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Content consolidation for SEO: How to revitalize duplicate and outdated pages

An image of author Ashwin Balakrishnan, accompanied by various search-related iconography, including sliders, html, and a link icon

Ever looked at ruins from an ancient civilization and wondered what might have been if the world had preserved those structures for more than the last few centuries?


Content consolidation is the marketing and SEO equivalent of that “what if” scenario. It exposes the flaws in your web content/content marketing and tests your ability to restore it to pristine condition. And like architectural preservation, it requires a variety of talents: one part marketing, one part design, one part web development.


But I won’t sugar coat it: It’s a tough thing to get right.


Planning tasks, deciding their order, getting buy-in, coordinating different teams to deliver without going over schedule and budget… Did I mention that it’s one part project management as well?


If you’re planning a consolidation effort in 2024 (or want to know if you should), read on to find out:




Content consolidation: What it is and why it’s necessary


Content consolidation is the process of auditing and optimizing a website to reduce content overlap, improve keyword and intent targeting, and deliver a better user experience.

Unlike a full website audit (which seeks to identify all sorts of potential issues), consolidation boils down to one singular outcome: fewer pages competing for traffic with shared intent.


A graphic showing two blog posts about how to pick a backpack, consolidated into one post about that topic

The benefits: Why SEOs consolidate content

As businesses increase their marketing efforts, their websites typically grow in both traffic and number of pages. Part of this website growth includes publishing content that serves specific purposes but might overlap with pre-existing content.


Publishing new content takes considerable time and effort, and is subject to Google crawling, indexing, and ranking these new pages. Updating existing content (while still an effort) is less tedious and shows changes to search performance much sooner.


Consolidation is a periodic method of cleaning the clutter.

For users, content consolidation reduces overlapping pages, making it easier for them to find the information they’re looking for in one place.


The bottom line: This allows a single page on your site to rank higher and more often for a given intent or query, rather than having multiple pages with overlapping content that would perform worse both individually and collectively.


When and how often to consolidate content


A text graphic that reads: “Editorial and SEO considerations are not mutually exclusively, but you’ll deliberately want to think of both when deciding when it’s time to consolidate. As you work with more and more content, you’ll gain a better sense of how long it takes for a piece of content to perform—and if it doesn’t do well, then you either have to update it, retire it, or find a different purpose for it. At the end of the day it boils down to, “Is this piece content doing what we thought it would? Is it still useful in its current form?” — Allison Lee, Editor-in-Chief, Wix Blog

If you’re monitoring metrics and KPIs downstream of search traffic, you’ll likely feel the need for content consolidation before you see the signs. A website cluttered with outdated and overlapping content is typically not going to resonate strongly with its target audience.


Examples of when you should dig deeper include:


  • Reduced lead qualification and conversion rates

  • Diminished order quantities and sales volumes

  • Website traffic trending down for several consecutive months

  • Losing strong rankings that you’ve held for a long time

  • Decreases in click volume and click-through rate


Keep in mind that these trends can be caused by other factors—like search engine core updates and poor product/market fit—but, whatever the cause is, these factors still warrant investigation.


And while there’s no fixed or definitive answer to when a brand or website should consolidate its content, here are some guidelines that have served me well:


  • New websites usually don’t need to consolidate until they reach a critical mass of pages, and certainly not until they’ve built out functional marketing teams.

  • Brands undergoing product or vertical changes should consolidate website content as soon as possible—this may be especially important if you’re entering a new niche.

  • Smaller teams with limited resources should plan an annual audit and consolidation exercise, with sufficient time and budget allocated to the process.

  • Larger teams that produce more content can consolidate more often (such as once a quarter) or hire specifically for roles that do so on an ongoing basis.


Rohan Ayyar, Co-founder of 99Stairs, looks for specific signs that consolidation should be on the horizon:


“A drop in readership, views, time on page or traffic (depending on the way you look at your analytics and the nature of your content); or a drop in rankings. The latter is significant because empirical evidence suggests that organic search traffic from Google accounts for two-thirds of all traffic to a given site. We now know that Google has been using clicks (directly or indirectly, depending on who you ask) and user interaction in its ranking algorithm. More clicks lead to better rankings, better rankings lead to more clicks. Since Google is chasing user preferences and user satisfaction, if your content isn’t doing well in the search results, it’s a clear indication that it’s time to either update it or combine it with another piece to try and match your audience’s search intent more closely.” — Rohan Ayyar, Co-founder at 99Stairs

How to plan for content consolidation 


When it becomes clear that consolidation will work in your website’s favor, you need to step back and draw up a plan. Jump right in and you’ll miss opportunities, underestimate time and budget, overlook errors, and ignore the complexity of the exercise.


