How To Find & Fix Low Quality Pages That Are Hurting Your Rankings

At PosiRank, we’ve been teaching the importance of addressing low quality pages for many years now. Why? Because it’s just SO effective at boosting rankings.

(Even Google said recently to webmasters directly that they should fix these pages if they want to see improvements. (HT: Brian Dean)

1 Sentence Summary: Google HATES indexing crappy pages in their index and they’ll punish you for it. Plus, these low quality pages dilute the link equity to your higher quality pages. Not good.

Ok, any skepticism should be totally removed now… 🙂


Here’s The Truth:

If you have low quality pages in the index (this mostly covers “thin content” pages and/or pages with duplicate content) this means those specific pages, as well as your entire site, will have a reduced quality score.

Yes, your entire site gets affected by those other “selfish” pages. Not good.

In other words, Google might look at your site and say:

“Ok, this site has 100 pages – 60 of them are great (lots of high quality unique content) but 40 of them are pretty terrible (low quality pages).

Consequently, let’s give them a quality score of say…5/10.”

But – if you fixed a bunch of those 40 pages and reduced down to say 5 low quality pages, your quality score overall might shoot up from a 5/10 –> 8/10.

What’s cool is that as you start to fix these pages (more detail below on this), you’ll not only see those pages perform a lot better – but your site in general will rank higher across the board.

All of your pages will inflate, to some degree.

This is because:

a) Your quality score increases

and

b) Your sites internal link equity increases to your remaining indexed pages (vs being diluted)

Pretty neat, eh?

What makes this even better is that Google will notice these improvements (and reward you) within usually 2-3 weeks of crawling your site and seeing the changes.


What Results Can I Expect?

An almost impossible question to answer, but on a page-specific basis, you could easily see ranking increases of 25-400%+.

Consider how drastic an improvement it is to turn a 150 word article into a 3k word high quality, super in-depth resource that helps users. That’s easily going to be a 200-400%+ gain.

The more pages you fix, the more your site as a whole will benefit – meaning all of your pages will boost. You can’t do this all in one evening, but build it into your schedule to regularly fix a handful of pages each day / week (or whatever you can do). The results make the exercise addictive 🙂

Quick Example:

A friend of mine came to me for some SEO advice about a year ago.

He had a 400+ page site in the travel space. I noticed he had about 70 tag pages indexed. ALL we did initially was to de-index those tag pages (after confirming they were getting no traffic).

The result?

A 25% increase in traffic within weeks which added another ~80 visitors / day. Not bad for quickly getting rid of a bunch of junk pages! (and there’s so much more that can be done than just de-indexing tag pages).

Unless you don’t like the idea of serious ranking increases in under 2 weeks, then please read on folks!


Step 1 – Understand What An Indexed, “Low Quality” Page Actually Is

Important: We are only interested in pages that are indexed in Google.

This means that you can in theory put anything on your site that isn’t high quality, just as long as it’s no-indexed in Google. Of course, don’t feed your visitors from the garbage can 🙂 But my point is that it’s the indexed pages that cause harm to your rankings.

An example of publishing a “low quality” page (but keeping it no-indexed) is sharing with your visitors a relevant 3rd party press release online that they might find interesting and then posting it on your site. That’s absolutely fine as long as it’s set to “noindex”. By doing so, you won’t cause any harm to your rankings.

9 Main Types of Low Quality Pages (To Find)

PAGE TYPEWHY THEY ARE A PROBLEM (AND SHOULD BE ADDRESSED!)
CATEGORY PAGESIf you think about a standard category page, it’s just a list of posts on your site combined with a few lines of text taken directly from those articles.

Nothing on these category pages is unique, maybe apart from a few words up top. This is “internal duplicate content” and that’s why they’re problematic and should be addressed.
TAG PAGESSame reason as “Category Pages” (it's all duplicate content)
ARCHIVE PAGESSame reason as “Category Pages” (it's all duplicate content)
AUTHOR PAGESSame reason as “Category Pages” (it's all duplicate content)
OUTDATED PAGESFor example, pages that cover topics which are no longer relevant to your audience. This of course includes old pages from previous versions of the site (we often see this!).
THIN CONTENT PAGESAssuming you’ve categorized the previous page type (old & stale), then you’ll likely find a LOT of pages that are thin on the amount of content that they have.
DUPLICATE CONTENT PAGESAs you know, Google hates pages that have duplicate content on them – whether that’s internal DC (same content repeated throughout your site) or external DC (content taken from other sites). They both cause serious harm to the quality score of a page.
ADMIN PAGES, PDF'S & “Behind The Scenes” URL’sFor large sites, you’ll be amazed at these sorts of pages that shouldn’t be in the index. Be careful with PDF’s because Google do crawl them and if the content is already on your site (or published first elsewhere) then it’ll hurt your entire domain due to a downgrade in quality score.
PAGES FROM OLD SITE VERSIONS (inc. “Dev” pages)We’ve seen far too many cases where an entirely duplicate site will be on a subdomain which was used when a site was designed, or even as a “staging” site.

