9-step guide on how to improve low-value content

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A look at what low value content is, how to identify any that isn’t adding value to your search ranking (or possibly hurting it) and a 9-step guide on how to improve it.

Value is the most important quality search engines and users both want to see from your content. High-value content ranks higher in search engines, generates more traffic and compels more users to take meaningful action on your website.

Low-value content adds little or nothing to your search ranking and, in some cases, can cause more harm than good. At the very least, low-value content is a drain on your marketing budget because fewer people will see it and even fewer will take action. The thing is, every site has low-value content but, in this article, we explain how you can boost these pages and turn them into high-value, high-performance pages.

What counts as ‘low-value’ content?

Google wants users to find the answers they’re looking for so they keep coming back to the search engine as their primary source of information. However, it also wants to maximise the time users spend within the search experience and your pages are an extension of this.

Even if users may benefit from accessing information as quickly as possible, it’s more important to Google that they feel satisfied by the search and discovery process. So Google wants to see users engage with your content and interact with your website (as do you).

The key characteristics Google is looking for from high-value content are:

  • Relevance: Content that delivers what users are looking for.
  • Uniqueness: Pages that offer something users can’t find elsewhere.
  • Accurate info: Information, facts, stats, etc. that are verifiable.
  • External links to relevant, high-quality pages.
  • Inbound links from relevant, high-quality pages.
  • Internal links to other relevant pages on your website.
  • Engagement: Metrics that show users are engaged with your content.
  • Satisfaction: Signals that show your content provides what users are looking for.
  • Performance: Fast loading times and clean code.

Knowing what Google wants from content is one thing but how does Google measure subjective qualities like value?

Well, there are two key methods here. The first uses artificial intelligence (machine learning, neural networks, etc.) to analyse user queries and compare your content with other pages to determine the relevance of your content (and links), check for uniqueness and verify the accuracy of your information.

The second looks at on-page analytical signals to assess the performance of your pages and determine how satisfied users are with the content and the experience. For example, pages with high bounce rates and low Avg. Time on Page figures typically suggest the user hasn’t found what they’re looking for – or the page experience is poor.

Google can compare engagement metrics with page performance to determine between scenarios where content quality and UX issues are problematic.

How to identify low-value content

There are two types of low-value content you need to identify: content that’s low-value from day one and content that becomes low-value over time. Keep in mind that all content loses value as it ages because relevance and accuracy diminish – and this is why it’s so important to update old content (more on this later).

It’s also worth remembering that, even the best content strategies, produce the occasional piece of low-value content that fails to perform.

Low-value content is an issue every SEO and content marketer has to deal with and the first step is identifying the pages that need revising.

Here are the key data points to look out for:

  • Low Page Views: This Google Analytics metric shows traffic levels for individual pages.
  • Low Unique Page Views: Another Google Analytics metric that helps you compare total visits vs unique users.
  • High bounce rates: The percentage of users who leave your website without visiting more than one page.
  • Low conversion rates: Keep an eye on this for any page that should or could convert (ideally, you should have at least one CTA on every page).
  • Thin content: Any informational page with fewer than 300 words could be considered thin (don’t worry about functional pages like login pages and contact pages).
  • Duplicate content: Pages closely or 100% matching other pages on your website or other locations (check for content scrapers).
  • Broken links: Pages with broken links can get pushed down results pages and hurt the user experience for visitors.
  • Old content: Any content that’s 2+ years old or up to 12 months old for evergreen/high-performance content that requires regular updates.
  • Competing content: Pages competing for the same keywords – especially highly specific or long tail keywords – with similar content that could be merged.

You can track most of these warning signs between Google Analytics and Search Console but some of them require a little more analysis. For example, we run automated content audits that flag up pages with old content, competing content and other potential quality issues (including all of the above and more), which provides us with a list of pages that require our attention.

When it comes to things like broken links, those are black and white issues that need fixing.

However, most of the warning signs require further investigation to determine the best course of action. For example, pages receiving little or no traffic are a strong indicator that the page needs serious attention or removing altogether but we have to look into the issue to decide which option is best to take.

Likewise, high bounce rates are a strong indicator that something is wrong but the issue isn’t necessarily related to content quality. It could be slow loading times or an overly complex form that’s preventing users from converting and forcing them to quit the session.

It’s a similar story with old content that needs analysing and updating to maintain or improve quality. And, in many cases, competing content requires the most attention to decide whether you should differentiate them or merge them into one high-quality page.

