Murder Your Darlings to Improve Your Search Engine Ranking

Imagine my surprise; A source of my pride was also a source of my pain. “Yes,” I would brag, “I have written almost 800 blog posts, and produced more than 100 podcast episodes.“ And if we listen to the the content marketing pundits that’s a good thing. “Content is king!” Not so fast, says Bill Hartzer (and many other search engine marketers).

In the Spring of 2013, I lost 44% of my search engine referrals from Google almost overnight. A complete SEO audit by a skilled expert was just not in the budget. Fast forward to July 16, 2014 to the DFW Search Engine Marketing Association’s presentation of: Google Algorithm Update: Pandas, Penguins, and Recovering from Penalties by Bill Harzter.

Google Panda: Is about the quality of content on your website.
Google Penguin: Focuses on keyword stuffing, unusual linking patterns, and other sites linking to yours.

Here’s the short of it: Google Panda added a ranking factor to the algorithm, with a filter to identify what it judged as ‘low-quality pages’. The filter awarded higher rankings for higher-quality sites.

What is a higher quality site? One that has fewer low-quality pages. What are low-quality pages? Pages that don’t get visited very often. The translation: Those websites with tons of low quality content (lots of pages that don’t get visited) will be penalized with a low-quality score and thus receive less search engine traffic from Google. Ouch! So much for the ‘content-creation machine’ strategy. “Just churn out the content, Baby!” Google doesn’t just want content, it wants good content that people want to read.

It seems too much of a good thing is not such a good thing. Too much content can actually lower the quality score of your website and thus your search engine ranking. The fix? Murder your darlings.

Blog Post Homicide

This past weekend I deleted 145 of the 787 blog posts from my website. It’s strange how you can grow an emotional attachment to a collection of sentences. Each deletion sent a pang of remorse through my right index finger. Confession time: I actually couldn’t delete five posts that met my ‘low-quality’ standards. I decided I would spare them for now and re-write them. I just couldn’t bring myself to banish them to the trash bin.

Understand that on a website, a blog post is considered a page. So while I deleted those blog posts, I still must delete several regular pages from my website. So what is a low-quality page?

Hartzer suggested that you pull up Google Analytics and run a report for the past year. Any pages that were visited three or fewer times would be considered low-quality. Delete them. Just do it. Don’t look back, it’s best that way.

is content really king? The negative effect on search engines
Image credit: vartman

The Road to Search Engine Rehabilitation

In the end it was a cleansing experience, and hopefully one that will get me back in good graces with Google. Much of the content was out-dated, it was just stuff hiding in the closet of my blog. And during the deleting process I jotted down 39 ideas for future blog posts to replace the outdated content.

The goal in all this is that I can restore my search engine referrals to their former ‘glory.’ This act of content violence is just the first step. I must go back and delete more pages, identify bad links in all my pages, and then keep on creating quality content. Oh yea, and then find a content marketing pundit to slap.

Note: The term “Murder Your Darlings” was a piece of writing advice famously offered by Arthur Quiller-Couch in 1913.

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