Step 2 – Find These Indexed, Low Quality Pages in Google

Tip! Once you start to identify pages that need addressing, I recommend organizing those URL’s in a basic spreadsheet or document. Put each URL under its respective category (see above for types of LQ pages). This organization will be important for your sanity!

OK – now that you’re hopefully familiar with what you’re looking for, let’s dig into a few methods of finding them:

Recommended Options (you’ll probably need to use 1-2 of these methods)

Method 1: Site Operator Search (Great for seeing all indexed pages in Google – works well for smaller sites)

Simply go to Google.com (or whichever Google TLD is relevant to your site) and type in:

site:http://enteryourdomainhere.com

This will show all of the pages that are indexed in Google. This is the most manual way of doing it and for sites of moderate size (under 500 pages or so), I like this method.

It’s especially good for sites under 100 pages and avoids you having to fire up a tool to download all the pages.

Tip: First thing you should do is go to the last results page for this query and click on the link shown below (the message will look similar to this):

resultslastpage

Why? Simply because we want to see everything that Google is indexing so nothing is missed out.

Method 2: Use Tools to Download All of Your Pages

Below are a selection of 3 tools that you can use (there are definitely more out there) to download all of your indexed pages.

Of course, once you’ve downloaded all the pages you can start to filter through them and categorize those appropriately.

Here are the 3 suggested tools:

ScreamingFrog (SEO Spider)
Xenu Sleuth
This Tool from SEOChat.com

Method 3: Find Very Low Traffic Pages (High Chance of being “Low Quality”)

This is a neat method to effortlessly find very low traffic volume pages for your site that need help.

Go to your analytics and filter by pages that received less than 10 visitors from Search in the last 30-60 days. That’s a great way to find them.

Warning: This WON’T find pages that get zero traffic – make sure you use one of the other methods to find those pages as they will be reducing your quality score.

And – Here’s How To Find Pages with Duplicate Content!

Use SiteLiner.com or URLProfiler.com to do this.

I wrote up a handy guide on how to use these 2 tools to hunt down duplicate content so you can get them fixed up!


Step 3 – Fix These “Problem Pages”

Here Are The Options Available:

1. Improve The Quality of The Page (highly recommended)

(You’ll only want to spend the effort boosting pages that you actually want to rank in Google. If you don’t need them anymore, go with option 2).

For the most part, these page types below are those you’ll want to look at improving.

* “Thin” content pages & articles (that are still relevant) – add more content to bolster these pages!
* Duplicate content pages & articles (that are still relevant) – remove the duplicate content and replace with fresh, unique and relevant content!

My Thoughts on Category Pages

Instead of instantly deciding to deindex category pages (which I would for TAG pages by the way), categories pages are often a LOT more visual and should be worked on and kept in the index.

For example, most ecommerce stores rely on their category pages to guide the user to where they want to go. These are pages you want to rank!

But, it’s likely that if you were to look at the traffic metrics of your category pages right now that it wouldn’t be great news. In 95% of cases, this will be because there is no unique, descriptive content on that category page which helps Google understand what it’s about.

What I’d therefore recommend is adding relevant content to the bottom (or the top, or both!) of your category pages so that you boost their quality and get them ranked. Instead of a page filled with duplicate content, help Google understand your category page and make the effort to produce original content.

You should be pointing links into your category pages so that it funnels through the rest of your site equally, and so your category pages probably aren’t far from performing well. Go ahead and get busy writing and you’ll see some excellent results.

2. De-index The Page

Critical! Before you decide to de-index ANY page, you must check the traffic that page is getting first in your analytics.

Google’s algorithm certainly isn’t perfect and there are times when low quality pages will be ranking (somewhat) in the spotlight and are getting search traffic.

So, if you just go ahead and de-index that page you’ll of course lose the traffic that page had. Don’t make that mistake!

It’s exciting when you see a low quality pages ranking fairly well because you just know that if you enhance the quality, it’ll do even better (and likely a LOT better).

Therefore – please login to your analytics (Google Analytics, Clicky etc) and find the traffic stats of any page before de-indexing.

