I have included comments here in the SlideShare version to provide context to the slides.
I've been lucky to work with some REALLY smart SEOs. Some of them are in the audience tonight. But I have not met a single person who can honestly say they know exactly how Google's algorithm works.
We have our theories, tests, and even patent applications. So we do know SOME things.
For example, we know that Google understands the difference between a low quality web page, and a high quality web page. Even when neither has a single backlink.
This idea of “QUALITY” is separate from the idea of “RELEVANCE”. You can have a HIGHLY relevant site that is considered LOW-Quality for a variety of reasons.
Remember Made-for-Adsense sites like these?
This MFA site is highly relevant for the phrase “Chairs for Baby”. But it also sucks. It doesn’t matter how RELEVANT the page is, it’s just not going to rank.
The only way to get this page to rank these days would be to buy a TON of links. After a certain point, it’s just EASIER to build a better site.
You need BOTH Quality AND Relevance to Compete these days. We understand how to optimize for relevancy. That’s what SEOs have been doing all along. But how do you optimize for quality?
OBVIOUSLY, you can’t boil Google’s ranking algorithms down to something like this.
Like I said, we just don’t know for sure what all the ranking factors are, and how they interact with each other.
But we do have some ideas.
Reading the Quality Rating Guidelines is definitely one way to familiarize ourselves with what metrics might be seen as Quality Indicators, and how we can optimize them.
The survey Moz sends out every year is about as close as we can come as an industry to defining which factors are considered directly and indirectly by Google.
Here we see some Engagement metrics that are correlated with higher rankings - like Bounce Rate and Time on Site.
None of them are as strong as Page Authority or keyword use, but they’ve been growing in importance and will probably continue to do so.
This Table matches up potential quality signals with some of their respective optimization tactics. I only want to illustrate here that there are MANY ways to improve the QUALITY of your page or website. Most of them are obvious, and some a little more abstract.
Let’s assume all of the Quality Signals on the left here can be wrapped up into a single score for measuring the overall quality of a website. Is it really good or does it suck?
Ian has already named this QualityRank so we’ll go with that. I’ve already talked about SOME of the ways to optimize a site for quality. But what can you do RIGHT NOW to move the dials quickly?
There is ONE tactic that blows the rest out of the water when it comes to effectiveness and scalability.
So what is THE SINGLE MOST EFFECTIVE TACTIC for improving your site’s overall Quality Rank?
We don’t have enough time to get into the nitty gritty tactical details of pruning, but I’ll point you to some resources at the end, which you can explore on your own.
Sometimes it’s easy to identify huge chunks of content to remove with a NOINDEX tag - Like any Landing Page that has had NO ORGANIC SEARCH TRAFFIC for a whole year.
Other times it requires more analysis and tougher decisions. It all depends on the site. So...
…Let’s look at some case studies.
All of the following case studies have these 3 things in common:
Significant portions of the website were removed from the Google's index. 2. Pruning was not the ONLY thing that was done. Rarely do these things happen in a vacuum. But I will say that Pruning is probably most responsible for the lifts you're about to see. 3. You can read more about each of them online.
1800 Doorbell had technical issues that made it possible to identify cruft and prune big chunks of the site quickly. This contributed to a 96% increase in revenue from organic search within six months.
Auto Body Toolmart had some toxic links as well, but you can see in this timeline that pruning is where this lift probably came from. Traffic didn’t return until directly after the site was pruned, and it came back even better than before.
Regardless of the link cleanup we did for America's Best House Plans, Would you have guessed that organic search traffic would increase by 434% after removing 80% of the product catalog from Google’s index?
This is Une-Bell-Vie's Organic Visits Timeline just after 90% of their blog posts were pruned. We didn’t even redirect the URLs. We just let them 404.
Created Evergreen Landing Pages for their Social Media Template Download Series. And ALL OLD POSTS that weren’t getting traffic from organic search were NOINDEXED.
aHrefs has a good case study about how they pruned their blog and saw a huge jump in traffic, Despite having fewer pages indexed.
If you weren’t already convinced, I hope by now it is clear... Performing a Content Audit to determine which pages to prune from your site is an effective SEO tactic. The rest of this deck is about WHY this works so well. It seems so simple. And it is!
