"I've been blogging for just over a year and getting in to it more all the time, though I want to start giving it more direction because I feel I have been in the experimental phase… So this is a logistical question. Do you delete content from the early days, or as you go along, if you find that with hindsight you're not happy with it? I tried one feature in particular that I don't like now and also my early posts suck! Should I quietly delete them or let them sit there as part of the journey?"
This is an awesome question because truly there is a LOT to consider when it comes to deleting old content from your site. The answer to this will also vary a great deal depending on what kind of site you write and what your big picture goals are. So keep in mind that we are coming at this question from our site's perspective and our own goals for it. Also I'm just going to focus on three big considerations you should take into account when thinking about deleting old content.
For us, A Beautiful Mess is a blog that is mostly focused on education. Yes, we will share lifestyle posts, behind the scenes, or what we are wearing in large part because we know our readers enjoy this content, and it helps them connect to us (we're REAL people with faces and lives, I swear!). Ha! But the main goal of ABM is to share tutorials or other information to help fellow makers do just that – make. We love the homemade lifestyle and believe that making things is one way to enjoy the experience of life. I could go on, but that's a different subject for another post.
My main point is the majority of our posts aim to be useful. They should help you learn to build a piece of DIY furniture, cook a recipe, make a craft project, find the perfect lip color, etc. If your site is similar in that you teach about a certain subject (food, fashion, DIY, home decor, photography, small business, etc.), then your site too is aimed at being useful. SO, when you are evaluating wether you should delete old posts, first ask yourself, "Is this still useful?" That's the first test I would put any post through. If the answer is no, then it may end up on the chopping block (but I've got a couple more things for you to consider first). If the answer is yes, then I would really consider keeping it.
But also, if the answer is yes but you feel you could do a better job writing that post now, then why not go ahead and update the post with new info, photos or whatever will make it more useful, and then re-promote the content on your social channels or put a link to it in your sidebar for a while to let your readers know you've updated the article. You'll want to either keep the original url or if you want to rewrite the post completely (giving it a new url), then redirect the old one to point to the new one. The reason is if you have links out in the Internet universe from other sites or people have pinned that post, etc., then if they show up and the content isn't there anymore, they will immediately bounce away from your site. But if you redirect them to the new content, or if you've kept it in the same place (same url they already had saved or linked), then they will land on your new, updated useful content and hopefully enjoy reading it.
Before you go deleting those old posts, you might check in and make sure you understand where your website traffic is coming from. A good place to start (if you haven't installed this already) is Google Analytics. Understanding where your traffic is coming from, where they land on your site, and if they stick around or leave quickly is all very useful to bloggers in LOTS of different ways. But when considering deleting past content, you want to check in on your traffic to make sure you aren't deleting something that a large or significant amount of your traffic is landing on.
It might help if I illustrate this a little. Let's say that for the past year you've been blogging about fashion. But within the past few months, you just bought your first home and now the only thing you want to blog about is home decor and renovations. You think the old fashion posts on your site really distract from your new mission. So you decide you're going to go through and delete many of them, especially the early ones as you feel your photography wasn't as good as it is now anyway. If you really go through with this plan, it could be that you will see a very large drop in your overall site traffic. Ultimately if this fits your goals and what you truly want to do with your site, then, of course, it is your site so you can do as you like. But I would advise you to keep your old posts that might still be getting traffic and add something to the end of them (go into the old post and update it, keeping the same url) about your new content. For example, in an old post where you talked about color blocking and how it worked in your outfit, you could add some text and maybe one image to the bottom of that post that says something like, "If you love color mixing, be sure to check out what colors I choose to decorate our house in" with a link to your newest blog post about what colors you choose for your home. This is just an example, but the point is you don't want to brick over a door that people are still using – let them come in, but try to direct them to new, more relevant content if needed.
Yes, you read that correctly, the third thing I am suggesting you consider before deleting old posts is nostalgia. First, if you have old posts that are meaningful to you, but they aren't useful, don't get much traffic, and don't support your blog's overall goals, then you certainly can delete it if you want (it's possible this may also help your site be more searchable, but it also may not make a huge difference as there are lots of factors). But, if you do, be sure to save the content somewhere – like a hard drive or something because it's memorable for YOU and that's still valuable.
If you have old posts of a personal nature that you just don't want out there online anymore, then, of course, feel free to remove those – just save the content if it's valuable to you in any way so you don't lose photos you might not have saved anywhere else.
The other thing to consider is if leaving old posts might be somewhat encouraging or instructive to future readers. I actually really like it when bloggers I admire have left their old content up and sometimes even point back to it as a way to say, "We all start somewhere." Because truly we do! Starting is more important than being perfect. You will be a better blogger during year three than you were during year one if you stuck with it because that's what happens – we get better at things. I think sometimes we can really shy away from showing past inexperience because we are afraid people won't think of us well if we don't act like we have everything together and ALWAYS have. But I like seeing fellow bloggers' past content that they maybe aren't as proud of now – I don't think less of them. In fact, I sometimes think even more highly of them because I can see how far they have come and how hard they have worked to get there. So, just something to consider.
What do you guys think? Does deleting old posts get a thumbs up or a thumbs down from you? Or does it just depend on the type of post? -Emma
P.S. If you're looking to learn more and grow your blog, you might check out our best selling Blog Life eCourse.