A recent article from Gizmodo has lit up the world of SEO, drawing a rebuff from Google and extensive conversation about when it’s right to delete old content on your website.
The situation kicked off when Gizmodo published a recent article detailing how CNET had supposedly deleted thousands of pages of old content to “game Google Search.”
What makes this so interesting, is that deleting older content that is not performing well is a long-recognized part of search engine optimization called “content pruning”. By framing their article as “exposing” CNET for dirty tricks, Gizmodo sparked a discussion about when content pruning is effective for sites and if SEO is inherently negative for a site’s health.
The trigger for all of this occurred when CNET appeared to redirect, repurpose, or fully remove old pages based on analytics data including pageviews, backlink profiles, and how long a page has gone without an update.
An internal memo obtained by Gizmodo shows that CNET did this believing that deprecating and removing old content “sends a signal to Google that says CNET is fresh, relevant, and worthy of being placed higher than our competitors in search results.”
What’s The Problem?
First, simply deleting old content does not send a signal that your site is fresh or relevant. The only way to do this is by ensuring your content itself is fresh and relevant to your audience.
That said, there can be benefits to removing old content if it is not actually relevant or high-quality.
The biggest issue here seems to be that CNET believes old content is inherently bad, but there is no such “penalty” or harm of leaving older content on your site if it may still be relevant to users.
As Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan posted on X (formerly Twitter):
“Are you deleting old 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. Old content can still be helpful, too.”
Which Is It?
The real takeaway from this is a reminder that Google isn’t as concerned with “freshness” as many may think.
Yes, the search engine prefers sites that appear to be active and up-to-date, which includes posting new relevant content regularly. That said, leaving old content on your site won’t hurt you – unless it’s low-quality. Removing low-quality or irrelevant content can always help improve your overall standing with search engines by showing that you recognize when content isn’t up to snuff. Just don’t go deleting content solely because it is ‘old’.