Is it bad to delete old blog posts? Or is it actually beneficial to your SEO and blog traffic to remove old content that does not deliver value? And is it ever OK to simply delete a post and allow it to return a 404 response code or is it better to do a 301 redirect? In this guide to deleting old blog posts I explain all!
If you have been blogging for some time, then you probably have a lot of old blog posts. But is it worth keeping all of them? Or is keeping all your old blog posts actually harming your blog?
And if you do delete old blog posts, what should you do next? Allow your blog to serve up 404s? Or are 410s better?
But doesn’t Google take a dim view of broken links?
Is it perhaps a better idea to 301 redirect deleted blog posts to your home page? Or a category page? Or related content? Or something else?
In this article on deleting old blog posts I answer all of these questions and more!
Why you should care about old blog posts
It’s easy to assume that old blog posts don’t really matter… that they are in the past and what matters is the new content that you are creating now.
But this is a dangerous (not to mention just plain wrong!) assumption to make. Old blog posts do matter – a lot. If you have a lot of old, out of date, irrelevant and/or poor quality blog posts, this will have a negative effect on your SEO.
Remember, Google always wants to send its users to the best result for any given search term, and the best result is never going to be an article on a blog that has hundreds of old, poor quality, out of date blog posts on it.
Google is not only concerned with the quality of the specific blog post that answers the searcher’s query, but it’s also concerned with the quality of the entire website. And Google sees a poorly maintained blog (with lots of old, out-of-date content, broken links etc.) as being poor quality – and will consequently rank that blog lower than better maintained and better updated blogs.
If you want your blog to rank on Google, you cannot afford to ignore your old blog posts!
So that leads us to the question of whether you should, therefore, just delete your old blog posts?
Should you delete old blog posts?
The short answer is YES! If your old blog posts are out-of-date, irrelevant and/or poor quality and cannot be salvaged, then yes, you should delete your old blog posts.
But in reality, it’s not quite so simple, so the long answer is ‘well maybe… it depends…’
Because really there are three types of old blog posts:
- Useful, always relevant, evergreen content
- Old content that is out-of-date, irrelevant and/or poor quality – but could be salvaged and rewritten / improved / updated
- Old content that is out-of-date, irrelevant and/or poor quality that cannot be salvaged
1. Useful, relevant, evergreen content
If you’ve followed my advice and ensured that the majority of your content is evergreen, then you are likely to have lots of blog posts on your site that are still as useful, relevant and as up-to-date as the day you wrote them. This is the joy of writing evergreen content!
These kind of blog posts most definitely SHOULD NOT be deleted. But it is worth checking on them every now and again to check that they are still up-to-date. They still may need some very minor updating now and again.
For example, over on my food website Easy Peasy Foodie, I recently updated a blog post that I originally wrote for the Rio Olympics back in 2016. The main content of that blog post, the recipe for Easy Brazilian Feijoada, is as relevant now as it was back then – it’s still a delicious, but easy peasy, version of Brazil’s national dish.
However, scattered through my blog post there were lots of references to ‘This summer’s Olympics’ – relevant at the time, but 2016 is a long time ago now. So all I needed to do to ensure this post was still fresh and relevant was to tweak the wording a little to say ‘I originally created this recipe to celebrate the Rio Olympics’ and put everything into the past tense.
2. Old content that is out of date but could be salvaged
The second type of old content is blog posts which are out of date, irrelevant and/or poor quality – but that could be salvaged and rewritten / improved / updated.
Sometimes this is effectively like writing a whole new blog post! But there are huge advantages to salvaging an old blog post over just writing a brand new one on the same subject.
Since longevity is a ranking factor, an old URL that’s been around for a long time has effectively built up some ‘Google juice’ just by existing for several years.
In addition, your old URL may also have attracted some backlinks. As Google sees backlinks as essentially a vote of confidence in a blog post, a blog post with good quality backlinks will typically rank higher than one without backlinks.
If you have content that is out of date, irrelevant and/or poor quality, but you feel CAN be salvaged – even if that means a complete post rewrite – then you should do that!
I used to have dozens of posts on my food blog that had almost no pageviews, terrible photos, virtually no SEO and which were very poor quality. I have now completely rewritten these blog posts, vastly improved the SEO and added new photos, a new pinnable image etc. Many of these posts are now among my best performing blog posts.
A good example of this is my Super Simple Macaroni Cheese, which went from delivering a handful of pageviews PER MONTH to now delivering thousands of pageviews PER DAY – all thanks to a rather radical update.
3. Old content that is out of date and that cannot be salvaged
But of course, there are some old blog posts that simply cannot be salvaged – old blog posts which are completely out of date and irrelevant, or which perhaps relate to a subject you no longer blog about… or which simply no longer provide any benefit whatsoever to your readers – like old giveaway posts, or diary style ‘musings’ posts.
These types of blog post can AND SHOULD be deleted. There is no benefit to you or your readers in keeping them. And, in fact, if you do keep them, they are likely to actually harm your blog traffic. This is because keeping old out of date irrelevant content will drag your overall SEO down and result in even your brand new, bang up-to-date blog posts ranking lower than they deserve – especially if you have a high proportion of out of date / irrelevant / poor quality content on your blog.
I find it helpful to think of deleting old blog posts as ‘pruning’ my blog – rather like you would prune a plant in your garden… It might seem a bit scary, but ultimately it is the right thing to do for the health of your plant/blog, as it will get rid of what the plant/blog doesn’t need and help the rest of it to flourish and reach its true potential!
