the world wide web.

It is these documents which search engines retrieve, index and rank, and it is these documents which people search for on a daily basis.

I recently read a story where a well known website was going to remove literally thousands of pages from their website because there were few visitors to the pages.

Now, this may seem like a sound reason to remove old pages. But in terms of search, this can be an incredible loss to your website that can ultimately affect your bottom line.

What would you do?

You have thousands of pages of content – user submitted stories and the like – that are driving little to no traffic to your site. Do you delete these pages or keep them?

This is a question many websites deal with on a daily basis. Now there are many reasons to remove content - from copyright issues to lack of traffic. But before you remove a bunch of pages, or even a single page, you must consider the impact to your website.

Content may be king, but the crawler is its queen

As I said above, content is king on the web, but in order for it to keep its throne, it needs a queen. The search engine crawler is the real reason that content is king. Without a crawler there would be no way for the search engine to automatically find and index new and existing web content.

Once the crawler does its job and retrieves a website's pages it is up to the search engine to analyze, sort and rank those pages.

But the other thing that modern search engines do is look at relationships between pages. They use the hyperlinks found on pages to determine those relationships. So if content is king, and crawlers are the queen, then hyperlinks are the princes and princesses of the web.

Without hyperlinks there can be no relationships between pages and, therefore, no effective way to properly rank pages. This is what the founders of Google realized back when the popular engine was a university experiment called "Backrub".

They understood that search engines were easy to manipulate because they had no way to determine the relative importance of a page merely by its content. That is how PageRank was born.

PageRank looks at the links pointing to and from a page, and then weighs the importance of that page based on those link relationships.

But what does this have to do with removing pages?

A site's ranking is determined by many factors. One of the most important of these factors is link popularity (or as Google puts it – PageRank). Basically, the more links you have pointing to your site the better.

But it isn't just links from other sites that are important. It is also how your site links to itself that is important. The more links from pages on your site to other pages on your site, the better.

As you can then imagine, removing a bunch of pages also removes those links. And a lower link count generally means lower rankings.

Now, a lot of people will tell you that internal link count is such a small factor that it isn't worth worrying about. And while this is partially true, there is also another good reason to keep old pages: External Link Count.

Just because the value of an internal link may only be worth 1/10 (or 1/20 or 1/50, we don't know for sure) of the value of an external link one must also consider the value of that page to the rest of the web.

In other words, other websites may feel that page is worth something and will link to it.

So by removing 1000 pages from your site, you are not only losing 1000 pages of content and a couple thousand internal links, you could also be losing 10,000 or more external links!

Going back to what I said earlier - if a site's value is determined by the number of links pointing to it, by removing those pages, they have effectively demoted themselves by killing all those links pointing to the pages which they've removed.

But I need to remove that content!

Understandably there are reasons to kill off a bunch of content - maybe it's products you don't sell any more, or maybe new copyright laws prohibit you from displaying it. Or maybe it's not not what your site is about.

In any case, the worst thing you can do is simply remove those pages. Remember that they have a position online, and likely value assigned by the search engines. After all, even if you only get a few visitors a week to those pages, the fact is they have a value somewhere. So what you need to do is transfer that value to other pages on the site.

The easiest way to do this is through a redirect. This is when you tell whoever is requesting the page that it no longer exists, but instead go to a new location.

Redirects can take many forms - from server side redirects, to redirects on-the-page which refresh to a new location.

The goal of using a redirect is to transfer some of the popularity those pages earned elsewhere on the site to minimize the impacts of removing them.

For example, let's say that you did in fact remove 1000 pages that had 10,000 links pointing to them. If your site has 30,000 links overall, then you've just removed 1/3 of your link popularity. That means your rankings will drop.

However, with a redirect you may be able to move the link popularity to a new page, so that instead of losing those 10,000 links you only lose a few (or few hundred).

Ideally you should redirect to similar content, however if that is too time consuming, just do a blanket redirect to your home page.

This is the best way to ensure that your site suffers minimally online due to such a major change.

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