So did traffic fall by 31.7%? Not at all.
Two months after we deleted 48 blog posts, estimated organic traffic to the remaining posts rose from 65,834 to 70,816 visits per month.
That’s 7.57% more traffic, in 60 days, with ~⅓ less content.
And we’re not the only ones this has worked for…
Siege Media saw a ~50% traffic increase for one of their clients after cutting ~15% of the content from the site.
Similarly, Robbie Richards saw a 79% increase for one of his clients.
And our very own Sam Oh deleted 74% of content on his website and saw organic traffic increase by over 80%.
He explains more in this video:
In this post, I’ll show you how to perform a content audit, and how to automate the bulk of the process.
For transparency: I saw a similar content audit template and process 2–3 years ago, which was created by Ryan Stewart (see his template/process here). I’ve seen similar processes shared by other SEOs too. In fact, our template was inspired by a private webinar that Matthew Barby did in the Traffic Think Tank community. What you see below is a simplified and automated version of that (shared with Matthew’s blessing).
What is a content audit?
A content audit is where you analyze the performance of all content on your site to determine whether it should be kept as-is, updated, deleted, consolidated, or redirected.
The result? A healthier site with fewer underperforming low-quality pages.
It’s the online equivalent of a spring clean. You’re getting rid of anything and everything you don’t need and freshening up the place for your visitors—and Google.
Here’s one of the posts we deleted from the Ahrefs blog:
Not only was this post 2–3 years old, it also offered little to no value to visitors at just 271 words.
That likely explains why it got no organic traffic.
Deleting ~⅓ of the content on our blog led to no negatives whatsoever—only positives.
But I know what you’re thinking: “who’s to say all this isn’t just a coincidence?”
If you’re making an effort to audit your site’s content—which can be time-consuming—then you must care about your website and thus, are almost certainly involved in other marketing activities.
Who’s to say that those activities aren’t the real cause of the increase in traffic?
That’s a good question. Correlation ≠ causation. So let’s look at the evidence.
Here’s what John Mueller had to say when asked if low-quality pages on a site can affect a site’s overall authority:
From my point of view, if you’re aware of low-quality pages on your website, then that’s something I’d try to fix and find a solution to, be that either removing those pages if you really can’t change them or, in the best case, finding a way to make them less low-quality and actually making them useful, good pages on your site.
There’s also the issue of crawl budget to think about.
Crawl budget is a term invented by the SEO industry to indicate a number of related concepts and systems that search engines use when deciding how many pages, and which pages, to crawl. It’s basically the attention that search engines will give your website.
Here’s what Google says about that:
According to our analysis, having many low-value-add URLs can negatively affect a site’s crawling and indexing.
My opinion? Unless you have thousands of pages on your website, crawl budget likely isn’t something worth a lot of your attention. Still, pruning content and reducing the number of pages Google needs to crawl is unlikely to be a bad thing.
If you’re curious about how Google crawls your website, take a look at the crawl stats in the old version of Google Search Console.
Search Console > Crawl > Crawl stats
How to do a content audit
Here’s a simplified flowchart of the basic decision-making process we used to do our content audit:
You can use to do a content audit manually on a page-by-page basis.
Keep in mind that you’ll need access to analytics data and Ahrefs—or another way to check page-level backlinks—to do this.
Let’s run through an example.
Here, we have our list of 12 SEO tips.
The first thing I was to do is to check whether the page gets “a meaningful level of traffic” in Google Analytics. You can choose whatever threshold you like for “meaningful” traffic.
I’ll keep things simple for this example and say that if the page has averaged one visitor per day for the past 12 months, then that constitutes meaningful traffic.
Let’s take a look at traffic to this page for a 12-month period.
That easily meets our threshold of at least one visitor per day on average.
Following the flowchart logic, the next step is to check if a good amount of that traffic comes from organic search.
So the recommendation for this page is pretty straightforward: “Leave as is (200).” No need to delete, redirect, etc.
Here’s how to deal with the other three possible outcomes:
Redirect (301) or Update
This recommendation occurs when:
- The page gets no meaningful traffic from any source;
- Has at least one followed backlink.
But which is the correct option to choose? Redirect, or update?
To an extent, that comes down to personal preference.
However, John Mueller did say this:
There are two approaches to actually tackling this [low-quality content]. On the one hand, you can improve your content—and from my point of view, if you can improve your content, that’s probably the best approach possible because then you have something really useful on your website and you’re providing something useful for the web in general…
So if you can, your best bet is to update and improve your content rather than delete it and redirect it elsewhere. If it doesn’t make sense to do that, there’s no problem with removing the content and redirecting (301) to another relevant page.