How to improve low-value content

Now you know how to identify low-value content, let’s run through some of the most common ways to improve pages that could be harming your overall search ranking. Here’s a quick preview of the steps we’ll be looking at in this section:

  1. Deliver real value: Make sure you’re providing what users look for when they click through to each page.
  2. Differentiate: Evaluate competitor pages for the same query, analyse their content and make yours unique
  3. Format pages: Structure content so users can find value easily (headings, styles, bold text, images, data visualisations, etc.)
  4. Prune pages: Remove or update pages generating little or no traffic.
  5. Updates: Keep your content fresh with updated information, stats, quotes, references, visuals and external links.
  6. Expand “thin content”: Expand thin content or remove pages that add no value.
  7. Merge competing content: Identify pages that are competing for the same traffic and merge them into one, higher-value page.
  8. Check your visuals: Update visuals where necessary and make sure they’re optimised.
  9. Technical SEO: Check loading times, links and other technical SEO essentials.

For some pages, you may need to follow all or most of these steps while others may only require one or two of these steps.

Step #1: Deliver what users are looking for

From the user’s perspective, high-value content delivers what they’re looking for and satisfies their needs to the extent they have no instinct to click back to the search results. There are two key interactions taking place in the search experience where you have to deliver for each user:

  1. The results page: Your organic listing must be visible, relevant to the query and compel the user to click through. It should demonstrate that the content on the following page provides what they’re looking for.
  2. The landing page: When a user clicks through to your page from organic search, your content must deliver on the expectations you set up in your organic listing and the expectations they had when typing their query.

Users have expectations when they type queries into search engines and you have to understand the search intent behind keywords and phrases to deliver what they’re looking for. This informs the topics you cover, the titles you publish and the information you provide in your content and also helps you optimise your search listings (titles, meta descriptions, etc.) to encourage clicks.

You want to show users that your page provides the best content for their needs and your listing allows you to differentiate from the other results.

For example, if a young student has decided on their career path, they might wonder what they need to study in further education. They could type in something like “what courses should I study to become a criminal psychologist” into Google and see a results page that looks like this:

Search results for 'what courses should I study to become a criminal psychologist?'

Interestingly, we’ve got a featured snippet showing at the top of this results page and it’s not a university or online learning platform taking the top spot, but a recruitment company based in Ipswich.

If you take a closer look at the search listing, you can see a few reasons why this has won the coveted featured snippet and why this is the most compelling listing in the primary viewport.

SEO listing which has won the featured snippet

First, you’ve got the title that promises to unveil the “best” path towards becoming a criminal psychologist and the meta description clarifies that the next page explains the complete journey from high school through to higher education. As soon as this results page loads, this listing matches the user intent with 100% relevance, positions itself as the best result to click on and accurately represents the value users are going to get from clicking through.

Crucially, when our future criminal psychologist clicks on the listing, the page delivers on the promise made in the listing by describing the specific courses people should take at each stage of education. 

Step #2: Make sure every page is unique

We touched on this in step #1 and the importance of using search listings to differentiate from the other results on the page. The thing is, you have to deliver on this differentiation and this requires you to produce content that’s truly unique from the other pages ranking for the same query.

To achieve this, you have to analyse the content of your rivals and strive to offer something of value that your target audience won’t find elsewhere.

In the example we looked at above, we saw a recruitment agency cover the entire academic journey of criminal psychologists to illustrate the entire path students need to take, rather than simply covering the higher education stage of their studies.

For competitive keywords, you’ll need to analyse your rivals’ content and know what matters to your target audience. For example, the three listings below all cover the same story of supposed leaks of Apple’s rumoured M1X Macbook Pro line – a topic that’s been covered in thousands of similar articles.

Search results for MacBook Pro

Yet, Apple Scoop finds a way to differentiate from the listings around it by including rumoured storage space and memory specs in the title, which was the key talking point surrounding the previous release of M1 Mac devices.

Also, consider content formats and the best mode of delivering value to your audience. Let’s imagine someone looking for advice on how to clean the seats in their car – some of whom may benefit from a step-by-step list article while others may prefer to watch a demonstration video to see these steps in action.

Video search results for how to clean car seats

Ranking in the videos reel is a great way to jump to the top of results pages for relevant queries and differentiate your content from the 10 blue links on the page. You can also optimise a step-by-step guide article in addition to your video and double up your real estate on the results page.

Step #3: Format pages to help users find the value in your content

Once you know your content delivers value to users, make sure you format your pages correctly to help them find it. Nobody wants to scroll through endless blocks of text and search engines also want to see content that’s well structured.