Remember Ian’s word: QualityRank? Sitewide QR can be thought of as your site’s overall level of quality, Averaged across all indexable pages on a domain.
Does QualityRank actually EXIST as a calculation in Google's algorithm? Probably not.
But it DOES Seem Likely that something similar would exist. Google needs a way to measure the overall QUALITY Level of each site in order to rank them properly.
It's just probably more mathematically complicated than most of us could fully understand. I’m really not that great with math myself.
The point of discussing QR as a Framework for Pruning is to help explain why pruning WORKs. And to do that we don't NEED to understand the complex formulas behind Google’s ranking algorithms…
Basic Math will do here. Let’s imagine a site divided into thirds with each third being assigned a QualityRank score based on the average QR of the pages within that section. The triangle represents all indexable content on a domain with a QR of 30. That Sitewide QR score of 30 comes from adding all three of these sections together and dividing by three. In the real world this would not be so simple. I hope the mathematicians out there will grant me some leeway for the sake of illustrating the concept.
This is the same site after pruning. Notice the instant lift from QR 30 to QR 40 just by removing all LOW QR pages. THAT is why I say Pruning is the most effective way to raise your site’s overall Quality for better rankings, IF you have a lot of low-quality pages indexed.
Time to Switch analogies. Pruning works because it frees up the rest of your content from being weighed down by the cruft. CRUFT includes everything from six-year-old blog posts about a company party - to 20 different product variants with their own landing pages. It also includes pages that are inadvertently indexed for technical reasons, like faceted navigation URLs.
Remove the bottom half of this iceberg and the rest of it will "rise up”, making more of it visible above the surface. In other words, on the first couple of pages of Google. The idea of one page being weighed down by another has been around at least since the first Panda release. I'm not talking about anything NEW. But I’m constantly surprised by the amount of DEAD WEIGHT most websites continue to carry around.
We see this dead weight all over the web, across many different platforms. When it comes to website cruft, each situation requires its own approach to pruning. The next few slides will discuss some of the most common scenarios I’ve seen.
Anyone here ever work on A BIG AUTO PARTS website? Or how about an eCommerce site that drop-ships personalized promotional products? Heavy pruning is what you need here, combined with a serious investment in high-quality content.
Not every site needs to be pruned. Still, a content audit will help us find and prioritize opportunities to polish underperforming content that has a lot of potential. On this type of site I'd optimize the internal link profile to provide quicker paths to the Deep Content, and would invest in outreach to build links into that epic content at various depths (not just the home page).
A lot of sites have a decent content profile, but significant portions are in need of improvements for a better user experience. In this case there may be some cruft to prune, But equal attention is given to existing content that needs to be improved and made more discoverable. Go back and refresh old content. Update anything that is outdated and do some basic promotion. You'll be marking a lot of URLs as IMPROVE during a Content Audit for a site like this.
I know some people in this room who might say this is one of their biggest pet peeves: Penguin isn’t just about links. If the traffic drop is clearly correlated with Penguin and you’ve already disavowed every suspicious link you can find, maybe it’s time to work on site-wide quality issues. Something like that isn’t going to recover by submitting disavow files.
Maybe they’ve been auto-generating landing pages about every long-tail keyword you can imagine. Maybe they have thousands of blog Tag pages indexed, and a nearly infinite supply of indexable Internal Search results. Or maybe they just have thousands of crappy blog posts. Either way, you suspect they've been affected by PANDA, and Heavy Pruning is usually the Prescription.
Some Sites Are SO BAD They’re Just Not Worth Fixing.
Maybe their entire business model went obsolete after the first Panda release. You can’t write unique content for a constantly shifting catalog of ten-thousand products that they don’t keep in stock. Putting a skin on someone else’s product feed doesn’t cut it anymore.
Or maybe they just don’t have a brand, and aren't willing or able to build one. Don't take these clients.
