Most of us – and by “us” I mean website owners with blogs – are generally concerned with traffic across our sites. Traffic is an indicator of audience. It’s an indicator of performance. It’s a metric we can use to gauge how well our marketing is working, how well our content brings people in, and how our site is doing overall.
We all recognize that traffic tends to drop off over time. Evergreen articles maintain some slow trickle, more often than not, but old and time-sensitive content often leaves nothing left. If you have a site more than a year old, with a blog that has been published at least twice a week, there’s a pretty good chance that a portion of your content no longer sees any traffic at all.
The question is, how can you see that traffic on a per-post level? And, once you know those metrics, what do you do?
Checking Traffic at a Per-Post Level
Chances are pretty good that you’re using Google Analytics to monitor information about your site. This is good, because I’m assuming you’re using it. If you’re using something else, like Raven Tools, you’ll have to figure out how to do something similar to what I’m doing here on your own.
The first thing you need to do is log into your Google Analytics dashboard. Look for the “what pages do your users visit?” section in the new dashboard. There should be a button labeled “pages report.” Click on that and it will give you the top posts on your site, usually, in a table with traffic and a few other metrics. You can expand this table to add more rows – the “show rows” button – and keep doing it until you see everything on your site. Then adjust the time factor to see traffic by day, week, month, or another period.
When looking at your site for a per-month basis, look for anything that has zero views. If the post even has a single view, that’s worthwhile and you shouldn’t put it on your audit list. Yes, we’re doing an audit. Surprised? They aren’t all dreadfully complex.
Make this list of everything that has zero views over the last month, or two months, or whatever period you want to use. Larger sites can use longer periods; if an article hasn’t gotten a single view in the last year, it’s a prime target. Smaller or newer sites don’t necessarily want to use such long-lasting metrics. After all, a post might have gotten a bunch of traffic three months ago, but none in the last month, because it was published three months ago.
In any case, make a list of all of the articles with zero traffic in whatever period you want to check. You’ll use this list later.
The WordPress Alternative
If your site is based on a WordPress architecture, and you use Google Analytics, you can make use of a plugin called Google Analytics Dashboard for WP. You can find it here.
This dashboard adds Google Analytics functionality right in your WordPress admin console. While this adds an absolute ton of functionality to your WordPress dashboard, the main item you’re looking for here is your Posts area. Zoom in on that section and you will get a nice reading of all of your posts, just like you normally would on any WordPress setup. However, with GADWP installed, you will also see a new column of data next to each post; the traffic it has gotten.
At this point, you need to take the same action you did in the previous section, if you were using that. Namely, look for any post that has had zero traffic in the last month or two.
What to Do With Your Post List
So now you’ve made this list of posts that have no traffic. What are you going to do with them? Audit them, of course!
Here’s a list of filters you should apply – probably manually – to the list of posts. Anything that meets the criteria of the filter should be removed from the list.
Filter 1: Topic Seasonality. Some blogs have very seasonal types of content. A recipe site might not get hits for a Thanksgiving dinner mega-guide 90% of the year, but when November hits, you can bet that traffic spikes. A site that has child-focused activities for various holidays won’t see much traffic for an Easter article outside of the springtime.
Any article that is likely to have traffic in-season, when right now is the off-season, can be dropped from the list. You don’t necessarily want to get rid of something that can still bring in value some times of the year.
The caveat to this is if the article is old enough that you can check and even in-season it doesn’t get traffic. If you have that Thanksgiving dinner recipe but you don’t even get a single hit on Thanksgiving, that recipe article should remain on the list.
Filter 2: Time Relevance of Topic. Writing news articles and articles on trends can be valuable in the moment, but sometimes it just loses value over the course of the months and years. Some posts can come back to relevance later, with the cyclical nature of history. To bring up something relevant right now, Yahoo announced that the scope of their 2013 data breach was larger than previously known. In the current wave of posts about that data breach, you can bet a lot of old 2013 articles about the topic have come back into relevance. However, it’s mostly going to be the articles that give a rundown of what happened rather than news-like reports that it happened.
Articles that are unlikely to have any cyclical relevance, like posts about the death of a celebrity or about the founding of a new company, might not be worth keeping around. It’s up to you, but I would remove a bunch of them from publication.
