Google warns against content pruning as CNET deletes thousands of pages

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Google warns against content pruning as CNET deletes thousands of pages


Gizmodo published an article “exposing” CNET for deleting thousands of pages, as they put it to “game Google Search.”

What CNET did. “Thousands of articles” were deleted in recent weeks (CNET declined to provide an exact number), according to Gizmodo. CNET confirmed the content culling. CNET decided which pages to “redirect, repurpose or remove (deprecate)” by looking at metrics such as:

  • Pageviews.
  • Backlink profiles
  • Amount of time passed since the last update.

What CNET said. Content deprecation “sends a signal to Google that says CNET is fresh, relevant and worthy of being placed higher than our competitors in search results,” according to an internal memo. Eh, CNET needs a bit better advice on how SEO works, but let’s move on.

Removing content from CNET is not a decision they take lightly, Taylor Canada, CNET’s senior director of marketing and communications, told Gizmodo:

  • “Our teams analyze many data points to determine whether there are pages on CNET that are not currently serving a meaningful audience.”
  • “This is an industry-wide best practice for large sites like ours that are primarily driven by SEO traffic. In an ideal world, we would leave all of our content on our site in perpetuity.
  • “Unfortunately, we are penalized by the modern internet for leaving all previously published content live on our site.”

‘Not a thing’. Before the article published, Google’s Danny Sullivan, via his @SearchLiaison account on X, posted:

  • “Are you deleting content from your site because you somehow believe Google doesn’t like ‘old’ content? That’s not a thing! Our guidance doesn’t encourage this. Older content can still be helpful, too.”

Sullivan was then asked what to in case where old content has broken links, is no longer relevant or can’t be made more helpful. Sullivan’s response:

  • “The page itself isn’t likely to rank well. Removing it might mean if you have a massive site that we’re better able to crawl other content on the site. But it doesn’t mean we go ‘oh, now the whole site is so much better’ because of what happens with an individual page.”

Except, it is a thing. Google once advised removing content. After Google launched Panda, a Googler shared this exact advice (emphasis mine):

“In addition, it’s important for webmasters to know that low quality content on part of a site can impact a site’s ranking as a whole. For this reason, if you believe you’ve been impacted by this change you should evaluate all the content on your site and do your best to improve the overall quality of the pages on your domain. Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.”

Yes, that quote is from 2011. But logically, it makes sense because we know some of Google’s algorithms, including helpful content, evaluate sitewide signals.

But other Googlers, including John Mueller and Gary Illyes, have since said the opposite – essentially advising improving content, as opposed to removing it, where possible. Barry Schwartz has covered many of these points on Search Engine Roundtable:

  • Google Advice On Old Content On News Sites: Remove, Noindex Or Leave It
  • Google: Don’t Remove Old News From Your News Site For SEO Reasons
  • Google: Don’t Just Blindly Delete Old Pages
  • Googlers Disagrees About Removing vs Improving Content For Google Ranking Benefit
  • Google: Old Content On New Domains Is Okay
  • Google: Panda Victims Don’t Necessarily Need To Delete Old Blog Posts
  • Google: We Don’t Recommend You Remove Content To Fix Panda Issues
  • Google: Pruning Content Never Should Have Worked For Panda
  • Google Retake: Improving Content & Pruning Content Are Both Valid Strategies

Why we care. I’ve found that deleting content can be good for SEO. I’ve done it, written about it and spoken about it at conferences and on webinars. To be clear, deleting content alone probably won’t help you much. However, deleting, improving and consolidating content should be part of your SEO strategy because it helps improve your overall content quality.

Dig deeper in Why and how to delete content in bulk for SEO, a great case study by Search Engine Land contributor Jared Bauman.

Don’t trust Google’s advice blindly. Gizmodo’s article also featured a great quote Lily Ray, head of organic research at Amsive Digital:

  • “Just because Google says that deleting content in isolation doesn’t provide any SEO benefit, this isn’t always true.”

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