Should you delete dead web pages?

Over time, websites collect a lot of dead wood. As you add more and more pages to the site, you will find that some pages stop performing – no one points at them; Google doesn’t display them in search results; if it does, no one clicks through.

Why would you want to keep pages on your site if no one is looking at them? Conversely, will you damage the website if you remove those pages? In this article we examine the pros and cons of deleting dead or under-performing web pages.

Is the web page dead?

Apollo Insights page activity widgetIn Vertical Leap’s Apollo Insights platform, we compare search visibility and traffic data to ascertain how active a URL is.

Here are some questions to ask about a page that appears to have low value. Looking at several sources of data will help you to answer these questions.

  • Has the web page appeared in search results or had any visitors in the past 12 months?
  • If the page has had readers, which traffic source brought them to the site? (Perhaps it is a landing page for a PPC or affiliate marketing campaign.)
  • Did they enter the site through the page or did they navigate to it from within the website?
  • How many other pages of your site link to the page you are examining?
  • Where does your page sit in the hierarchy of internal links within Google Webmaster Tools?
  • How many external links point to the page?

Is it an actual page, or just a historic URL?

The difference between an actual page and a URL is important. When we perform technical SEO on a website, we look not only at the list of live page URLs in a sitemap, we also gather as many historic URLs as we can, to build a full picture of how your website looks to the outside world.

Google Webmaster Tools may store URLs that once existed but no longer do – possibly for pages you removed. Google Analytics contains the same historic data. There may also be other websites linking to you with incorrect URLs, and these links can also appear in a list somewhere.

When we consider the health of your website, we need to look at all these factors, because your domain authority could be affected by a wealth of old and incorrect URLs no longer pointing at anything.

Possible solutions:

  • If a bad URL is appearing in Google Webmaster Tools because of a bad referral link, try contacting that referrer to get it updated. You can also set up a redirect on your site so that anyone trying to access the link gets routed to a valid page.
  • If we’re talking about an actual physical page that is apparently dead, you could delete it and redirect its URL to another valid page.

Possible problems with solutions:

  • The result of boosting a page may not be worth the effort involved in achieving the gain.
  • The downside of deleting any page on your website is that it contains links to other valid pages, so you could be upsetting the hierarchy of the site in the eyes of the search engine spider. Make sure the page is a dead end and not a key page in a hub of other pages.
Apollo Insights lets us view all URLs for a site
Apollo Insights lets us view all URLs for a client’s site in order to identify all the dead ones – with no search impressions and no visits.

Underperforming pages due to low demand

Some pages have low visibility simply because they cater to an audience or a subject with low search demand. Looking at the visibility over the whole year is also important, because some pages are seasonal and you will find an upwards spike each year when the relevant season or event comes round.

Possible solution:

  • Compare search volume with your page’s search impressions. If demand for the topic is much greater than the visibility for the page, consider boosting the page.

Possible problems with solution:

  • The result of boosting a page may not be worth the effort involved in achieving the gain.

Low value pages in site structure

Is the page competing with another page?

For many businesses, particularly those with a blog, a common problem is repetition – the same article is written in different ways at different times. In 2009 you may have written about things to consider when buying house insurance, and in 2011 you may have written an updated article on the same thing. Why would a search engine want to show both articles?

Possible solutions:

  • Take the bits of the older article that are not in the newer one and merge the two.
  • Remove the old article.
  • Redirect the URL of the old article to the newer one – which should combine their authority.

Possible problems with the solution:

  • The old page may have more links pointing to it, so perhaps it would be better to merge the new one with the older one.
  • Deleting either of the pages, as opposed to keeping them separate, may reduce the internal links hierarchy of the site overall. It could be better to keep both articles and to edit them to increase their differences.

Has the page been hit by Google’s animals?

Google’s Panda algorithm looks primarily for content quality. If your website is full of lots of thin pages that are very similar – something that would have served you well in the past – chances are that Panda will cause a suppression of many of your pages in search results.

Likewise, the Hummingbird algorithm looks at intent and context – something your old pages perhaps don’t match well.

Then, of course, there are the Penguin and Pigeon algorithms, which can affect you in other ways. The older your website is, and the more pages you have, the more likely you are to have a collection of old or broken URLs and dead pages.

Just as you need to prune a rose bush to make it grow, you may also see SEO growth by pruning your website.

How to decide – fix, boost and fill or just delete?

The volume of pages affected on your site is a factor in how urgent the matter is. Estate agents commonly have a high ratio of broken links because of the high volume of properties that are removed once they are sold.

Retailers also may be routinely removing products from their sites. If your website is dominated by more old and broken links than live, active ones, you should prioritise a spring clean.

Fix, boost and fill to revive pages

If your findings show that a page can be revived, we employ our fix, boost and fill methodology – fixing anything that’s broken, boosting links, page speed or other performance factors, and filling gaps, such as adding more information to a tired and out of date article.

Or, as mentioned earlier in this article, we may merge two pages into one in order to create a combined benefit with shared authority and avoid them competing with each other.

Reasons to consider keeping the page

  • If the page is positioned as a hub for other pages within your website structure
  • If the page has a seasonal factor
  • If demand for the page’s topic is far greater than the search impressions for the page

Reasons to consider deleting the page

  • If the page is low down the hierarchy and dead end in the site structure
  • If there is another similar page performing better
  • If the page is getting no impressions in search or traffic of any kind
  • If other high performing pages are not dependent on the dead page’s presence
  • If there are not lots of navigational links pointing to the dead page

Need further advice?

If you’re unsure what to do with particular pages on your website, give our SEO experts a call today on 023 9283 0281 or submit your details and we’ll call you back. Or, if you’re looking for more deep dives on topics like this, our team offer SEO training services too.

Steve Masters profile picture
Steve Masters

Steve (RIP) was Services Director for Vertical Leap. He started professional life as a magazine journalist, working on music magazines and women's titles before becoming a web editor in 1997, then joining MSN to work purely in online publishing. Since 1999 he has worked for and consulted to a broad range of businesses about their digital marketing.

More articles by Steve
Related articles
A human face overlaid with a computer grid and multiple screenshots representing big data analytics

5 signs you should invest in data science

By George Karapalidis
Man and lady in meeting taking SEO brief

How to write the perfect SEO brief for an SEO agency

By Kerry Dye
Chatbots Poised to Take eLearning and Education to a New Level

Chatbots poised to take eLearning to a new level

By Chris Pitt
Megaphone showing social media marketing

Social media marketing: The role of AI in 2019

By Laura Jensen
Person doing yoga by the water

3 wellbeing apps worth checking out

By Seren Kiremitcioglu
Joanne Littlechild tackles content marketers’ biggest challenges - Interview

Expert interview: Content challenges, algorithms and data journalism

By Michelle Hill