The Digital Gardener’s Guide to Pruning Content: Takeaways From BrightonSEO 2018

30 April 2018

Posted in: BSEO Content SEO

Last week, our whole team took a jaunt to BrightonSEO 2018 – the ultimate educational conference for search marketers and digital content creators, happily situated on the blustery Brighton seafront. In the sessions I attended on content, SERPs and mobile first, something that came up time and again was the critical importance of content pruning.

The Google Panda update, introduced in February 2011, was intended to prevent sites with poor quality content from ranking. As such, new and up-to-date content became the thing, the very thing, the ultimate thing. But what people often tend to forget about is the old, underperforming content – the weeds that prevent the rest of your digital garden from flourishing, if you will.

So, how can you protect your carefully cultivated content from the hungry jaws of Google Panda? Here’s what seven experts at BrightonSEO 2018 had to say.

Cut the cannibalisation

Content cannibalisation – or keyword cannibalisation – is a penalisable offence. If you’re targeting the same keywords across multiple pages of your website, Google won’t know which one deserves to rank. And so both will fail.

In his talk ‘Out With The Old, In With The Niche: Content For The Moments That Matter’, Marcus Tober explained that “sometimes, getting rid of something opens new possibilities for the content that stays”. You have too many plants, competing for not enough space. None of them will be able to reach their full potential, so it’s time to get weeding.

When you use the same keyword over and over, your website actually loses credibility. So what can be done about this? The damage of content cannibalisation can be undone by pruning or merging similar content and targeting variable keywords.

Marcus’ final piece of advice was this: “it pays to remember that you can’t be relevant for everything. Only specialists make it to the top”. Likewise, it’s virtually impossible to grow everything in one garden. Mint next to asparagus or potatoes near tomatoes = disaster. Instead, focus on what you do best.

Dig up the duplicate content

Panda hates duplicate content. This refers to any content you may have on your website that is identical or ‘appreciably similar’ to that on another domain. In her talk ‘How To Unleash The Power Of Unique Content’, Eleni Cashell revealed that “29% of the internet is duplicated content – and you’ll be penalised even if you credit the source”.

 If you want to avoid being penalised, you have to be ruthless in removing all of the duplicated content on your website. You can identify duplication using Copyscape or Google search to see if it appears elsewhere. In the same way as keyword cannibalisation, when there are multiple pieces of the same content across websites, search engines have no way of knowing which is most relevant. And so, neither will rank.

 The advice? Always make content your own, clean up anything that isn’t working, and have clear, concise and strict guidelines for in-house and contributing writers.

Delete the deadwood


panda bear, eating, bamboo, ground

Over to mobile first. In his talk ‘How Much Positive Impact Can Crawl Budget Optimisation Have In A Mobile First Index Era?’, Mark Thomas from Botify said the following:

“Mobile first will affect everybody in some form, which means crawl budget optimisation is still worth pursuing. You can optimise your crawl budget by pruning content and asking yourself: what doesn’t serve a purpose?”.

 In other words, it’s time to weed out the low quality, underperforming or obsolete content that isn’t bringing value to your business. The deadwood. Pruning keeps plants healthy and encourages new growth – and the same goes for the health of your website.

Using Google’s free Webmaster tools, you can easily identify your underperforming pages. You then have the option to either remove them or no-index them. While no-one enjoys deleting content that has taken time and money to create, countless case studies show that being ruthless with your poor quality, low-ranking pages will lead to improved results long term.

Shoot for featured snippets

Featured snippets are the highly visible search results featured at the top of Google’s organic results. And as we all know, organic is best. Snippets, also known as answer boxes, are intended to answer the user’s query as quickly as possible. Getting a featured snippet to take root can be difficult, but if you manage it, the brand exposure will be significant.

In Rob Bucci’s talk ‘Featured Snippets: From Then To Now, Volatility, And Voice Search’, he explained the following:

“There are now more snippets than ever: featured snippets, PAAs, suggested video clips, organic results. Snippets are very stable if you can reach them, with 68% of snippets showing zero volatility.” He went on to add that voice search also relies heavily on snippets, and is becoming a much more important search factor every day.

There are three main types of featured snippets: paragraphs, lists and tables. Paragraphs remain the most common form. In the same way that it’s possible to grow new plants from a single cutting, you can also grow your traffic with just one snippet of established content. Here’s a helpful round-up of Rob’s talk, with some tips on earning a featured snippet.

Invest in evergreen

Just as evergreen trees retain their leaves all year round, evergreen content describes content that will always be relevant to readers, regardless of seasonality or trends.

In his talk ‘From Black Friday to iPhones – How To Rank For Big Terms On Big Days’, Sam Robson from Future Publishing spoke about the importance of creating a hub of evergreen articles to make ranking more stable and predictable, thereby avoiding unfruitful dry spells where nothing is able to thrive. Echoing previous speakers, he also advises strategic diversification of keywords to avoid cannibalisation.

Evergreen content is anything that retains its relevance and continues to drive traffic, months or even years after it’s first published. Common evergreen formats include how-to content, tips, listicles, reviews and video demos. If you can coherently explain a confusing industry concept or successfully answer users’ questions, you have a recipe for effective evergreen content. The difficulty is finding subjects that haven’t already been covered, so you’ll need to offer a fresh perspective.

If you need more proof of the efficacy of evergreen, the below image was taken from Steve Rayson and Giles Palmer’s presentation ‘How Metrics & Data Drive Advocacy Effectiveness’.



Content pruning is a hot topic in SEO at the moment, and it’s relevant for large and small businesses alike. Sowing fresh, new content to grow your online following will always remain a priority, but never forget that without a little maintenance, your website will quickly become overrun with jaded, useless content that will choke your rankings and hold you back. As Kim Slade summed up in his talk on mobile video, aim for ‘all thriller, no filler’.

Happy gardening!






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