How to Get Rid of Multiple Subpages & Not Get Penalized

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SEOs come across this problem very often: what is the best way to get rid of lots of website pages without loosing rankings or getting into any sort of penalties? The problem may be associated with:

  • moving the site to a new domain;
  • changing a CMS;
  • optimization process (for the sake of better crawl rate and usability); etc.

WebmasterWorld thread discusses the issue of removing multiple low-quality pages “primarily as a benefit to the users“; and the pros and cons of the following solutions:

  1. Using 301-redirect across the board (for all the removed pages);
  2. Letting the removed pages return 404 header status-code (and probably block them via Robots.txt).


The best way-out is to try something in-between: find most powerful pages and 301-redirect them, and let all the rest go 404. This solution looks better due to the following factors:

  • 301-redirect shouldn’t be overused as in this case it might both look unnatural and cause some penalties. Thus it is advisable to use it wisely: redirect only those pages that really have the power worth the effort.
  • On the other hand, 404 pages look much more natural when handled properly as “every possible combination of characters except for your actual files is a 404” (first and foremost, make sure the non-existent pages return correct header response and are not linked to internally). Notes from the forum discussion:
    • Some webmasters even saw a positive effect from using 404-approach: search engines seemed more interested in the site and crawled it better;
    • Use Robots.txt to block non-existent pages if you don’t want them to be crawled;
    • Optimize your 404 page: once the visitor gets there, he should find the way to go further. This should be “a quality page that gives the visitor some positive choices“;
    • Make sure to update your internal navigation to prevent both people and bots from following outdated links.
Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty

Brand amd Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing,... Read Full Bio
Ann Smarty
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