You may also wish to merge and consolidate low-quality posts with other high-quality posts.
For example, when we did our content audit, we compiled any worthwhile points from these three old articles…
… and then created a new complete guide to disavowing links, to which we redirected those posts.
My advice? If the page or post targets a worthwhile keyword with decent organic traffic potential—and is related to your business goals—then you should update rather than redirecting elsewhere. This may give it a boost in the SERPs and bring more organic traffic to your website.
How do we know? During our content audit last year, we noticed that organic traffic to our list of the top 100 Google searches was dwindling.
As this page targets a good keyword—”top Google searches,” with 3.5K monthly searches in the US—we decided to update and improve it rather than redirecting elsewhere.
Here’s the result of our efforts:
Thanks to the content audit, we were able to understand what course of action to take with this page.
The result after improving? ~500% more organic traffic.
This recommendation occurs when the page:
- Gets no meaningful traffic from any source;
- Has zero followed backlinks.
Make sense? If the page gets no traffic and has no backlinks, you may as well delete it.
This is 100% true. However, to be totally transparent, when we did our content audit, we didn’t actually let the pages 404. We deleted them, yes, but we then redirected (301) most of them to other pages on our site.
For example, we deleted this page…
… then redirected it to the blog homepage.
Is this totally necessary—or even recommended—behaviour? Perhaps not.
To us, it felt “cleaner” to do this. However, there is some evidence to suggest that Google treats redirects to not-so-relevant pages as soft 404’s. Hence the reason our “official” recommendation is to 404 pages that match the criteria above.
This recommendation occurs when the page:
- Gets decent traffic.
- Has little (if any) traffic from organic search.
It’s here where things get a little more complicated as there are a few potential actions to take:
- Leave as is: Is the page highly relevant to your business? Perhaps it’s a core page on your site and earns revenue. If so, leave the page as it is.
- ‘Noindex’: In rare cases, you may wish to keep traffic from other sources but don’t need the page to be indexed. This can happen when you’re split-testing landing pages, for example. Solve this by adding a ‘noindex’ tag to the page. Note. Always take caution before choosing an option like this. Don’t do it unless you know what you’re doing.
- Update: Your page clearly has some value; it wouldn’t be getting traffic from elsewhere otherwise. The issue may simply be that it isn’t optimized for a relevant keyword with decent search volume. Check to see if there’s a better keyword for which to optimize the page. If so, there’s a chance to get more traffic from organic search.
- Redirect (301) and/or consolidate: Do you already have a similar page on your site that gets organic traffic? It may make sense to redirect this page to that page. If your page has some backlinks, this process will also consolidate all “link equity” into one place and possibly help boost the other page in the SERPs.
Which brings me to an important point:
You should never delete or redirect a page without first manually reviewing it—no matter what the flowchart says.
Failure to do that can result in some nasty SEO faux pas, such as deleting your “contact” or “terms of service” page because it has no traffic or backlinks. That’s not a page you want to delete regardless of how poorly it performs.
How to automate the content audit process [template included]
The problem with the manual process above is that it’s very time-consuming.
If you have a small site, it’s not too much of an issue. But if you’re working with hundreds or thousands of pages, it’s going to be difficult.
The solution? Automation.
Sam Oh and I have created a Google Sheets template that handles much of the heavy lifting in this process. All you need to do is pull in your data, and it’ll kick back something like this:
This template effectively runs through the automatable components in the flowchart for each page on your website and returns a recommended course of action. Pretty cool.
The content audit we did for the Ahrefs blog pulled in a few other data points, namely the publish date and word count of each post. However, getting that information into a spreadsheet can be difficult. So we left it out of this template.
Feel free to edit the sheet and add in if needed.
Follow the instructions below to learn how to use this sheet to audit your website.
Step 1. Make a copy of the template (IMPORTANT!)
Before you do anything else, you need to make a copy of the content audit template on your Google Drive. You cannot edit the template directly—that will ruin it for others.
To make a copy, click here to open up the template.
Then go to File > Make a copy.
Choose a name for the sheet and save it on your Google Drive.
That’s it. Done.
Step 2. Import a list of the pages on your website
Before the template can work its magic, you need to supply it with some data.
The first piece of data is a list of all the pages on your website.
The easiest way to get a copy-pastable list is by scraping the URLs from your sitemap. So find your sitemap (this is almost always at yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml), then use the Scraper Chrome extension to extract the URLs.
Here’s the XPath you need:
Replace the domain with your domain. E.g.,
Copy to clipboard. Then paste into the sheet labeled ‘Sitemap’ in the template.
