CNet Deletes Thousands of Old Articles in Futile, Wrong-Headed Attempt to Game Google Search

Thomas Germain, reporting for Gizmodo:

Archived copies of CNET’s author pages show the company deleted small batches of articles prior to the second half of July, but then the pace increased. Thousands of articles disappeared in recent weeks. A CNET representative confirmed that the company was culling stories but declined to share exactly how many it has taken down. The move adds to recent controversies over CNET’s editorial strategy, which has included layoffs and experiments with error-riddled articles written by AI chatbots.

“Removing content from our site is not a decision we take lightly. Our teams analyze many data points to determine whether there are pages on CNET that are not currently serving a meaningful audience. This is an industry-wide best practice for large sites like ours that are primarily driven by SEO traffic,” said Taylor Canada, CNET’s senior director of marketing and communications. “In an ideal world, we would leave all of our content on our site in perpetuity. Unfortunately, we are penalized by the modern internet for leaving all previously published content live on our site.” A representative for the CNET Media Workers Union declined to comment. (Disclosure: Gizmodo’s Editor in Chief Dan Ackerman is a former CNET employee.)

CNET shared an internal memo about the practice. Removing, redirecting, or refreshing irrelevant or unhelpful URLs “sends a signal to Google that says CNET is fresh, relevant and worthy of being placed higher than our competitors in search results,” the document reads.

If you think it sounds really stupid that Google would penalize websites in search rankings for new content because they’re hosting an archive of older content, you’re right, that is stupid. And Google isn’t stupid. From Google’s Search Liaison Twitter account yesterday:

Are you deleting content from your site because you somehow believe Google doesn’t like “old” content? That’s not a thing! Our guidance doesn’t encourage this. Older content can still be helpful, too. Learn more about creating helpful content.

Countering this clear message from Google not to do this, Gizmodo cites the other side:

However, SEO experts told Gizmodo content pruning can be a useful strategy in some cases, but it’s an “advanced” practice that requires high levels of expertise, according to Chris Rodgers, founder and CEO of CSP, an SEO agency.

Expertise you can only obtain by hiring a firm like CSP, of course. And:

“Just because Google says that deleting content in isolation doesn’t provide any SEO benefit, this isn’t always true,” said Lily Ray, Senior Director of SEO and Head of Organic Research at Amsive Digital.

This is like quoting voodoo witch doctors arguing that voodoo sometimes works.

Thursday, 10 August 2023