If a low quality page (such as a category page, tag page etc) IS indeed getting traffic then I would recommend either:

1 – Boosting The Quality (see option 1 above)
or
2 – Consider redirecting the link equity to a more relevant page (see option 3)

Choosing to de-index a page applies mostly to the following page types:

* Archive Pages
* Author Pages
* Tag Pages
* Old and “stale” blog posts and articles
* Admin pages, PDF’s, “behind the scenes” URL’s
* Pages from previous site versions (including “Dev” pages)
* Duplicate content pages & articles (see my example above which spoke about a scenario where you might want to have a duplicated press release on your site because it’s something your audience would enjoy. But, if it’s indexed you’ll need to deindex it so that it’s not reducing your sites’ quality score and aggravating “The Panda”.

3. 301 Redirects

More often than – especially with larger sites that have more pages indexed – you’ll find 2 or 3 pages that cover the same topic during your site audit.

What I like to sometimes consider in these scenarios is 301 redirecting the inferior pages to the page that Google is ranking highest / giving the most exposure to.

This cleans up a duplicate content issue (or an issue where Google is confused at which page to rank) and it’ll boost the authority of the strongest page, due to the additional link equity being funneled its way.

Of course, you can take it a step further and follow Option 1 to take it up another couple of levels.

Conversely, if you want to keep let’s say 3 pages that talk about the same topic, you’ll want to ensure that each page addresses a different angle / sub-topic.

For example, don’t have 3 pages on your site talking about Link Building strategies unless they are each covering completely different topics of link building. (e.g. Link building for local SEO campaigns; link building for Ecommerce sites; link building for YouTube videos).


Ultimately, when it comes to onsite optimization – we’ve seen that there’s generally two groups of people:

Group 1: People that find onsite stuff really tedious, and therefore just try to make up the difference with stronger “offsite”.

Group 2: People that find onsite stuff really tedious, but realize its importance in in the SEO equation. Much like an aircraft, they realize that too much baggage will suppress (or even prevent) lift, and so they simply do what’s necessary to ensure their rankings can take flight.

I realize that I’ve been beating this topic to death lately – but the reason why is because this is truly the crux of whether or not a campaign will succeed. We see this every day…

I’d strongly encourage you to join the 2nd Group. You don’t have to “enjoy” onsite optimization. (No sane person does).

But the results are worth the temporary pain. And, furthermore – you don’t have to bear the load all by yourself. There’s plenty of on-demand options for you in the PosiRank platform to (greatly) reduce your workload.

But for the love of results… take this seriously. It’s usually THE deciding factor on whether organic marketing is viable.

Talk soon,

Alex Miller
Chief Explainer of Onsite Importance
PosiRank

Comments

  1. Billblogger - August 24, 2016 @ 1:53 pm

    When I started online marketing with as an affiliate marketer, I was using blog to market but I lacked the requisite knowledge and skills. Though, I was doing fine and the is still find, getting traffic, but on a average or below average based on it worth.

    I decided to start editing some of my posts which I know are not original or fairly original and I noticed the blog average traffic. I thought it was natural but this post open more light to me.

    I’m compel to work more using your strategy.

    Cheers

    • Alex Miller - August 24, 2016 @ 2:29 pm

      I’d highly encourage you to clean up your site(s) as much as possible Bill, it makes a HUGE (positive) difference!

  2. Natasha Kundi | London Blogger - August 24, 2016 @ 2:17 pm

    Thank you for this post. How does one deindex a page?

  3. John Snow - August 24, 2016 @ 2:40 pm

    Interesting and in theory sounds great BUT….

    many of our category pages do rank extremely well, even though they have all features described by you:

    “If you think about a standard category page, it’s just a list of posts on your site combined with a few lines of text taken directly from those articles.

    Nothing on these category pages is unique, maybe apart from a few words up top. This is “internal duplicate content” and that’s why they’re problematic and should be addressed.”

    Scary to suddenly remove these pages and loose a lot of traffic

    • Alex Miller - August 24, 2016 @ 3:04 pm

      John – I couldn’t agree with you more and I did reference this. Please see under “Step 3 – Fix These Problem Pages”. You’ll see a note in red that says “critical” that warns you to check traffic first before taking any action. Hope that helps

  4. John Snow - August 24, 2016 @ 4:16 pm

    Thanks Alex. Guess that going back to the classic h1 header and 1-2 paragraphs of intro text per category, def will fix those pages 😉

    Best Regards,

    Koki

  5. Dan - August 24, 2016 @ 5:09 pm

    I’m actually in the middle of doing the above after getting on on-site audit from PR. I have an ecommerce site with a lot of thin/duplicate content so I’m just adding unique content to pages I dont de-index. This post really helped my motivation.

    With regards to the site operator search, if I go:
    site:https://domain – I get 250 results
    site:domain.com – I get 550 results

    Do I need to tell G in webmaster tools that https is the only url and disregard other?

