As a website owner or SEO, you will probably spend the majority of your time adding new content to your site or improving existing content so that it gets indexed by Google, or improves rankings if it is already. indexed.
While this is what you will probably want to spend the lion’s share of your time on, you may want to remove outdated content so that it no longer appears in Google’s index (or no longer appears on your site full stop).
Why delete obsolete content?
Let’s take a look at some situations where you might want to remove outdated content;
‘Fast moving’ e-commerce sites
If you have a site selling a wide range of physical products, use Ikea as an example, you will have tens of thousands of products (maybe hundreds of thousands) – at any given time a significant percentage of these could be in out of stock, depending on business needs, technology used, and many other factors, it may be necessary to temporarily remove such out-of-stock products. Likewise, there could be a lot of “product churn” ie old products are discontinued and new ones are added to the line. Old products should be permanently deleted
News / Blogs
News sites and blogs (whether it’s a stand-alone blog or part of a larger site) evolve rapidly by their nature – that is, new content is added regularly (in some cases several times per hour). For this reason, content is likely to become « obsolete » very quickly and may therefore warrant its removal.
Heavily regulated industries
Heavily regulated industries like medicine or finance may need to be updated frequently to ensure compliance with regulatory bodies such as the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority). There may also be situations where a piece of content (the terms and conditions for a specific financial product, for example) needs to be removed immediately because it is non-compliant or just plain incorrect. Failure to do so could result in heavy fines for the company in question.
Sites with regular sales
Many sites that sell something have regular sales. One of the most common annual sales is Black Friday. Of course, the duration of a typical Black Friday sale is around a week after which most businesses will want to remove their sales page so that customers don’t see it again.
A quick note on deletions
When we think about deleting content, that doesn’t necessarily mean deleting it permanently forever. There are many levels of deletion, some of which involve the removal of content from Google, and others involve the complete removal of content from your site, either permanently or temporarily.
Here are some of the most common methods to remove obsolete content;
How to remove obsolete content
GSC URL Removal Tool
Probably the easiest and fastest way to temporarily remove content, GSC offers a « URL Removal Tool ».
This will temporarily remove a URL (or URLs) of your choice – you can choose to remove all URLs with a certain prefix, for example, could remove amazon.co.uk/products/, and this would remove all other URLs with / products / in the url path ie
You can also choose to remove only the cached version of the URL and the snippet (the title tag and meta description that appear in search results), this can be useful if you are promoting prices, phone numbers, or offers in your snippets, and you need to quickly hide a particular page because something has changed.
Another quick option is to simply delete the page in question. This will result in a 404 error.
There is nothing inherently wrong with having URLs on your domain that return a 404 error, just make sure that, if the page you are deleting is currently driving traffic (or has the potential to generate traffic to the future) OR has valuable backlinks, which you redirect 301 to the next most relevant page in your domain, so that page gets traffic and / or links.
You should also make sure to remove all internal links pointing to the deleted page if you plan to leave it in 404.
You can also not index the page. This means placing a tag on the page that tells search engines not to index the page (or to remove it from the index if it’s already there).
It works relatively quickly and means that users will still be able to access the page directly or through internal links on your site.
Noindex tags can be removed easily, so if you want the page to reappear in the future, it won’t take too much work. Be aware that if you don’t index a page that ranks well, there is no guarantee that it will reappear at its previous visibility level if the tag is removed.
301 or 302 Redirection
A redirect is another option. Let’s say one of your products has been discontinued indefinitely; the best course of action would probably be 301 to redirect it to the next most relevant product (as well as updating the internal links and the XM sitemap).
If a product is temporarily out of stock, you can use a 302 redirect instead. This would be a much better option because it means that the redirected page will not be removed from search results. The redirect can be removed once the product is back in stock.
Do not delete at all
In some cases, you may not need to delete the page at all.
When it comes to sales like Black Friday, perhaps the smartest thing to do is to just leave the page online indefinitely, while placing a message on it that the sale will go live in « xxx months. or days ».
This is the Argos Black Friday page. At the time of writing (January 2021), it is still live and ranking on the first page of Google for [black friday sale]
This way, any link equity gained by the page will be preserved and the page will be crawled consistently, meaning that when you want it to get traffic again, it is in the best possible position.
Other honorable mentions
Canonical tags can of course also be used to remove URLs from search engines, but are much more useful for removing similar content, rather than content that is just out of date. There’s also no guarantee that Google will honor your canonical tag, so it doesn’t allow for quick deletions. The robots.txt file can also be used to prevent search engines from crawling a particular page, but will not have much effect on its own, if you want a page to be removed from search you will have to use one of the above methods, combined with a robots.txt directive.
There are many ways to remove URLs from search engines, but which method you use should depend on the value of the content and whether you want it removed permanently or temporarily. You should also be aware of the differences between removing content only for search engines and removing content for users. Choose wisely!