Check every post meets the following criteria:

  • A short intro that confirms the topic being covered and the value being delivered in the content (include your primary keyword).
  • Headings and subheadings with nested h2, h3 and h4 headings to break up the key points of the article (include keywords and related phrases where possible).
  • Short paragraphs with clear, concise language – avoid unnecessary fluff, jargon or complexity.
  • Bullet points and numbered lists for grouping or summarising related points.
  • Relevant images that support the points made throughout your content.
  • Statistics that support the message in your content (you can create visuals for these or format them visually with bold text or other styles).
  • Data visualisations showing first or third-party insights supporting the message of your content.
  • Block quotes to support the key points in your article from reputable sources.
  • Internal links to other relevant pages on your content (style these to stand out on the page).
  • Relevant CTAs that fit into the flow of your content, placed where motivation is highest so users can take action.

All of these formatting techniques make your content more scannable and visually easier to navigate. Careful formatting helps the key points of your content stand out on the page, which means users can easily find the value in your content without reading everything word-for-word.

Step #4: Prune pages that can’t be saved

This one’s nice and simple. Once you’ve flagged up content that needs improving, you have to analyse the pages on your list and make the call: improve or remove. For content that can’t be saved or isn’t worth the time/resources it would take, your best bet is to get rid of these pages altogether.

Step #5: Update old, evergreen and high-performing content

As we explained earlier, content naturally loses value over time so it’s important to update pages as they age. As a general rule of thumb, you should update any content that’s 2+ years old, even if you only update the external links and check everything is still relevant.

Two years is a long time in the content world so, chances are, you’ll need to complete the full list below for older pages:

  1. Check keyword performance and related search terms.
  2. Update data sources, stats, figures, etc.
  3. Update time references (the current year, last year, events that happened X years ago, etc.)
  4. Check the key points of your content are still relevant.
  5. Check links are still working.
  6. Update any old images where necessary.
  7. Add new sections covering recent developments, trends, etc.
  8. Add new sections targeting valuable related keywords (going back to step 1).
  9. Link to newer content published that’s relevant (both internal and external).
  10. Update the meta description.
  11. Update publish date.

For your most important pages (high-performance, evergreen content, etc.), you’ll have to regularly update these to ensure every point is up-to-date and value remains consistently high.

Also, make sure you update content to meet the changing requirements of Google and other search engines. This year alone, we’ve seen the introduction of a new page experience signal, core web vitals and a series of algorithm updates.

Not long ago, we also saw Google place a greater emphasis on expertise, trust and authority (E-A-T), so this is something else you’ll need to consider when updating older content.

  • Expertise: Ensure your content is published by someone with demonstrable expertise and create author bios linking to websites, social accounts and other verifiable sources.
  • Authority: This is where getting published on relevant external sites, quality backlinks and citations become crucial, as well as a whole host of on-site authority factors such as industry body logos and a really good ‘about us’ page.
  • Trust: Only link to trusted sources, ensure your content is accurate, provide links to privacy policies and T&Cs, build a profile of positive reviews on platforms like Google and Trustpilot, ease user concerns wherever possible.

Keep tabs on the latest developments in every topic you cover and in SEO, too – because you’ll need to update your content for both.

Step #6: Expand or remove thin content

Any informational page that contains fewer than 300 words is at risk of falling into the thin content category and you’ll need to expand these or remove them. This doesn’t apply to functional pages like login pages or contact pages but any page that has a target keyword should include at least 300 words of content.

Keep in mind that 300 words is still a very low word count and it’s difficult to deliver any real value without exploring topics in more detail. There are some exceptions (eg: if you have a glossary with individual pages for each definition), but almost every page you publish will benefit from exploring topics in detail.

While there’s no perfect word count for SEO, longer content tends to rank higher in Google but there’s no fixed formula that works for every piece of content.

We explore this topic (in plenty of detail) in the following article: What is the best word count for SEO?

Step #7: Merge or differentiate competing content

Over time, you’ll often find multiple pages compete for the same keywords. The problem with this is you’re essentially splitting potential search ranking between multiple pages, meaning they all rank lower instead of one, improved page ranking higher than them all.

This is called keyword cannibalisation.

For primary keywords, you can overcome this by creating category pages for the topics you want to publish regular content for. This way, you can optimise the category pages to rank highest in the SERPs and avoid splitting the rewards across too many pages.

However, this doesn’t work for the secondary and long tail keywords you target across much of your content.

To prevent keyword cannibalisation, the best strategy is to regularly audit your content and identify pages that are competing for the same keywords. Next, you decide whether to merge the competing pages into an improved piece of content worthy of ranking higher or differentiate them – ie: offer something of different value in each piece.

For example, a website publishing buying advice on cars may have two pages competing for the keyword “best family cars,” which may sound like it already targets a specific audience.