Instead, make sure you outline the task before you begin. Here’s what you need to consider.


What to look for

Generally, you’ll want to review every URL on your website. If you’ve done a recent messaging overhaul and refreshed your homepage or other key landing pages, you can consider excluding those.


For most content consolidation efforts, you should include blog posts and articles, landing pages, and resource pages, among others (the exact types of pages you need to assess will depend on your business model).


Examples of what to look for include:


  • Thin content that doesn’t offer much value beyond surface-level insights. E.g., A landing page filled with ads and barely any relevant main content.

  • Outdated content that is behind the times or no longer relevant. E.g., An article about how to connect Google Search Console to Google Universal Analytics (which was deprecated in favor of Google Analytics 4 on July 1, 2023)

  • Duplicate pages (i.e., nearly identical content) on different URLs

  • Low-quality content that brings in irrelevant or no traffic


Ray Martinez, VP of SEO at Archer Education, runs a full blog audit to determine whether consolidation is necessary and how to prioritize the pages he needs to consolidate. “Through that audit, we'll look for opportunities to completely redirect a page, combine pages, or refresh pages,” adding that, “I'll also work through a new sitemap to understand if there are any gaps to plan for new content.”


A text graphic that says: “Some questions I ask myself include: Are the various stages of the [marketing] funnel represented by the content on site? If so, what does that mix look like? How are users behaving? And where are they navigating to after landing on a page? This is a good indication of needing to update internal linking. As far as budget is concerned, I look at cost per lead and cost per acquisition trends to determine whether the content is working and driving maximum ROI. Based on those numbers and previous content throughout, I’ll allocate spend accordingly.” — Ray Martinez, VP of SEO, Archer Education

Where to look

There are multiple areas of action within consolidation, some of which stretch beyond digital marketing and SEO into other disciplines. So I’ll focus on the core SEO tech stack most teams need to both plan the exercise and see it to completion:


  • Site analytics: Scour your website data and organic keywords pulled from site analytics (e.g. Search Console, GA4) for dips in traffic, which might indicate that Google is recommending you less often for certain queries. Loss of impressions, click volume, and click-through rate can also flag this issue.

  • SEO monitoring: All-in-one SEO toolkits (e.g. Ahrefs, Semrush, Mangools, etc.) can help with auditing your site for technical issues and seeing whether key queries with similar intent are being split across multiple pages. Use the audit data and dashboards to plan scope of work and report on progress.

  • Content optimization: Use tools like Clearscope and AlsoAsked to gather insights into how people search, and to see what content currently ranks best for those terms. These tools also allow you to analyze existing pages on your site for gaps in topic coverage and depth, making it easier to structure your content updating process.

  • Project management: Once you know what needs to be done, it’s important to keep everyone on schedule and accountable. Project management tools like Asana and Notion make it easier to divide a large project into manageable sprints, assign work to people, and provide the data and context they need to fulfill their roles effectively.


Planning, budget, and resources

Project management isn’t glamorous, but it’s critical for success when working on a live website. You need to know who’s involved, how long their tasks will take, what it will cost in terms of finances and opportunities, and what sequence things need to happen in.


From my own experience, here are some points to consider so that you have the best shot at success:


  • Content consolidation generally takes longer than you expect, so plan for a longer window than you think is necessary. This is especially true if you haven’t worked on the domain for a significant period of time.

  • Deadlines will almost always get missed, so build in a buffer period. If you need something in 14 days, aim for a working timeline of 10 days.

  • Your budget is very likely lower than it should be. It’s better to ask for more money and not spend it all than to go over budget. Running out of budget halfway through your consolidation effort and not being able to obtain more could mean that you’re just leaving more content to consolidate in the future.

  • Other priorities will surface in the middle of consolidation. Create a method to determine whether those priorities need to come before or after the ongoing consolidation. One thing that has helped me is adding buffer time to the project timeline to deal with SEO surprises.

  • As you work through your list of tasks, you’ll encounter issues with images and layouts, broken links, failed redirects, and a variety of other unavoidable setbacks. You’re already working on fixing these exact issues, so make a note to come back and fix them later. If they’re on important pages or critical to user experience, use the buffer time.


Prioritizing consolidation tasks

During your project, some tasks will need to happen in a particular order. For example, fixing redirect issues before merging duplicate pages might require a second pass at redirects after the fact.


If you have limited resources, you’ll want to prioritize the tasks that make sense for what is available to you. For example, if you’re working with several talented developers but only one content writer, it may be more efficient to put technical health first.


