Pruning for Rankings

Pruning for Rankings

Oct 03
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October 3, 2016

Quality and Relevance

These days, there are a lot of different tactics for getting your website pages ranked well on major search engines. Everything from citation building to responsive design to social media campaigns is cited by someone, somewhere, as a means towards making your pages appear above all others. But really, these are all just different aspects of larger overarching concern that you should have for your website—quality. A fast loading speed is a sign of a quality website. Responsive design is a sign of a quality website. Relevant, regularly updated content is a sign of a quality website. There’s no arguing that these aspects on their own are important, but it’s when they are taken as a whole that they become more than the sum of their individual parts.

It is this focus on overall quality that can really help propel your website upwards through the rankings, but it requires commitment to your online goals and website maintenance. Once you’ve committed to being the best you can be online, though, there are lots of ways you can improve the quality of your website, including:

  • Provide useful content that has real value and isn’t padded. Showcase your awards and certifications, or news coverage or other trust building articles. Use a copywriter or editor to ensure high-quality, error-free content and writing.
  • Make sure it’s organized. Having your content logically organized and on appropriate pages so that users can readily access relevant information is incredibly important.
  • Make sure to get reviews from your best customers and clients.
  • Use relevance instead of volume to determine your keyword strategy. If you use irrelevant keywords, you’ll irritate users if they don’t find the material they’re looking for. You’ll also irritate Google by pretending to be something you’re not, and you’ll irritate yourself when you see your rankings and leads plunge because of it.
  • Improving the overall design by adding images and videos where appropriate can help with your quality as well, but be careful not to overwhelm people or to slow down your server speeds.
  • Ads and pop-ups have a purpose, but only when used with discretion. Don’t put ads above the main content, and don’t have so many that they clog the screen or annoy users.
  • Responsive design coupled with fast loading speeds make for a smoother user experience.

Quality Trumps Quantity

Now we know that Google understands the relative quality of each of your pages. PageRank has long been, and likely will continue to be, one of the most important factors of your SEO program, and with good reason. It is a critical part of the SEO equation, and one that Google has and likely will continue to rely on in some fashion or another for a long time to come. However, there’s a strong argument to be made that Google doesn’t just rank individual pages, but actually assesses the overall quality of your entire website. After all, PageRank isn’t Google’s sole tool for determining where your website winds up in search results. Google doesn’t just track each individual page; it assesses the quality of your entire domain (or as much as it can given your website’s size and the crawl budget dedicated to it). You rarely see websites with only one good page of relevant, quality content taking the top position for their search terms.

So what does all this talk about PageRank and overall website quality have to do with pruning? Simply put, determining which pages will benefit from quality improvement techniques and which should be removed from Google's index is an effective and relatively simple SEO tactic that can provide real SEO performance benefits.

The underlying principle is that your website’s rankings are being weighed down by too much excess content. There is an underlying philosophy in SEO that when it comes to content, more is better. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Yes, lots of content gives your audience plenty to read about, but it can also be unduly weighing your website down in the rankings. Because despite all the commentary about loading speeds, citations, keywords, and all the technical details, what search engine optimization really comes down to is quality, not quantity. And nowhere is that more true than in content.

Pruning the Underachieving Cruft

Since as far back as Panda (Google’s 2011 ranking algorithm), thin-content, low-engagement pages, or duplicate content pages that haven’t been properly canonicalized have negatively impacted website rankings, sometimes seriously.

The first step to purging your website of unwanted cruft is to conduct a website audit and discover which pages are drawing traffic, earning engagement, and generally performing well. You don’t want to prune out top performers, timeless stories (though most of those can always benefit from a little sprucing up) or high-engagement pieces that still have people talking about your brand. The goal here is to separate the good from the bad. After all, you still want a robust catalogue of content. But it has to be valuable. You don’t need that 6-year old blog post about your company’s holiday party dragging you down. Cruft can also consist of:

  • Old blog posts that are no longer relevant or providing engagement. Relevant content is current content.
  • Underperforming pages that get few visits, aren’t engaging customers, or aren’t earning conversions
  • Unnecessary pages whose content is no longer relevant or can be reorganized into other related pages with thin content.
  • Duplicate content (particularly for product descriptions on Ecommerce websites with multiple colours of the same product).

Many people think of their website as an infinite archive of pages and information that they can post into and forget about. But like anything else, it requires upkeep and maintenance. You have to go in and clear out the cobwebs every once in a while. Think of your entire website domain as an iceberg. Only the best parts of it are showing in the search engine rankings above the waterline, and it’s being weighed down by all the excess. If you could remove all the cruft that is bogging it down, it would pop up, become more visible, and float higher into search engine rankings. Some careful pruning may be just what your website needs to float higher up on the results pages and start earning you those coveted page one ranks.