SEO listing for best family cars

However, the publisher can differentiate further by updating these two pages for different family types and purchase interests, such as families of five and second-hand cars specifically, as shown above.

Step #8: Update and optimise visual content

As you update your old and high-value content, make sure you also update the visuals on each page to ensure they remain up-to-date and relevant to the content. The images, graphics and other visuals on each page should reinforce the key points made in your content. Over time, these points are going to change – in some cases, mildly; in others, drastically – so your visual content needs updating as soon as it starts to lose relevance.

This is especially important for data visualisations, which should be updated with the most recent data.

You may also experiment with updating content formats, such as replacing images with short videos or static graphs and charts with interactive visuals.

Finally, make sure all of your visual content is optimised for users and search, which ties in with step #9 and technical SEO.

Step #9: Check the technical SEO essentials

Once you’re happy that your low-value content is improved and ready to update, you should run a quick check on the technical SEO essentials to make sure no performative aspects could get in the way of higher search rankings.

Here’s a quick summary of the key points to check before republishing:

  • URLs: Make sure URLs are descriptive, unique and include the target keyword.
  • Page title: You’ve got 55 characters to create a compelling page title that includes your target keywords, differentiates your content from other listings in the SERPs and encourages users to click through.
  • Meta description: Check each page has a unique, descriptive meta description that accurately summarises the content on your page and the value it delivers.
  • Headings: Check your h2, h3 and h4 headings are correctly formatted and include keywords where possible.
  • Internal links: Link to relevant pages on your website, including topical category pages where possible.
  • External links: Ensure external links are up-to-date, relevant and point to quality sources.
  • Image compression: Compress images to reduce file sizes while maintaining hi-res quality.
  • Image alt-text: Check every image has alt-text describing the contents of your image and the primary keyword or a relevant variant.
  • Loading times: Check loading times for each page and diagnose any issues (eg: large image files).

The list above isn’t a complete audit. It’s a quick summary for individual content pages, so it doesn’t count for sitewide issues, such as server requests, hosting quality and responsive design. You’ll also have to check other technical factors of each page after you’ve updated your content: indexing, crawl errors, broken links, etc.

This is among the many reasons that regular content audits are important.

A quick content value checklist

Before we sign-off, here’s a quick checklist for identifying and improving low-value content?

  • Identify pages with high bounce rates
  • Identify pages with low Avg. Time on Page
  • Identify low-traffic pages (organic)
  • Check your content is unique
  • Check it satisfies the user’s query
  • Make your content actionable
  • Review the quality of writing
    • Check for spelling and grammar mistakes
    • Use everyday, conversational language
    • Remove jargon
    • Remove anything that doesn’t add value
  • Structure content to help users find value
    • Use plenty of headings
    • Write short, clear paragraphs
    • Use bold styles, italics, blockquotes, images and data visualisations to highlight key points
    • Use bullet point lists where appropriate
  • Check your content is up-to-date
    • Information, key points, etc.
    • External links
    • Stats
    • References
  • Review internal links
  • Fix any broken links
  • Remove or update pages generating no traffic
  • Remove or expand thin content
  • Remove or update duplicate content
  • Merge and improve competing pages
  • Include descriptive alt-text for all images
  • Provide text transcriptions for important audio and video content
  • Aim for loading times <2.5 seconds
  • Run plagiarism checks to see if anyone is stealing your content

Is your content strategy in a mess?

If you’ve got more low-value content than you know how to deal with, our SEO team can help you identify and prioritise the pages that you’ll benefit most from updating. Call us on 02392 830 281 or fill out the contact form below to find out how we can boost the performance of every page on your website.

Kerry Dye profile picture
Kerry Dye

Kerry has been working in digital marketing almost since the beginning of the World Wide Web, designing her first website in 1995 and moving fully into the industry in 1996 to work for one of the very first web design companies. After a successful four years, Kerry moved to an in-house position for a sailing company, running the digital presence of their yacht races including SEO, PPC and email marketing as the primary channels. A stint then followed at another in-house role as online marketing manager. Kerry moved to Vertical Leap in 2007, making her one of the company’s longest-serving employees. As a T-shaped marketer – able to advise on digital strategy outside her main specialism – she rose through the ranks and in 2012 became the head of the Small and Medium Business (SMB) SEO team. The SMB team has grown from two to five people, becoming a bigger part of the overall Vertical Leap business. Kerry lives in the historic town of Bishops Waltham with her husband and daughter. When she’s not at work she enjoys cooking proper food, curling up with a good book and being a leader for Brownie and Rainbow Guides.

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