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Cut off the dead weight: pruning for SEO

September 7, 2016 - 3  min reading time - by Everett Sizemore
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Is Your Website Sinking? This Strategy Might Save It.

One of the use cases for Oncrawl is performing a Content Inventory and Audit. A common action-item from these audits is the recommendation to remove (or prune) various pages from Google’s index. The aim of this post is to explore the types of content, and types of websites, that can benefit most from pruning.

What Is Website Pruning?

Pruning for SEO involves the removal of pages from Google’s index.

It doesn’t necessarily mean the pages get deleted from the website, but sometimes that can be the best option. Other times, it is best to leave the pages up for users, but to apply a Robots “noindex” tag or another solution to URLs that have no place in the search results.

Sometimes pruning is easy and can be done with a hatchet approach, as in blocking an internal search result directory from being indexed or noindexing thousands of pages that have had zero search traffic in the last 12 months. Other times, choosing which pages to remove involves deep analysis and a series of tough decisions, whether to use rel=canonical, Robots meta tag, Robots.txt or something else. You can learn more about pruning for SEO here.

Too many low-quality pages in the index keeps the rest of your content weighed down, causing it to underperform in search results.

Nobody likes to be told they have an ugly baby, or a messy house, but if you perform a Content Inventory, it may surprise you what’s under the rug. One might not think that a short blog post from 2006 about So-and-So who is going to be speaking at Such-and-Such event is causing any trouble. But these outdated, short and seemingly harmless posts add up over time and cause all sorts of problems, from wasting crawl budget to pushing even your best pages down in the search results. The following two images will help explain why this happens.

When you perform a Content Inventory and this is what you see (most of the indexed URLs aren’t getting traffic from organic search), chances are good that you can see major ranking and traffic lifts by cutting out the the cruft (“badly designed, unnecessarily complicated, or unwanted code or software”).

Removing the bottom half of this iceberg will cause the rest to “rise up,” making more of it visible above the surface.

[Case Study] Increase crawl budget on strategic pages

Most of Manageo’s traffic comes from organic search. This traffic mainly relies on long-tail searches, creating the need to optimize for millions of keywords at the same time. Crawl budget quickly became an issue.

What Types of Websites Can Benefit the Most from SEO Pruning?

Even small-scale pruning of a blog can have tremendous impact, as evidenced in this case study. That said, the larger the site, the more often you’ll find big chunks of content to remove with little effort. Below are a few examples of the types of icebergs you can find floating around the cold, dark places of the internet.

The above site needs more 10X Content along with heavy pruning to improve the ratio of good: low quality content indexed by search engines.

This site has some high-quality content, which is underperforming in the search results because the site, as a whole, is viewed as low quality. Cut the dead weight.

All too often the reason for performing a Content Audit is to help figure out if, or why, the site has been penalized. Other times, the site owner may not even realize they’ve been affected by updates like Panda and Penguin.

Long Story Short

If your website is sinking and you haven’t performed a Content Inventory and Audit yet, that should be on your immediate list of to-do items. From there, you’ll know more, but it is likely that you’ll see good lifts from pruning if you have over ~1,000 URLs indexed by Google and you haven’t gone through this process before.

I recently presented at MozTalk Denver about this topic, and most of the images above are from those slides. If you’d like to continue learning about pruning for SEO, view the Slideshare Deck here.

Everett Sizemore See all their articles
Everett Sizemore is the the director of marketing at Inflow. has a decade of experience with technical search engine optimization, and has performed dozens of content audits on many different types of websites. A Associate, and presenter at SMX West, SMX Milan, MozTalk and other conferences, Everett enjoys contributing to the SEO community.
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