It may seem counter-intuitive, but “pruning shears” are a must-have tool for managing your web content. Here’s why there is more SEO and user value in making every single page of content great content — even when it means fewer pages.

You could definitely call my gardening efforts “organic.” Not so much in the sense of adhering to organic standards — other than the only thing I spray is water — but definitely in my learn-as-you-go process. A couple years ago I decided we should have blackberries. Thornless, thank goodness, but still very much an “invasive” species.

The first two years, the plant grew wildly and produced very little. But, I thought, if the plant is bigger now, surely I will have more berries next spring. I left my wild tangle of brush to survive the winter and expected more returns.

I got less. Not less plant, mind you, I was afraid the thing was going to take over the house soon. But less yield. Either way, it was time to tame the mess, so early in spring I got out a pair of pruning shears and went to work. When I was done, the healthy canes were all cut to just six inches above ground, and the dried and dead ones were removed completely.

Not only did the canes grow back stronger, but my smaller plants produced three times the fruit. I was left with a few quarts of berries in the freezer and wondering why cutting back the plant made such a big difference in yield.

Your Content is a Lot Like Blackberry Plants

For a long time, we’ve all thought that more content would yield more SEO ranking. Surely if 1000 pages of content had some keywords, our ranking should go up, right? Actually, no. Like my plants, more content is not always better especially when it comes to yield.

There are a lot of reasons for this, many of them thanks to changes in Google’s algorithm that now favor quality over quantity for content. There’s also a measurable “yield” difference for KPIs like conversions, user experience and site analytics.

How Pruning Your Content Increases Yield

What I didn’t know about my blackberries is that only two-year-old canes bear fruit. Many of those branches that made my plant huge were done producing fruit and were just taking up the resources — sun, water, nutrients — that the healthy canes needed in order to produce. Some of the branches were dead and dried up, but still taking up space and light. Getting rid of the branches that were done producing allowed the plant to put the most energy and resources into yield.

Few of us have unlimited resources for content production. Reviewing your content on a regular basis for traffic, shares, conversions and other KPIs helps you focus your content resources on quality content that is delivering results. Over time, this means better and better content that is more relevant to your audience needs.

With Panda and beyond, Google now measures the quality of content more than the quantity of keywords it has. Keywords do matter still, but they need to be used contextually and correctly or risk negative impact on your ranking. Google now uses more semantic tools to evaluate relevance and quality. Focusing on quality should improve SEO rankings as well.

Pruning Bad Content Improves User Experience

The first branches I removed from my blackberries were ones with dead or yellowing leaves, or stalks that were drying up. Branches that are done producing can still be green for a while, but the ones that are clearly dying may also be showing the first signs of disease. Cutting the bad branches off first ensures that my plant stays healthy.

Bad content, like these diseased branches, degrades your site’s overall user experience and the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts. This is why creating less, but great, content is a better use of finite resources. Quality matters more than keywords.

Imagine if you went to a web site and every single page you visited had something important to offer you that was relevant to your needs. You’d probably click a few more links, spend more time on the pages, and perhaps even share a link, sign up for email alerts, or bookmark the site to return.

This increase in user experience metrics is the kind of yield we hope for as content creators to prove our efforts are working. Google also rewards good user experience with better rankings.

To Work, Pruning must be an Ongoing Process

Once I realized the spring massacre of my blackberry canes did more good than harm, I also figured out that pruning isn’t a once-a-season task. I kept the pruning shears handy. As the season went on, I clipped back the branches that were done bearing fruit.

This continual process allowed the plant to focus resources on ripening the other berries on each cane and producing more flowers — and more berries. Enough that I will need to learn to make preserves with the increased harvest.

We launch a lot of temporary content. Whether it’s a campaign or an event, or just a trend, our once productive content ends up “done.” Keep your pruning shears handing to clear it away. In other words, have an ongoing content governance process and regular reviews of your content metrics.

Continually tending to content and sustaining only what is growing and producing yields better SEO and KPI results for each content item. And while some content may go away, your content strategy overall reaps lasting benefits.

Resources:

Content Pruning Checklist

Search Engine Land’s Periodic Table of SEO Success

Content and SEO