Ever think about Google Panda? It feels a little “old hat” to talk about it, since it’s now nearly five years old. But this service, which ruthlesssly searches the Internet for pages that don’t meet its quality standards — and penalizes sites with substandard content, is still worth addressing. The reason: It’s still hurting sites. Panda was rolled into the main Google algorithm, but semi-regular Panda updates still occur semi-regularly.
One opinion out there says that content of a certain age doesn’t matter, that Google (and Panda) knows that older content is often ignored by readers and is more or less irrelevant. But that’s not true. Old, poor-quality content does hurt your search ranking, as long as that low-quality content remains on your site and is accessible to the search engine.
You may be sitting on a gold mine of lost SEO value you can recover with a few simple changes.
Six years ago and more, it was the norm to write short blog posts, 500 words or less, about any keyword-focused topic you could find in your niche. Certainly, a lot of that old content was valuable at the time. These days, though, it doesn’t measure up. Where a 500-word post once sufficed, today a 1,000-word post barely cuts it. The ideal, according to Medium, is a post that takes around seven minutes to read and is around 1,600 words long. SerpIQ did a similar study a few years ago. It counted the content of the top ten search results for a variety of queries and came up with a figure closer to 2,400 words
Identifying content that needs work
For owners of older sites, you may face a daunting task auditing your old content. It may include hundreds or thousands of old posts under 1,000 words. If only there were an easier way to figure out what needs to be changed and what isn’t hurting you and can be left as is.
That’s where Panguin comes in. This tool, from Barracuda Digital, hooks into your Google Analytics install and scans your traffic history. It compares the traffic recorded on your pages with the dates of known Panda, Penguin and other algorithmic updates. Any page where it notices an abrupt drop, it flags for you. Of course, it works only as far back as you’ve had Google Analytics, because Google doesn’t track any data before it itself existed.
Fixing old content
When you discover content that doesn’t meet modern quality standards, it’s obvious that you have to do something about it. What should that be, though? There are a few options you can take.
- If the content has the seeds of something valuable, something evergreen, you can rewrite it to make it more valuable. Take an old 500-word post and add more data, more value, more insight. Boost it up to 1,500 words, 2,000 or more. For good measure, send it on another round of promotion via social media.
- If the content is one of several short posts on the same subject or on similar subjects, consider merging them into one more valuable post. One great opportunity for this is the old FAQ; if your questions and answers were separated onto different posts with different URLs, that content might have been better for SEO pre-2011. These days, though, it’s better to merge all of those pages into a single valuable FAQ and redirect the old posts to the new post.
- If the content is functionally a shorter, less valuable version of a much better, more recent post, feel free to remove and redirect the old post to the new URL. A redirect helps preserve any value of old incoming links.
- If the content is essentially valueless, would be worthless to rewrite and has little or nothing in the way of incoming links and traffic, go ahead and delete it. It could be hurting you, and there’s nothing to redirect it to, so it’s perfectly safe to delete.
There’s no shame in deleting old content. There’s even value to be found, if that old content is holding you back. Getting rid of it, and rewriting, redirecting and improving other old pieces of content is like lifting a weight off your shoulders. It helps reclaim old traffic and, above all, gives Google a better impression of the overall average quality of your site.
So, free yourself! Cut out the lowest value content so the the average value content can rise. That alone will improve your modern traffic considerably.