Ask the SEO Experts About 301 Redirects

A short while ago we were working with a large enterprise sized client that was about to retire a significant number content pages on their website as well as launch a completely new site design. The pages about to be retired fell into one of three categories: videos, games, and printables. There were some pages that had strong authority, lots of visitor traffic and caused the website to receive hundreds of thousands of clicks and impressions monthly while others were poor performers with only a smitten of that kind of activity.

The plan was to 301 redirect all of the retired pages individually to the category level page that it currently lived. So for example, if the page was a video page about a soon-to-be-retired topic, the page would be pointed to the main video category landing page. Then the question came in from the client, “How about having all the pages redirect to a single landing page that gives options to direct the visitors to similar content and topics?” Hmmmm!

We were sure, from an SEO best practices perspective, about the decision to point the retiring pages to the next best page in the same category. However, pointing all the unique pages to a single, generic landing page was something we were not too sure about!  I reached out to some of the SEO experts I know and got some varied and helpful perspectives. First I will start by showing you what I asked, and then after that you can read the responses from each of those I asked.

The Question:

“I have a technical SEO question for you. I have a big brand that is retiring some content in a variety of categories. We built a 301 redirect map for the individual pages, however, the director is asking about pointing the visitors to a custom landing page that says something like “Sorry, but that is not available, try these instead” with some options for other similar content. My question is, would this be valuable from an SEO perspective? Would it be a 301 or should it be a 302 with a later 301 to a general landing page? What about pointing the visitor to a similar property on the site on a case by case basis? What do you think???”

The Replies:

“Chances Are Control over Search Engines Would Be Limited”

SEO Expert Bill Slawski

Bill Slawski

I understand why someone might want to have as much control as possible over a situation like that, but chances are that any control they might have over a search engine delivering people to the pages they want would be limited.

A customized error page, with links to newly created content as an alternative to content about the retired (categories) is one possibility that might get visitors to go to the pages that you want.

Creating new pages, with new content for fans of the earlier content that 301 redirects to the new pages in lieu of the old pages about the old (topics) is another possibility, however it’s questionable how much of a long term solution that is. If they are retiring the old character content, there may not be much of an interest in keeping references to that old content around. I’m not sure that a 302 redirect has any benefit in this instance.

The process of retiring or archiving pages on a site, is something that I haven’t seen a lot of discussion on upon the Web, but happens in bigger sites like Jobs sites, or product sites, and it sounds like a commercial site like you are working upon where content centers around specific well-known (topics).

If a business decision has been made to “retire” a (page), then hopefully they realized that as soon as they start showing less of that (content) in media, such as in commercials or on shows, they may get less searches for him or her, and should be thinking about the next character to act as a replacement.

Bill is a renowned SEO expert and Google patent analyst. He regularly speaks at popular SEO conferences. Find more of Bill at his blog SEO by the Sea, which is focused on Search, SEO, and the Semantic Web.

“Custom 404s Are a Good Option”

SEO Expert Michael Stricker

Michael Stricker

If these (pages) are popular organic traffic drivers and have accumulated links, then 301s are the way to go.

If they are marginal performers, lacking links, then Custom 404s are a good option to signify the pp are gone but give clear-cut simple and limited options to users to click forth. Once they’re devoid of traffic, 301.

Hybrid method for pp of modest SEO value, alter the existing pages with some clear text about what those pages once were, and an option to click through to the new page and how that will move searchers closer to what they’re seeking. Include some form of live chat or help finding what they’re looking for. Timed redirect is tempting but potential damage as a gateway may be too great.

Michael was formerly the National Director of Marketing for SemRush and has extensive experience in SEO and Google Analytics.

“Pass Along That Juice”

SEO Expert Chris Countey

Chris Countey

Their idea of creating “this doesn’t exist, but here is something similar” works really well for SEO, especially if the retired content had any external links. I would use a 301 to pass along that juice. If those pages didn’t have any links, they can just be retired and 404 out.

Chris Countey is a long-time SEO and Google Analytics expert.

“Custom Landing Pages Will Gain SEO Juice from the 301 Redirect”

SEO Expert Joe Welusz

Joe Welusz

I would either set it up as custom landing page with similar games or content for them to choose from or send it directly to a similar page you already have set up.

If you are creating a new custom landing page you gain a little SEO juice from the 301 redirect. I would rather send that juice to a current page that may need the boost a little more as long it is something that the visitors will want. If it causes a bunch of bounces it could hurt that page though.

So they both have benefits and draw backs. You need to take a look a it more from a individual standpoint like you said.

Joe is currently the managing partner of the digital marketing agency Accularis.

The End Result?

Our SEO team ended up considering these helpful responses along with our numerous internal discussions to formulate a recommended strategy for handling the problem. The official recommendation was to retire pages through a 301 redirect to the respective main category landing page. However, that being said, we did our best trying to incorporate the client’s ideas and perspective so we proceeded to explain how a “graveyard page” could work in this situation. Since there were many other content pages that were similar throughout the site, a landing page with options to these similar choices could help to retire the pages while maintaining some of the link juice and more importantly, maintaining a positive user experience.

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