The benefits of fixing old content
If someone is halfway down a page and they realise what they have been reading is out of date, this is going to be an annoyance that will give a lingering sense of doubt in their mind whenever they are reading a piece of content on your site. Similarly, if users mostly see old and irrelevant content, they aren’t going to be encouraged to come back. Taking the time to improve these pages will make browsing your site a more positive and consistent experience.
In addition to improving user experience, sorting out your old content will improve your search rankings by ensuring search engines aren’t crawling stale content and by keeping your site as light as possible. This means that your crawl allowance will be spent on high quality content rather than old, broken pages.
How to Deal with Old Content
The most technical option you have is to redirect (301) the page to another on your site. This is where when a user tries to visit your old page, they will be redirected to a different page of your choosing. Don’t push users to the homepage, as Google will punish you and it’s confusing (and annoying) for visitors. Instead, try and redirect users to a page on your site that is as similar in style, content and category as possible. This preserves “link juice”, but can end up being a lot of manual work, particularly if hundreds of pages need redirecting.
An alternative to this is to just improve the page, so it is no longer broken or outdated. This can be difficult or even impossible depending on the page, but doing so, where feasible, can save extra redirect work. If this isn’t practical, marking the content as archived is an acceptable approach, as you are acknowledging and alerting users that it might be outdated. You can also link to relevant, new content.
What you shouldn't do - delete it (404)
A 404 code refers to when a user has attempted to visit a page on your site that does not exist - this could be from them clicking a link to a deleted page on your site or they have simply typed in an incorrect URL. Deleting pages because they contain expired content is an absolute no-no - even if you have got a pretty 404 page. If you let 404s build up, it can seriously affect your search rankings.
An example of dealing with expired content
To give you an idea of what sort of expired content you should be looking for, one example is a product page where the item has been discontinued, replaced with a new range or become part of a larger product. What should you do with these pages now that the products that are no longer available?
One option you have here is to redirect to a near-identical product that will satisfy the customer, but for most cases quickly improving and updating the page to explain what has happened to the product and providing links to similar products will be more useful for the user.
Although it might appear to be a monotonous and time-consuming task, it’s definitely worth taking time out to do a content audit. You can do this in three steps:
- Browse your archives and find outdated or broken content.
- Decide how you’d need to fix each case.
- Plan and allocate resources to an ongoing content maintenance
- Incorporate what you learn here when creating new content - aim for longer shelf life.
By fixing and maintaining old content - improving the pages or redirecting to relevant pages, you can deliver better user experiences and improve inbound search results.