Tech news website CNET has deleted thousands of old articles over the past few months in a bid to improve its performance in Google Search results, Gizmodo has learned.
Archived copies of CNET’s author pages show the company deleted small batches of articles prior to the second half of July, but then the pace increased. Thousands of articles disappeared in recent weeks. A CNET representative confirmed that the company was culling stories but declined to share exactly how many it has taken down.
Taylor Canada, CNET’s senior director of marketing and communications. “In an ideal world, we would leave all of our content on our site in perpetuity. Unfortunately, we are penalized by the modern internet for leaving all previously published content live on our site.”
CNET shared an internal memo about the practice. Removing, redirecting, or refreshing irrelevant or unhelpful URLs “sends a signal to Google that says CNET is fresh, relevant and worthy of being placed higher than our competitors in search results,” the document reads.
According to the memo about the “content pruning,” the company considers a number of factors before it “deprecates” an article, including SEO, the age and length of the story, traffic to the article, and how frequently Google crawls the page. The company says it weighs historical significance and other editorial factors before an article is taken down. When an article is slated for deletion, CNET says it maintains its own copy, and sends the story to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
Google does not recommend deleting articles just because they’re considered “older,” said Danny Sullivan, the company’s Public Liaison for Google Search. In fact, the practice is something Google has advised against for years. After Gizmodo’s request for comment, Sullivan posted a series of tweets on the subject.
“Are you deleting content from your site because you somehow believe Google doesn’t like ‘old’ content? That’s not a thing! Our guidance doesn’t encourage this,” Sullivan tweeted.
However, SEO experts told Gizmodo content pruning can be a useful strategy in some cases, but it’s an “advanced” practice that requires high levels of expertise,[…]
Ideally outdated pages should be updated or redirected to a more relevant URL, and deleting content without a redirect should be a last resort. With fewer irrelevant pages on your site, the idea is that Google’s algorithms will be able to index and better focus on the articles or pages a publisher does want to promote.
Google may have an incentive to withhold details about its Search algorithm, both because it would rather be able to make its own decisions about how to rank websites, and because content pruning is a delicate process that can cause problems for publishers—and for Google—if it’s mishandled.
Whether or not deleting articles is an effective business strategy, it causes other problems that have nothing to do with search engines. For a publisher like CNET — one of the oldest tech news sites on the internet — removing articles means losing parts of the public record that could have unforeseen historical significance in the future.
That’s a big chunk of history gone there
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