In the realm of webmasters and SEO experts, there exists a theory of quality indexing. The essence of this theory is that search engine indexes should be populated with high-quality pages, while low-ranking and low-traffic pages should be excluded from indexing.
Recently, John Mueller shared insights on whether it’s advisable to remove low-quality pages from search engine indexes and what the best course of action might be.
Mueller was asked the following question:
“Should we consider placing low-performing pages in a ‘noindex’ state if these pages have not received organic traffic for 16 months? Currently, between 10% to 15% of our website’s pages are in this state.”
My assumptions are rooted in the idea that having fewer pages in the Sitemap would allow Google to focus more on higher-quality content.
How to Handle Low-Performing Pages According to Mueller, there’s no need to rush into excluding pages from indexing.
Understanding Why a Page Became Ineffective Excluding low-quality pages from indexing won’t necessarily lead to improved rankings and traffic for the rest of your website. This perspective is not without merit. It’s essential not to evaluate a page’s effectiveness solely based on quantitative metrics such as impressions or clicks.
If you exclude everything that appears ineffective based on metrics, you might inadvertently remove valuable content.
First, it’s crucial to understand why a page became low-performing in the first place.
One reason for low impressions and clicks might be that users rarely search for that particular information. Therefore, impression metrics may not accurately reflect a page’s effectiveness.
For instance, consider a page featuring a discontinued product. The instinct of an optimizer might be to remove it from the index due to low impressions and zero clicks. However, Mueller recommends keeping such a page and improving it.
Even a page about a discontinued product serves a valuable purpose for the user. It informs them that the product is no longer available, saving them the futile effort of searching for it.
You can enhance such a page by providing links to updated product versions, alternatives from different brands or models, announcements, or comparisons between the old and new versions. Ranking an updated page is often easier than ranking a brand-new one.
Assessing Informational Pages If the effectiveness of an informational page has declined, it’s crucial to figure out how you can enhance it to better assist users.
For example, a review of a discontinued product can be supplemented with a comparison to a newer version. You can also update a five-year-old study with current data, discuss recent industry developments, and more. The new information should be genuinely helpful to users.
Fewer Pages in the Index Don’t Guarantee Better Rankings Mueller refutes the notion that reducing the number of indexed pages will lead to higher rankings. There is no direct correlation.
He explains that removing pages only significantly benefits very large websites where Google’s crawlers struggle to keep up with the constant addition of new pages. Excluding ineffective pages can help Google’s bots reach the truly important pages on the site, potentially influencing rankings.
Proper Page Removal from the Index A critical takeaway from Mueller’s response:
Page removal is not suitable for every website.
It’s essential to evaluate the potential for improving a page, making it more original, useful, and aligned with the user’s intent. Additionally, analyze how users are searching for the information and consider making the page more relevant to a different search intent.
The algorithm for removing a page from the index includes the following steps:
- Assess the actual page effectiveness by determining its usefulness to users and whether it can be improved. Don’t rely solely on impressions or clicks for evaluation.
- Evaluate how you can enhance the page. Use Google Analytics to examine the search queries that lead to the page. Understand the search intent behind these queries and what users are looking for.
- If the page is of low quality, provides no value to the site or users, and cannot be improved, then you can consider excluding it from indexing.
In conclusion, the decision to remove low-quality pages from your website’s index should be made carefully, taking into account the potential for improvement and user relevance. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, and maintaining a balanced approach is key to a successful SEO strategy.