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The Risks of Removing Longtail Content From Your Website

View profile for Jamie Stevens
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So here’s the scenario: you’ve had a website for years now, and over time, it’s slowly grown to have lots of pages full of useful information about all the great services you offer - and Google loves you because of it. You have a high ranking website for loads of local phrases. Great! But the site is looking really outdated now, and it’s time for a redesign or even a full rebrand…

OK, so you decide the new site should be more conversational in style and tone, and the old content is kind of stuffy. Plus you don’t even offer some of those services anymore anyway! Let’s go all out and get all new copy written. Get rid of those old pages and have a clean, fresh site with none of those dusty articles hanging around that nobody reads anyway. Lovely.

Not so simple I’m afraid. Beware…this is the content that could be keeping a lot of those clicks coming in.  These are the 100 or even 1,000 pages (or even PDF downloads) that might only have 1-10 clicks a day, but add that all up over a month and it equates to a lot of visits. This is what’s called longtail content, and if it’s all slashed, it could mean a lot of visits lost.

One project we worked on earlier this year saw their number of visitors drop by 50%.  The good news was that the enquiries did not drop by anything like that quantity, but did drop a bit.

So what’s the answer for longtail content?

Keep the old content? Not necessarily.

First of all, make sure you’ve got copies of all the content on the old site. Then get as much of it that budget allows rewritten in the new style. Start tracking your enquiries, and seeing where they’re coming from. If you’re losing traffic due to old content that’s no longer relevant, it might not be that much of a problem.

To keep some of that old SEO juice, create a list of all the pages on the site you’re losing that are high ranking and copy their URLs. You’ll need to set up 301 redirects to go to the most relevant page on the new site.

Once the new site goes live, keep an eye on Google Analytics and check whether this drop in traffic is consistent. There will naturally be a decrease over the first few weeks after the site is live as Google needs to re-index the site and get used to your new content and site structure.

Then it’s about tracking those enquiries again.  Using Google Analytics, a forms section of your site to record the number of form fills, and tools like Infinity Call tracking can all be useful, as it’s information like this that can bridge that gap between an online search that converts through a phone call. Are the departments noticing a change in inbound enquiries?

One of our clients has set up a rule in everyone’s Outlook that auto-forwards an email with the subject line of “Website Enquiry” to their marketing team.  That subject line is “forced” into the new email window on the visitors computer using the correct HTML on the mailto: link on the website.

Want to increase the number of forms filled in on your website?

If you do, make sure you’ve got “open forms” on all your new service pages – make it as easy as possible for people to get in touch. And make sure you’re getting back to them promptly when they do.

But that’s a whole other issue.

If it turns out the old content is invaluable, and it gets as bad as “forget the redesign we just need those clicks back again” the best way to go about it is to recreate the pages as old blog articles. The content is still on the site, but with a blog date so it won’t matter as much if some of the information is outdated. And hey presto! Those rankings should go back up again. Hopefully. 

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