Implementation

When it comes to turning recommendations into action, many factors affect your ability to get changes implemented.


  • Are the right decision-makers on board with your project? Without buy-in from the people who can make things happen, your project is likely to amount to little more than a glorified audit.

  • Are you in-house or freelance/at an agency? The former makes it easier to implement changes but also comes with greater accountability. The latter puts less onus on you but is tougher to see through. If you’re a freelancer or at an agency and you’re not able to get your recommendations implemented, then you’re also probably unlikely to renew the client (because they’re presumably still working on your initial batch of recommendations).

  • Do you have direct access to developers and content creators? Going through a client representative or any other intermediary can be more stressful than working directly with those who will do the work because “playing telephone” introduces delays and potential miscommunications.


Many SEOs also know how to code, navigate technical issues, write content and copy, or have other skills adjacent to SEO. If that’s you, you probably have enough working knowledge to collaborate well with other professionals. 


For those who are just getting started in SEO or have limited expertise outside of this discipline, here are some things to keep in mind:


  • Developers may have other responsibilities to the product, especially in SaaS. If you want your technical fixes implemented, be mindful of this and communicate the value of why certain actions should be prioritized.


  • Writers will produce better content if you provide a brief with all the relevant background information. This keeps you in control of content strategy instead of trusting it to someone who likely isn’t a subject matter expert. Here’s a great content outline template from Jess Joyce.


A screenshot of a content brief by Jess Joyce, with various fields and annotations.

Your content consolidation checklist


Now that you have an understanding of what’s involved and what you’ll need, it’s time to begin planning the actual consolidation tasks and activities. Here are some of the things you should aim to improve, spread across three SEO categories: content, backlinks, and technical SEO.


Content SEO

Arguably the core of this effort is actually rewriting and restructuring the words and images that appear on the pages you want to improve. Here are four pieces of advice to help you give decaying content new life.


01. Bulk up thin content

Thin content refers to pages that have much less relevant information (with regard to the search query) than the ones ranking at the top of the search engine results page (SERP). You can make your content more robust by:


  • Developing a content refresh brief template that outlines the steps needed to go from thin (current state) to robust (target state). It may be useful to conduct an analysis of your top competitors as well, so that you can benchmark the state of their content.

  • Using a tool (like Clearscope, for example) that analyzes SERP content to show you what topics are covered in pages that rank for a target query.

  • Matching the content quality your competitors provide before going deeper, broader, or approaching your content from a unique angle.


Note: Low word count is not a flaw in itself, but as a proxy measurement for thoroughness. I prefer to analyze relative word count (i.e., my content’s word count compared to those of pages that rank high for the target query).


02. Merge duplicate content

Sometimes, you end up with two (or more) web pages that are closely related or provide the same information. This can be detrimental if search engines think they both satisfy the same intent, or if some of the pages have information that’s missing from others (i.e., splitting up relevant information across pages).


If that happens, traffic will also likely split across these pages—usually search engines will choose one version that they consider to be the “best” or default version of the lot. By combining many duplicate pages into one, you can protect against these issues.


An example of target queries you should merge into one page

An example of target queries to retain as separate pages

  • “how to grow tomatoes at home”

  • “growing tomatoes on balcony”

  • “home garden tomato tips”

  • “how to grow plum tomatoes at home”

  • “how to grow roma tomatoes at home”

  • “how to grow cherry tomatoes at home”


03. Update outdated content

Outdated content can be irrelevant and signal that your brand is uninformed. You’ll find this type of content on any site that has been online for more than a year or two. It’s an inevitable part of marketing on the web, but it still needs to be addressed.


There are some easy ways to spot outdated content:


  • Something published more than one year ago is a candidate for review.

  • Pages with a year in their title can be updated.

  • Performance (especially click-through rate) is decaying for more than 3-6 months.

  • You (or a subject matter expert) knows that a concept has evolved or changed.

  • Content about concepts, products, and services that no longer exist may need attention.


Once you’ve identified pages that need freshening up, a content refresh brief can outline what the new approach should be and how to bridge the gap between those two states. Typically, this involves someone familiar with the topic reviewing it for gaps, inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and outdated information.


A text graphic that says: “Some ways to refresh outdated content include: Updating best practices, Modernizing language, Aligning with current events, Including quotes from experts, and Providing an update notice.”

04. Prune low-performing content

Most of the traffic to a website comes from popular sources, such as branded keywords and a group of evergreen pages. That means the lion’s share of the content you publish will perform modestly or poorly.


