Mike Cushing / Digital Strategy / November 5th, 2014

Do You Have Brand Barnacles? How to Manage Old Content

A few days ago one of our designers, Michelle, mentioned that I might want to take down an old blog post because it contained a dead link. The post – almost seven years old – announced the engagement website of Michelle and her now-husband, Peter.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with the post, but it highlighted how much the focus of our blog has changed in the past few years, and it also got me thinking about an issue that has become a problem for many marketers: what should you do with old content – from blog posts to websites?

Dodging Penalties

First things first: it’s important to recognize that any content strategy must account for Google. The newest Panda update steamrolled over sites that deliver low quality content, and during a Google+ hangout one marketer asked if companies should remove old blog posts to help reverse a Panda penalty.

The complicated answer was: it depends (of course it does).

Unfortunately, I think marketers are once again solving the wrong problem in order to get back into Google’s good graces. While old content is an important record of where we’ve come from, it’s better to ask if old content is delivering value to users, or if it’s keeping them from the brand experience you’re currently delivering.

Is the Link Juice Worth the Squeeze?

We’ve all been building up content for years, hoping for backlinks and giving Google something to crawl – but good content should always deliver value to your readers first.

Too often, the content we produce to capture search and social traffic can get in the way of what we actually want users to experience. Did you write a blog post about your company’s Black Friday deals last year? What happens when users start their holiday shopping and can only find your year-old content?

Even the best-performing content will eventually get in the way of something you want your users to see more. It’s our job to weigh the value of an indexed page against the value that our users receive from relevant content.

During today’s UX Futures summit, Abby Covert shared this awesome slide that really reinforced the need to curate your own content. Whether it’s an old social account or a microsite you built around a product launch, old content can muddy your brand waters to the detriment of your users.

barnacles
From Abby Covert

Keeping Up with Your Own Brand is a Surgical Operation

We just talked about how quickly the industry moves, and odds are good that your brand has transformed just as fast. Some venerable blog posts may not be the most accurate representation of your current brand, but that doesn’t mean you need to lose every piece of content more than 5 years old.

Marketers worried solely about avoiding Google penalties are likely to chop old content with an ax, but you’d be better off with a scalpel. If users are landing on an old blog post all of a sudden, remove it. Or better yet, put a disclaimer at the top redirecting them to a new piece of content.

Archive Old Content

Since old content can certainly have its place, you can create solutions that keep users and Google happy. Googlebot will only spend so much of its resources indexing your site anyway, no matter how many blog posts you have. So, if you’re preparing for Black Friday shoppers and old sales pages have served their purpose, you can direct search engines away from old content by disallowing the crawler in your robots.txt file. If you want to go the extra mile, you can add noindex, nofollow meta-data to specific pages.

You can keep older content while directing Google towards the most relevant content for users.

Having old content in your Google index probably won’t get you penalized – unless that content was bad to begin with. As always, the most important rule of content is to create something that people will actually want to read – no matter when they land on it.

  • Robert C Hanley

    I see this problem when I go looking for troubleshooting help. Top results will sometimes be blog posts relevant to the problem but the solutions are outdated whether tied to old versions or utilizing deprecated functionality.

    Since they never went back to update the tags/keywords to reflect the version they wrote it about you get “false positive” solutions

    • mikecush

      Relevant content is definitely a moving target, but too often laziness gets in the way of helping users.

  • Christopher Burns

    I never think about nixing old social media accounts but it’s soo true!! Ever try to find a restaurant and their Facebook page and Website have different addresses? So annoying!

  • dwasylow

    Great tip on linking out-of-date content to updated versions. We recently applied this solution for a client and it really is the best of all worlds.

  • http://352inc.com Lincoln Anderson

    During development, we like to “future proof” our code, but I hadn’t considered that doing the same type of thing with content could be just as critical. It’s only when you visit a site that is neglected that you really see the danger.