Technology news outlet CNET has deleted thousands of older articles from its site, telling staff the deletions will improve its Google Search ranking, according to an internal memo. The news was first reported by Gizmodo.
Gizmodo reports that, since July, thousands of articles have been removed from CNET. In the memo, CNET says that so-called content pruning “sends a signal to Google that says CNET is fresh, relevant and worthy of being placed higher than our competitors in search results.” Stories slated to be “deprecated” are archived using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, and authors are alerted at least 10 days in advance, according to the memo.
“Removing content from the 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. These metrics include page views, backlink profiles and the amount of time that has passed since the last update,” the memo reads.
A comparison between Wayback Machine archives from 2021 and CNET’s own on-site article counter shows that hundreds — and in some cases, thousands — of stories have disappeared from each year stretching back to the mid-1990s. Data for 2022 and 2023 wasn’t available. Red Ventures, a private equity-backed marketing firm that owns CNET, didn’t immediately respond to questions about the exact number of stories that have been removed.
Red Ventures has applied a ruthless SEO strategy to its slate of outlets, which also includes The Points Guy, Healthline, and Bankrate. In January, Futurism reported that CNET had been quietly using artificial intelligence tools to produce articles — part of an expansive AI-driven SEO maneuver in which generative AI tools were used to create content that could carry affiliate ads. In the wake of that revelation and resulting errors on AI-generated stories, Red Ventures temporarily paused the content and overhauled its AI policy. CNET staff unionized in May, citing the need for more control over how generative AI tools are used and how the site monetizes its work. (Disclosure: The Verge’s editorial staff is also unionized with the Writers Guild of America, East.)
Red Ventures and CNET justify the content pruning by pointing to Google Search’s ranking algorithm, saying the process will “improve SEO rankings and drive more meaningful user engagement.” As Gizmodo points out, removing a chunk of your archives is not inherently a good SEO strategy — Google has said its guidance doesn’t encourage the practice, though SEO experts told Gizmodo that it can be beneficial for sites if done carefully.
Red Ventures appears to be undeterred. According to the memo, CNET will be subject to regular “content pruning” going forward, at least once a year.