Generally, it’s fine to leave most of your low-performing pages untouched—not everything you publish is going to become a viral hit (nor should it be). But at times, it can make sense to remove a page from the search index altogether when it:


  • Is poorly written and optimized or has no focus keyword

  • Serves a business purpose but no SEO purpose (e.g., a “thank you” page)

  • Strays too far from your niche


Just remember: deindexing before deletion (meaning that it’s often better to deindex a page instead of delete it). Removing pages altogether should be your last resort, as certain pages underperform when it comes to SEO but nevertheless play a vital role for your business and its customers.


Backlinks

Whether you’ve merged pages or created new ones, it’s important to ensure the health of all links pointing to your refreshed content from within and beyond your website.


  • Internal links: Make sure your updated content has links pointing to other relevant pages on your website, as well as ones from related pages pointing to it.

  • External links: When combining pages, be sure to set up redirects to the newly consolidated URL so that all previous links still work. For new content, refer to the guide on backlinks I wrote featuring specific advice.

  • Broken links: Do a final check for links that lead to nonexistent or redirected content both on your site and from other sites. Fix the ones you can, and do outreach to fix/reclaim the external ones.


Technical SEO

As you merge and update content on your website, you’ll also want to check the technical health of these new URLs. This ensures that the people discovering your content have a positive experience (instead of potentially getting an error or landing on the wrong content).


Here are some of the things you should look out for:


  • 3xx errors: This group of website error codes relates to redirection (when a particular URL forwards users to another URL). The more common versions of these codes include pages that have been moved permanently (301) or temporarily (302), which generally aren’t an SEO issue, but you should definitely review and address other 3xx errors.

  • 4xx errors: These error codes indicate an issue with your website (or your client’s). The most common of these is the 404 error (where a particular page could not be found), such as when a page is removed but no redirect is established for that URL. Others cover pages that are forbidden (403) and permanently removed (410).

  • Canonicals: When you have a group of duplicate pages—either because the URLs are structured differently or otherwise lead to the same content—the canonical URL is the one that search engines consider to be the default. This is especially important to monitor when merging duplicate pages.

  • Indexed pages: To make content less visible, you can delete the page or (more advisably) simply remove it from a search engine’s list of indexed or recorded pages. This prevents it from being discoverable through search, but any links leading to that page will still work (meaning the page can still serve your business purpose without being discoverable to every Google user).

  • Metadata: This category includes “data about data,” e.g., title tags, meta descriptions, and structured data (schema). Ensure that all your refreshed pages are populated with this information to maximize discoverability for the most relevant search queries.

  • Core Web Vitals: Ever visited a site that was slow to load, rendered out of alignment, or got stuck when you interacted with it? Then you know how frustrating a poor page experience can be, especially to someone who feels like they just found something interesting. Make sure to assess and optimize both desktop and mobile performance.


After consolidation: What happens next


You’ve created the plan, got the buy-in and budget you need, and—fast forward a few weeks (or months)—your content consolidation exercise is complete. Or is it?


Here are four things you should do once the actual consolidation is over:


  1. Review your changes: So much happens when you’re merging pages, deprecating others, and updating content across a variety of topics. It’s easy to forget a page, gloss over a broken link, or miss that 13th redirect error. A quick recap of work done against work planned is a great way to sweep the room.

  2. Verify fixes and changes: Once you’ve made sure the content you wanted to spruce up is done, you’ve got to make sure the machines agree. Your consolidation exercise should culminate with a site audit in the SEO tool of your choice, which should unveil what’s been fixed and what hasn’t.

  3. Plan for new issues: When you do your post-consolidation checks, you will almost always encounter new issues that weren’t there before. Human error and high volumes of work aren’t the best of friends. At this stage, you’ll want to figure out whether these new issues need to be addressed right away or stashed for a later date.

  4. Measure impact: What good is all this work if you can’t prove the outcome of all the time and money you’ve spent on it? Measure your most important metrics on the day your consolidation exercise ends, so they can serve as benchmarks when you measure them again down the road. Unfortunately, GA4 no longer has annotations so you’ll want to use an alternate system to record these baseline metrics and the date of completion.


Content consolidation makes your site better for users and search engines


Think of content consolidation as spring cleaning for your website: You’re improving on what’s already there, which is a whole lot easier than starting over from scratch. And, while the first time you do this exercise will be the most difficult—with time and practice—you can create a system that allows you to keep your website relevant, up-to-date, and organized.


 

Ashwin Balakrishnan

Ashwin Balakrishnan is a B2B SaaS marketer specializing in organic growth, backlinks, and content SEO. He leads the marketing team at Optmyzr, where he hosts the Search Marketing Academy podcast. His personal backlink profile includes gaming, Lego, and electronic music. Twitter | Linkedin

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