IMPORTANT: If you have other pages in different sitemaps, like a category or video sitemap, then you may want to add those too.
If you have trouble with that method and you’re using WordPress, try this plugin.
Still having trouble and not using WordPress? Run a full audit of your site in Ahrefs Site Audit. Once complete, go to Page Explorer, replicate these filters, then export the report:
Whichever method you end up using, paste the resulting list of URLs into the sitemap sheet.
Step 3. Import analytics data
Next—import analytics data.
To do this, log in to your Google Analytics and choose the site you’re auditing.
Go to Behaviour > Site Content > All pages
Choose an appropriate date range—I recommend the last 12 months.
Why 12 months? Because that gives us a good timeframe to understand how well each page is performing. However, this is a personal preference. You could choose a longer or shorter period if you feel that’s necessary for whatever reason.
Next, add segmented organic traffic data to the report.
Add segment > Organic traffic
Now, to exclude pages with URL parameters, you can set a filter to exclude landing pages containing
?. This will weed out single page visits that may have come from advertising campaigns, etc.
If you know there are certain types of pages that you don’t want to delete, redirect, or update (e.g., pages with /category/ in the URL), you can exclude those here too.
Finally, choose to show the maximum number of rows (5K). This will give you all the data you need so long as your site has 5K pages or fewer.
Export > CSV
Now: back to our template…
Click on the GA tab. Go to File > Import… > Upload > Drag and drop your GA traffic report here. Once the file has uploaded, click on “append to current sheet” and click “ok.”
Step 4. Import backlink data
Next up—you need to import backlink data for each of the pages on your site. For this, you can use the Best by Links report in Site Explorer.
Site Explorer > enter site > Best by Links > filter for HTTP status code 200 > export > full report
Import the exported CSV into the “Links” tab in the Google Sheet just like you did before.
Don’t have access to Ahrefs? One solution is to use Google Search Console instead.
Search Console > Links > Top linked pages > more > Export > Download CSV
Import the CSV into the Links tab. The template is smart enough to understand that it doesn’t have Ahrefs data to work with and will fallback to using GSC data.
Just keep in mind that there is one major downside to not using Ahrefs data:
GSC doesn’t discriminate between followed and nofollowed links.
Let’s say that you have ten backlinks to a web page and nine of them happen to be nofollowed. The backlink data from Google Search Console won’t tell you this whereas Ahrefs will.
Step 5. Review the recommendations and take action!
This short process just saved you hours or even days of work. Check this out.
If you now go to the “Master” sheet, you’ll see all of your sitemap URLs, traffic stats, link stats, and suggested actions.
But before you take these automated suggestions as an SEO action plan, I want to reiterate a few important points:
Point #1: We did not include anything with ecommerce or goal tracking in this template. If that’s something that you want to add, feel free to.
Point #2: The suggested actions are precisely that—suggested actions based on predetermined criteria. For example, if your contact or about page doesn’t have any links or organic traffic, then it doesn’t mean that you should delete them.
Point #3: If you have newly-published content—i.e., content published in the last 6–12 months—then you need to give it a fair chance to rank and get traffic. Don’t start deleting or redirecting them right away.
The critical point here is to use some common sense and MANUALLY audit every page before taking action.
I should also point out that you can adjust the way the template calculates recommendations should you so choose. By that, I mean that you can easily modify the numbers to be a better fit for your needs based on your tolerance levels for getting rid of pages.
For example, by default, “meaningful traffic” is set at 365 visitors per year.
If you’d like to increase that number, you can increase the requirements in the table on the “Start here” tab.
Step 6. Remove internal links to any deleted or redirected pages
Once you’ve gone through your pages and assigned actions, you’ll want to remove any internal links to pages you deleted, and either remove or update internal links to pages you redirected.
You can do this quite easily in Ahrefs Site Audit. Just run a crawl then go to:
Page Explorer > URL > contains > deleted/redirected post or page slug
For example, one of the pages we deleted was https://ahrefs.com/blog/social-media-content-strategy/ so we would enter the following in Page Explorer:
Next, click on the “No. of inlinks,” and you’ll see all pages that are internally linking to your filtered URL. From here, it’s just a matter of executing your action and making the on-page changes across your site.
Content audits should be done regularly. They help keep your site free of low-quality content that may be hindering your SEO efforts.
Just remember that although automation can help with this process, it’s no substitute for common sense and manual checks. You should never delete or redirect content without being sure that it’s the best course of action. In other words, don’t take the automated recommendations in our template as gospel—always do your research!
Do you have any recommendations for improvements to our template? Let us know. 🙂