    • Alex Miller - August 25, 2016 @ 10:56 am

      Absolutely Dan – you MUST be consistent and tell Google which one you’re sticking with. You do not want the situation where you have https and http URL’s in the index, it must only be one. Ensure your 301 redirects are setup correctly so that all http > https and you’ve “told” Google in WMT. Hope that helps

  6. Ramesh Singh - August 25, 2016 @ 3:19 am

    Alex, this is good guide to ensure you rank for best relevant pages that can provide some value to users. I’m also working for ecommerce and I find it difficult to make quality and valuable pages when you have no branding. Although for category pages I think it is not always good to have content on bottom of the page as recently John Mueller said during hangout that we know these content is for ranking boost and users actually not reading this content so it’s time that we also change our approach on how we should add quality content on category pages so that it can be descriptive enough to make users and bots understand the context of the page.
    May be splitting page with different produ t types and add sub headings and text to describe it.

    • Alex Miller - August 25, 2016 @ 11:01 am

      I absolutely agree Ramesh. I’m really against adding content to pages “just for SEO reasons”, it’s not a savvy long-term strategy. If you go above and beyond with your content, you’ll setup a solid foundation for rankings and you’ll actually be useful to your visitors – and likely a LOT more than your competitors which has so many positive knock-on effects.

      Even if you “trick” Google to ranking your category pages higher because you’ve added any old content – it’s short lived success. Users will be frustrated when they actually read it, then they leave, conversions decrease etc etc. We’re really trying to tell SEO’s to just do the job properly, basically. Sounds like you’re on the exact same page as us!

  7. Jay - August 25, 2016 @ 5:19 pm

    Great post. I have a question. Do you also advise to deindex legal pages such as terms of use, private policy, disclaimer and so on. Those pages are usually duplicate content generated by a plugin. Thanks

    • Alex Miller - August 28, 2016 @ 4:22 pm

      Thanks Jay! I would de-index any pages that are creating a duplicate content issue 🙂

  8. Errol - August 30, 2016 @ 1:21 am

    Great article Alex. How about Should I deal with my Pagination pages.

    Ie.
    http://www.site.com/page/49/
    http://www.site.com/page/50/
    http://www.site.com/page/51/

    I understand that almost all of these pages have no content and/or duplicate content (article snippets). But how am I supposed to point the google crawl bots towards these pages that I worked so hard to make. I am afraid that if I take away the pagination… the majority of those pages will not get found by Google?

    What are your thoughts? Thanks

    • Alex Miller - August 30, 2016 @ 9:02 am

      Hi Errol, if you have a WordPress site with Yoast installed then all you need to do is login to your WP backend, click on “SEO” in the sidebar > Titles & Metas > Other > and then “Noindex” on “Subpages of archives”. That will stop those pages from being indexed, but the juice/spiders will still crawl them to keep the cache dates of those pages within those categories fresh. Hope that helps!

  9. Babs - September 12, 2016 @ 6:36 am

    Thanks for adressing this issue Alex.

    We have a big site and we’ve been working hard at improving our rankings. IMO we needed to fix some of these issues.

    Thankfully we have screamingfrog seo spider license so we should get on some of these quickly.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Babs.

  10. Tara - September 15, 2016 @ 12:29 am

    Hi Alex,

    I am really glad I found your article.

    We are going back and cleaning up our website (5,000+ pages) and noticed that we have a lot of event listing pages that we put a decent amount of quality content into (800-1500 words). The problem is that all of these events have passed and are no longer relevant.

    An example of an event page is a:

    – workshop on building a website,
    – class on using fb to promote your business
    – webinar on local marketing

    Some of the pages receive a little bit of traffic, but since the event is over… it’s essentially pointless. If you were in our situation, would you:

    1. Delete the old page
    2. Noindex, follow them
    3. 301 redirect them to a general category page that lists all the upcoming events?

    Thanks, I appreciate the feedback.

    Tara

    • Alex Miller - September 19, 2016 @ 6:27 pm

      Hi Tara,
      That’s an interesting situation. I probably think that if it were my site AND those pages were generating traffic (if not, choose #3) then I’d keep them live, but state on each that the event has finished and then aim (by using a banner above the fold, or appropriate clear text) to redirect them elsewhere on your site (a category page or your funnel etc). It seems a real waste to noindex that content especially if it’s unique and getting traffic. I hope that helps!

  11. Megan Ferguson - September 28, 2016 @ 11:39 am

    I know this content covers pages/posts/tags/categories, etc but what is your view on images? Should images always be indexed?

    • Alex Miller - September 28, 2016 @ 2:57 pm

      @Megan – I’d recommend no-indexing images that aren’t 100% unique.

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