Dear Kettle: This is the pot. I am calling you black. Here is why.
Earlier this year I wrote on Marketing Pilgrim that you should always update your older outbound links. I do this on my Websites because it maintains a good user experience. I dont do this for search engine optimization. I do it for you (well, mostly for my own sanity). I do go back and read my older articles from time to time for many reasons. I usually find a typo that needs fixing and often I find broken links that need to be replaced.
I am very stingy with my links. I wont link to most SEO Websites, for example, but there are many other Websites I wont link to, either. I have been more generous with my links to science fiction and fantasy Websites. Some of you have tried to trick me into linking to PageRank Traps on your client sites by writing science fiction articles. Haha, very dumb idea. Dont you think I check what I am linking to before I place the link?
Real science fiction fan sites go offline like stars winking out at dawn because most of them are built on free hosting sites and those services tend to vanish quickly. I find myself updating links for fan sites all the time. Its probably not necessarybut this is one of my personal passions. I want my Website visitors to be able to find something appropriate if I link out.
Fortunately my sites are well-crawled by the Internet Archive and I can usually find one or more copies of offline sites there, so I update my links to point to Archive.Org if the fan sites have been permanently lost.
But I should not have to do this for news Websites. After all, they tend to stay online. Government Website link destinations should also be stable. And yet in both categories I find that linking to any content on these kinds of Websites is highly risky. More than that, it usually creates a very bad user experience.
The problem with government Websites is that they kill old content as if its poison when someone in some administrative office somewhere decides the content is no longer relevant to citizens or, worse, contradictory to current laws, regulations, and information. What they SHOULD be doing is updating that old content with notices at top and bottom that it has been archived for historical purposes and links to more current information.
I have yet to figure out what the schizophrenic news industry is doing because they all hire SEO experts, gurus, and gumshoes who give them really stupid advice. On any given day a news organization is likely to do one of the following dumb things with its old content:
Remove it completelyRedirect it to a site searchUpdate it with irrelevant informationMove it to some archive section that is organized completely differentlyRetitle it (and republish it)
These companies would not be doing this dumb stuff if someone using an SEO or Content Marketing job title didnt think it was a clever way to build traffic.
Meanwhile, out on the Web, old links die faster than mosquitos killed by a malathion truck when news Websites improve their optimization. You would think that an industry that has become so unnecessarily obsessed with using bad search engine optimization advice would want to keep its link profiles as intact as possible.
Many of my old articles link out to news Websites. I once naively believed they would be stable sources of information. You know, there are days when I would almost rather link to a Wikipedia article. They are more stable than some news Websites.
Changing your URLs is only going to hurt your search engine optimization. There is no net gain from doing something like that. You dont need to change your URLs anyway; you need to change your navigation structure. Those are two wholly different separate things.
What set me off on this little tirade down memory lane was that I republished an old article that had been taken offline years ago. As I normally do with these little projects I scanned through the articles links and updated them. When I got to the one news link in the article I had to dig up an Archive.Org copy because the news site (E! Online) had completely removed its old content.
This is what comes of linear thinking. You look at your analytics and see that 10-year-old content is not being visited. Therefore it must be hurting crawl budget (its not thats just more nonsense the SEO industry has cooked up). Crawl budget doesnt work that way.
Thanks to the SEO expert who advised E! Online to get rid of all old content (or move it to where the sun dont shine) the site has LOST link value. Its one thing for the links to decay away naturally; its another thing completely to just walk away from those links when you are learning to obsess over links, link value, and crawl budget.
Worse, many people like me, when we see those old destinations are gone, just kill our links or replace them with something more appropriate. So even if you cleverly redirect your old URLs you run the risk of losing inbound links because a lot of people dont like redirected destinations, especially if the redirects dont simply point you to a new URL for the exact same content.
And you keep asking why Google cares about how redirects are managed. THIS IS WHY.
So why am I the pot calling the kettle black? Because I am the guy who tells people that the fastest Panda fix is to delete everything, publish new content on new URls, and dont implement redirects. That flies in the face of everything I just wrote above. So Im the pot and you are the kettle.
My advice is pretty safe because most people wont do it even though it means they can start building their traffic again immediately. Waiting for the Panda to come back and love your site is, in my opinion, the least optimal solution. But SEO has to support the business decision and if the business decision is to keep the old site going, then keep it going. You can always add subdomains to your site and grow your traffic that way.
I want my old links to remain useful. I do restore old content from time to time. When I do that I would rather NOT have to figure out where to point the links to.
Content restoration is a very important process of building and maintaining a useful Website. I hesitate to speak of its impact on search engine optimization because I know that as soon as the light bulbs start going on well see a flurry of badly written, poorly thought-out SEO articles explaining how to use Content Restoration for SEO. Worse, it will become the next link building or content marketing tactic (not that there is much difference between the two).
Search engine optimization works best when you create useful content and provide useful links. After more than a decade of explaining that to people I would like to believe the memo is starting to circulate. Content age has nothing to do with search engine optimization. It doesnt matter how old the content is. What matters is what you do with the old content.
I often search for old content. Its bad enough that Google keeps burying old content. You dont have to help Google screw up the Web by telling your clients and employers to bury old content. Its okay to move it to a subdomain archive as long as you make the archive useful. Its never okay to just kill old content because you think it has lost its value.
The value that matters is the value that *I THE WEB* place on the old content. Nothing else.
Today I republished an old article and updated the links. Because I was diligent E! Online lost a valuable link. That is what your linear SEO strategies, following the paint-by-numbers I read it on Moz approach, accomplish for your clients and employers. You lose good links.
Learn from this lesson.
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