As you can see, there are many different types of websites when it comes to cutting the cruft. Each requires its own approach. You can get a head-start at choosing a general plan with this tool. Click on the square that best describes your situation to see a general prescription for how to approach your project. http://www.goinflow.com/content-audit-strategies/
QUALITY INDICATORS TACTICS (How to Optimize for Quality)
Grammar, Spelling, Depth… Hire a copyeditor. Learn to write better.
Expertise, Authority, Trust
Make content deep and useful. Call out your awards, certifications, news coverage, and use trust symbols.
Make it easy to contact you, and easy to find policies like terms of service, returns and privacy.
PageRank (PR) from Links Build high quality links. There are thousands of great articles out there about it.
Reviews Ask your best clients/customers.
Improve Out-of-Stock pages with in-stock alerts and related products. Be less aggressive with your pop-up
strategy. Also see query refinements, pages per visit and dwell time.
Only attract the "right" audience and deliver what you promised in the search results. Choose keywords by
relevance, not just volume. Think about query intent.
Dwell Time On Site
Make your pages stickier by improving the overall design. Add images, video. Run GA reports on the stickiest
traffic sources and develop a strategy to increase traffic from those sources.
Pages Per Visit Improve internal linking, suggest related content, customize 404 pages… Split up long posts into a series.
Conversion Rates Do A/B testing, make your messaging very clear, follow CRO best practices…
Ad Placements No ads above the main content on the page and do not have an annoying amount of ad blocks or pop-ups.
CTR From SERPs
Craft better title tags, URLs and descriptions. Grab attention. Gain trust. Make them want to click. Add
schema markup when appropriate.
Page Speed Visit https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
Mobile Experience Responsive and/or adaptive design, less text, easy navigation, loads lighting fast, shorter forms…
Fixed Internal crawl errors &
links to redirected URLs
Pruned low-quality pages
Improved some canonical
Performed link clean-up and
submitted disavow file
96% Increase in Organic Revenue
(6 month period)
31% Increase in Organic Traffic
28% Increase in Revenue
(year over year)
Pruned thousands of pages
Link Audit / Clean-up & Linkbuilding
Technical & Content Audits
Pruned over 80% of product pages
77% Increase In Organic Traffic
434% More Revenue from Organic Traffic
(year over year)
38% Organic Traffic Growth
(July-Nov. year over year)
November 2015 was up 76% YOY
Pruned 90% of their blog posts
Pruned URLs had no external links and no traffic in the last 90-days
38% Boost in non-blog traffic
800% Increase in Leads
Old blog posts with no traffic were removed via Noindex meta tag.
Recurring event pages were consolidated and the new pages made evergreen
ahrefs performed a content audit on their blog.
They Pruned their blog from 541 posts to 304 posts.
There’s a post about it here: https://ahrefs.com/blog/seo-strategy/
Average QR of 35
(aka “The Cruft”)
Average QR of 5
(high performing pages)
(average performing pages)
(below-average performing pages)
Average QR of 30
Average QR of 40
Pages with some visibility in
the SERPs appear above the
The middle section has very
little visibility, but most of the
pages have potential.
The lowest section is cruft:
Noise, junk, bloat, crap…
Cruft keeps the other pages
from being more visible.
Improve if necessary.
Weighing down the rest.
Remove from the index.
Re-release if/when improved.
Prioritize and improve as
soon as possible.
No Outstanding Content
Average Content Being
Weighed Down Severely
Could probably cut
50% of the site
and see immediate
Smaller site. Little or no pruning
Potentially great content remains
unknown due to lack of promotion
and resulting lack of links.
Internal linking needs to be
Pulled Down by
Common on large sites
Good content under the
surface with little
Average content weight
down severely by cruft
Penguins Love Icebergs
But they hate keyword stuffing as much as spammy links.
“Penguin is a webspam algorithm and we try to take a variety of
webspam issues into account and use them with this algorithm. It
does also take into account links from spammy sites or unnatural
links in general... but I wouldn’t only focus on links.” ~John Mueller
Beneath the Surface
Not Worth Fixing
You can think it, but
don’t say it:
“We do not set our
team up for failure.
Your site is not worth
saving and you should
blow it up.”
w w w. g o i n f l o w. c o m /c o n t e n t - a u d i t - s t ra t e g i e s /