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Google Advice On Old Content On News Sites: Remove, Noindex Or Leave It

Google’s John Mueller was asked for advice in a Reddit thread on what to do with old articles published on a pop culture publishing site that has nearly 25 years of content on it. Of course the answer is it depends; you can either remove the content, noindex the old articles or just leave it and let Google handle it. But what should you really do?

This site is over 16 years old, with tons of old content. I cannot imagine removing the old stories from here. It is a treasure trove of the history of search, Google and SEO. I wouldn’t want to noindex that content, because my site commands to find that old content would probably not work so well. Go through old stories and update those stories? I don’t see how I can do that for tens of thousands of stories. So for me, I am leaving it. Do I think my rankings might do better for some of the content if I removed some of the older, less well written, stories? Yes. But I want to keep things as they are.

What did John say? Like I said, he laid out a bunch of options, here is what he said:

There’s nothing really here to go on. Off-hand, it sounds like one of countless tech “blogs” that collect mostly harmless content over the years. My suspicion is that there’s just nothing special about it, and at some point our algorithms are going to (or have already) lose interest in showing the site. You don’t mention how it’s currently doing, so my guess is you’re aiming to do the cleanup to improve the current standings.

My primary recommendation would be to focus on the new content (since that’s what – probably – drives the visibility & traffic of your site). Regarding the older content, I don’t think there’s a simple answer that works for all sites, some just end up removing old, unused content, others try to improve it, and of course there’s all of the middle ground too. Personally, I appreciate being able to find old things on the web, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep everything. For example, you could just keep category pages indexed, and noindex the articles (perhaps based on yearly views, or whatever metric you find is useful). That way, if someone wants to find an announcement of the PS1 they can still find it, indirectly, by looking for something in the title.

My guess is Google already doesn’t crawl this old content much so probably you won’t save much in terms of overall crawling. In terms of indexing, we also try to figure out what makes sense to keep indexed, so most likely that won’t change significantly either. Will the rest of the site rank better? Assuming mostly your new content is what’s ranking, then probably not. If on the other hand, you have a ton of evergreen content that also drives a lot of visibility, then I could imagine that a cleaned up site around that evergreen content makes it easier to recognize it as being useful.

I know many large sites, with a lot of content, with large SEO and content teams, do spend time going through old stories.and either updating them, removing them, or noindexing them.

What do you all do?

Forum discussion at Reddit.

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