How should you delete old content from your blog?
Having established that you can and, in fact, SHOULD be deleting old blog posts, if they are irrelevant, out-of-date and/or poor quality AND if they cannot be salvaged, the next question is how? How should you delete old content from your blog?
Is it OK to simply press the delete button and return a 404? Or should you serve a 410? Or is it better to do a 301 redirect to your home page or some other page on your blog?
Let’s tackle these questions one by one…
Is it OK to delete a blog post and return a 404?
Yes! It is absolutely totally OK to delete old blog posts and let those URLs return a 404 ‘not found’ response code.
“404s are a perfectly normal part of the web; the Internet is always changing, new content is born, old content dies, and when it dies it (ideally) returns a 404 HTTP response code.”
“The fact that some URLs on your site no longer exist / return 404s does not affect how your site’s other URLs (the ones that return 200 (Successful)) perform in our search results.”
Is it better to serve a 404 or a 410 when you delete blog posts?
Either of those options is fine. Google doesn’t care whether you serve a 404 or a 410 – it treats them the same.
“Currently Google treats 410s (Gone) the same as 404s (Not found), so it’s immaterial to us whether you return one or the other.”
But what about all those broken links? I thought broken links were really bad for SEO?
It’s true that broken links ARE bad for SEO. But deleting a blog post and letting that URL return a 404 or a 410 is NOT a broken link.
A broken link is where you are linking TO a 404 (or 410 or anything which doesn’t exist), whether that be on your site or someone else’s site.
Now what can happen when you delete content is that it can also lead to broken links on your website… This would happen if you have, in the past, linked FROM another piece of content on your blog TO a post you have since deleted.
So what I strongly recommend is that any time you are deleting content, you should always run a broken link checking tool, such as Broken Link Checker, AFTER you have deleted the old content, to check you have not inadvertently created any broken links on your site.
But no, deleting content from your site and letting it return a 404 is not, in and of itself, a broken link and it won’t harm your SEO.
Isn’t it better to 301 redirect deleted blog posts to the home page or category page?
No! This is a common misconception among bloggers, and it is NOT AT ALL what you should do. Again, Google has come out and said quite clearly that you should NOT redirect deleted blog posts to the home page or category page…
“If you’re moving content to a new URL, you should 301 redirect the old URL to the new URL—that way when users come to the old URL looking for that content, they’ll be automatically redirected to something relevant to what they were looking for. If you’re getting rid of that content entirely and don’t have anything on your site that would fill the same user need, then the old URL should return a 404 or 410.”
So in other words, if you are simply moving content from one URL to a different URL then it’s quite OK to redirect the old URL to the new URL, since that will redirect the reader to the exact content they were trying to find. A good example of this would be if you change domain name and redirect readers from the old domain URL to the new domain URL.
But Google does not want you to redirect readers from the URL of a specific blog post you have deleted to your home or category page, as this is not the same as the content your reader was trying to access.
Google takes a very dim view of any tactic which involves ‘tricking’ a reader into landing on a post or page that is different to the one they were trying to reach. So, if you do try and redirect deleted blog posts to the home page or category page, Google will most likely either ignore your redirect entirely or, worst case scenario, they may even penalise you for it!
Is it ever OK to 301 redirect deleted blog posts?
Yes, if you can redirect your deleted blog post to content which is almost exactly the same, then it’s totally OK to use a redirect.
So for example, let’s say you discovered that on your blog you had two nearly identical blog posts on Victoria sponge cakes. One was a simple recipe for Victoria sponge and one was a ‘how to make a Victoria sponge cake’ guide. And let’s say you, quite sensibly, decided that was not a good idea (since you would be effectively competing against yourself in the search results) and so decided to amalgamate the two pieces of content into one longer, better piece that covered both the recipe and the tips (a much better UX for your readers too!).
In this scenario it would make total sense to use one of the existing URLs for the new updated piece of content. You would then simply delete the other URL and use a 301 to redirect the traffic from the deleted URL to the updated post on the same subject.
Yoast has a really great ‘real life’ example of how they did this when they discovered they had two posts on ‘readability’.
How to make a 404 a better experience
One last point to note is that, while deleting a blog post and letting that URL return a 404 response code is exactly what Google wants you to do, just simply letting your reader land on a page that says ‘Not found – Error 404’ is not a great user experience.
You should, therefore, make sure you configure your 404 page so that it actually helps your reader to find what they were looking for. For example, by including a search bar on your 404 page and a link to the homepage (so they can CHOOSE to got to the homepage if they want to, rather than being FORCED there with a redirect!).
You can check my 404 page out here >>> www.productiveblogging.com/404
Deleted posts and site structure
Deleted and updating old blog posts is just one area of site structure that you need to take care of.
Site structure is a hugely important, but often overlooked area of SEO. But it’s an area that can make a huge difference to your SEO and consequently your search engine rankings and search engine traffic.
To find out what other aspects of site structure you should be taking care of, take a look at my blog post on Site Structure for Bloggers.
Or, for a more thorough, deep-dive into all aspects of SEO, check out my SEO Jumpstart course, which has a whole module dedicated to site structure!
Over to you…
Do you regularly ‘prune’ your blog and get rid of old content? What sort of old content have you got rid of? And did you see the benefit in better search engine traffic to the rest of your blog?
Or have you never ever ‘pruned’ your blog and this blog post has helped you realise you really need to? What will you delete first?
Let me know in the comments below!
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- A beginner’s guide to SEO for bloggers
- How to actually DO keyword research: a step by step guide for bloggers