No piece of content on your website is likely to be truly evergreen. Sooner or later, the content will be out-of-date, expired, irrelevant, out of fashion, or otherwise simply no longer appropriate for the site. Some websites will see more content churn than others, but every site needs to have policies in place for dealing with content which isn’t helpful anymore.
The possibilities are numerous, and many content marketing services spend a lot of time just keeping up with old content. Fortunately, there are multiple strategies for dealing with outdated content, with different approaches being best in different situations.
In this guide, we’ll go over some of the most common techniques, and when they’re appropriate.
Sometimes, there’s something to be said for the simple approach. In many cases, the most cost-effective option for expired content is to do as little as possible. For example, pages for discontinued items could just have a blurb added to the top informing visitors that the item is no longer available.
This approach can sometimes add some value for guests if they’re doing research on products of the past. Also, this approach is the least disruptive to a visitor’s browsing session.
The big drawback is that it’s easy for a website to become cluttered, and this affects Google’s ability to index it. The search spider has no good way of prioritizing content, so when it’s crawling through thousands of old pages, it may not refresh the search with new content as quickly as you’d like.
Plus, of course, some information is simply so out of date that leaving it up isn’t viable.
On the topic of doing as little as possible, there’s another obvious option: simply deleting old pages.
This isn’t as harmful as you might think. There’s a common misconception that Google punishes sites with numerous 404 “page not found” errors, but that’s not actually true. 404 errors will have no impact on your SERP placement. The only loss will be that any ranking signals on the deleted page will, likewise, vanish. Otherwise, deleting old pages prevents them from cluttering up the site or slowing down search spider crawling.
However, there’s a big consideration here: how likely is a user to stumble upon these dead links? 404s are extremely frustrating for users and can even inspire them to abandon sessions. That said, the most common solution which content marketing services usually recommend is to have a custom 404 page which is useful, funny, or entertaining. Then users won’t mind the 404 so much.
As an alternative, you could also use a 410 “permanently removed” error page as well. 410 is functionally identical to 404, except that it also tells search engines not to ever bother trying to re-index the missing page.
The other popular code-based way of handling expired pages is the 301 Permanent Redirect. When used properly, this is arguably the best (although also most complicated) way of dealing with expired content. When a user, or search spider, reach a missing page, they’re smoothly and invisibly redirected to a comparable page.
This is a good way to handle page updates, such as if you’re discontinuing the 2019 line of products to focus on a 2020 line instead. Users looking for the old page get sent straight to the page you want them to be on.
However, there are a few major caveats here that even content marketing services sometimes run afoul of. If done improperly, 301 redirects can cause more problems than it solves:
Why remove when you can refresh? Another option worth considering is to keep the page in place but update the content so that it’s relevant again.
This is particularly useful for old blog posts and other pieces of content creation that include dated material. Is that “Guide to SEO in 2015” cluttering up your site? Just edit it to add up to date information and throw on a notice mentioning the update.
Google tends to reward pages which update their old content, so this can help you keep all the ranking signals the page previously accumulated while making it relevant to new readers.
The major downsides here are that this is a time-consuming option and not all content can be refreshed in this manner.
Don’t assume that your choice in how to deal with expired content needs to be all-or-nothing. Most content marketing services will use all these strategies in their work, on a case-by-case basis. Old blogs can be refreshed. Old catalog pages can be left in place. Old job postings can be deleted.
There’s no surefire solution to dealing with expired content. Most of the time, it’s simply a matter of doing whatever works. Just keep an eye towards the future and try not to make new problems for yourself down the road.
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