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Google Advises On How to Approach Content Decay

May 17, 2024

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In a recent episode of Google’s podcast, hosts Liz Sassman and John Mueller discuss “content decay” and share tips on keeping old web pages relevant.

Date May 17, 2024 – By Terry O’Toole

What is content decay?

Content decay is the process where online content loses relevance and becomes outdated.

John Mueller, a Google search advocate, describes content decay as:

  • “Content decay is something where, when you look at reference material, it’s kind of, by definition, old. People wrote about it because they’ve studied it for a long time. So it’s an old thing. But that doesn’t mean it’s no longer true or useful.”

Google says some content decay is useful!

Content decay isn’t bad, but if left unchecked, it can negatively impact your site’s relevance. With the latest round of Google core updates taking effect, your content relevance is more relevant than ever!

However, Google advises keeping some old content (like product changes or past event announcements) for historical accuracy.

Liz Sassman, Google Search Central content controller, explained why Google keeps pages with outdated terms:

  • โ€œIf we went back, and we replaced everything, like where we said Google Webmasters or Webmaster Tools, if we replaced Search Console everywhere where we said Webmaster Tools, it would be factually incorrect.

Google’s advice for avoiding user confusion

Mueller went on to explain that “avoiding confusing people” is the biggest challenge with content decay, saying:

  • โ€œPeople come to our site for whatever reason, then we should make sure that they find information thatโ€™s helpful for them and that they understand the context. If something is old and they search for it, they should be able to recognize it. (Oh, maybe I have to rethink what I wanted to do because what I was searching for doesnโ€™t exist anymore or is completely different now.)โ€

Mueller advised that the best way to avoid user confusion is to highlight outdated content using redirects and up-to-date context with obsolete references.

Google advice for dealing with content decay 

All websites face content decay issues, and Google’s strategies for keeping old content relevant go beyond deleting it. 

While Google recommends removing some content, it advocates tackling old content using a format-specific approach.

Remove harmful content:

Google recommends removing any content where outdated information could be harmful.

Maintain regular audits:

To keep your current content, implement an internal auditing system that alerts you when aging content needs a review.

Context is King:

Content decay is a tricky subject, and if it affects site relevancy, the problem will only grow as time passes. 

While Google doesn’t have a Content-Decay-To-Do-List, its tips focus on preventing users from becoming confused by old content and advice.

Additional Google-recommended tactics include:

  • Provide prominent notifications clarifying a content’s updates. 
  • Descriptions explaining how older screenshots or references may be obsolete.
  • List-post original publish dates.

How tackling content decay can help your site

Maintaining up-to-date content by following Google’s advice can help you in several ways:

  • Enhances user experience: Offering clear explanations, redirects, and transition guides helps avoid confusion for website visitors. 
  • Improves SEO: Regular content auditing and updating can help increase your site’s visibility and rankings. 
  • Streamline content management: A simple internal auditing system helps identify and amend content decay issues. 
  • Maintain credibility and trust: Maintaining up-to-date information and removing possible harmful, inaccurate content shows your site is a trustworthy and reliable resource. 
  • Record purposes: Your content (new and updated) is your website’s record of your growth and evolution. 

Keeping your website updated fights content decay and helps it stay relevant to your audience and Google’s ongoing algorithm updates.



Terry O'Toole

Terry O'Toole

Terry is a seasoned content marketing specialist with over six years of experience writing content that helps small businesses navigate where small businesses meet marketing - SEO, Social Media Marketing, etc. Terry has a proven track record of creating top-performing content in search results. When he is not writing content, Terry can be found on his boat in Italy or chilling in his villa in Spain.

SEO Power Plays

Read by 10,000+ world-class SEOs, CEOs, Founders, & Marketers. Strategy breakdown: monday.com's 77% traffic boost ๐Ÿš€ + Industry news and expert tidbits every Wednesday ๐Ÿ” + in-depth SEO strategy tips every Sunday โœจ