Filter 3: Revision Potential. Sometimes an old post is perfectly valid, but the information in it is out of date. For example, this Blogmutt post was originally published in 2015, but since the topic had changed in the intervening tow years, they updated the content to be more relevant to the new versions of Google Analytics.
If the articles cover a topic that you can revise and make relevant for the modern day, drop them from your list, but add them to another list of potential revisions. Make sure you actually do revise them, and when you do, update the publication date, add a disclaimer at the top like in that Blogmutt article, and give it another round of promotion through your social media and newsletter channels.
Anything that can’t be revised can be left on the list. Articles that are tutorials for products that no longer exist, for example, might fit the bill. Same with articles trying to convince you to use a product that has been discontinued. Though it’s entirely possible you could revise such a post for a new recommendation, instead.
As a sub-filter to this one, you also want to keep an eye out for articles that are old enough to have used a SEO technique that is currently considered black hat. For example, high density of exact-match geographic keywords was the norm half a dozen years ago, but is likely to get you penalized today. Keyword stuffing, participation in reciprocal links, even SEO-focused guest posts can be holding you back. In this case, you have to decide whether or not the post is worth revising. A lot of times it’s not; no traffic means it’s not valuable currently, and the negative SEO techniques might be holding your site back.
Once again, anything that does not meet the criteria as something to keep should remain on the list. We’re using the final list later.
Filter 4: Backlink Presence and Quality. The final filter I have to recommend is checking for backlinks.
There are a bunch of different ways you can pull a link profile for a given post.
- Create a report in Google Analytics for the post in question. Set up a referral URL report, so you can see all of the traffic coming in from other sites. Traffic coming in from another site by definition means it’s coming in from a link.
- Link your Google Analytics account to a service like Linkstant to find links. The purpose of this tool is more for a new link discovery than an old link audit, but it can still find some things.
- Use the Moz Open Site Explorer. OSE is an excellent tool and they maintain their own index, so you don’t have to rely on Google or data from Google Analytics itself. However, it’s not a free service. You can scan a link or two before it cuts you off, but if you’re scanning a whole list like we are, you’ll need to pay for a Moz Pro account.
- Use the Ahrefs link crawler. Just like Moz’s OSE, Ahrefs is a paid service that will crawl all of your links as widely and as comprehensively as possible. Like Moz, they have their own index, which they claim is the world’s largest. They also harvest a lot of additional data, ranging from domain rank to social shares. It’s very much worth giving a shot.
- Use the Majestic link database. Majestic is one of the best link crawlers out there, and they can give you some very valuable data on a whole-site basis. It’s a little trickier to get links to a specific page, and once more you’re going to need a paid account to get the most of the service, including the historical index.
Regardless of which option you use, you want to check not just whether or not the page in question has backlinks, but what the quality of those links may be. Links that are nofollowed are not worth thinking about. A nofollowed link that doesn’t pass you any traffic is virtually worthless. Also, if the page only has links from social media, it’s not necessarily very worthwhile. If the only links come from paid sources or scrapers that stole your content, those are also not worth keeping.
Once Filtered, Do This
Once you’ve passed through every filter – and any others you feel like applying – you will have one list of all of the pages on your site that are, in essence, not worth the space they’re taking up on your server.
What do I mean? Well, they don’t contain relevant information, they aren’t worth updating or can’t be updated, they don’t bring in any traffic, and they aren’t the destination of any worthwhile links. Some of them might not have any links pointing to them at all, out side of your own social media promotion.
So what should you do with them? In my opinion, just delete them. They’re bringing no value to your site, so why keep them around? In fact, if they’re not getting any visitors from search engines, they may actually be hurting your site. If you’re skeptical whether or not deleting them will have an effect, you can plug the “noindex” tag in the header of the specific posts. If you’re using WordPress, Yoast allows you to do this. Just be very careful that you don’t accidentally noindex your whole site; it will kill your search ranking.
As a bit of a personal story, I’ve done this audit before on several sites. In fact, the site you’re reading right now had a traffic boost of about 20% after deleting over 200 posts from 2014 or earlier, all of which had no worthwhile links and no sustained traffic. They were, essentially, a stone around our neck holding the site back. Oh, and one thing: make sure when you delete a post, you search for broken links in your site. You’ll have them, and you need to fix them.
Try it out. I bet you’ll like what you find.