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:
- Using 301-redirect across the board (for all the removed pages);
- 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- Make sure to update your internal navigation to prevent both people and bots from following outdated links.