Spring cleaning is definitely not on my favorite things-to-do list. I will put it off as long as I can as I am a keeper. My husband, on the other hand, is a thrower. His spring-cleaning philosophy is that if he hasn’t worn something in a year, out it goes.
Using a similar concept with old web pages that are outdated or no longer offer value, evaluating them, and deciding how to remove them from your website and the search engines should be carefully thought through.
What are the SEO best practices for eliminating old web pages?
What Google Says About Low-Quality Content
In the article, Low-Quality Content: What it is and How to Fix it, we covered the reasons why it is important to remove low-quality content from our websites. Specifically, Google’s goal with the Panda algorithm rollout was to “help people find “high-quality” sites by reducing the rankings of low-quality content.” When Google makes it clear what the search engine giant is looking for, we need to stop, listen, and take action.
301 Redirect, 404 or 410?
What is the best way of dealing with low-quality pages or those that no longer offer value? Let’s take a closer look at the definitions of the 301 redirect, 404, and 410 status codes and what they do.
- 301 Redirect: A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect from one page (URL) to another page (URL). It tells search engines that the page has a new permanent address similar to filling out a form for the post office when you move from one address to another.
- 404 Status Code – Not Found: To remove a web page that no longer offers value would result in an HTTP 404 – File not found. The 404 status tells the visitor that the page no longer exists with a “not found” message. According to W3.org, the 404 not found gives “No indication is given of whether the condition is temporary or permanent.”
- 410 Status Code – Gone: The 410 status indicates that the requested page is “no longer available and there is no forwarding address. According to Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting, in a great discussion on MaAnna Stephenson’s post, 410 or 301 redirect for pages that no longer exist,
“410 is the best way for content that you want to truly disassociate yourself from. Far better than a 404 too, as it’s a more conclusive way of saying the page is gone and not coming back.”
When you go through your closet during spring cleaning, you probably make three decisions: to keep, to throw away, or to donate. In the same manner, when evaluating your website’s content for “spring cleaning,” you would need to make three decisions:
- To keep the web page.
- To redirect it to another web page with updated information.
- Or to permanently delete it.
SEO Best Practices
In this article, we are concentrating on 301 permanent redirects. If you decide to implement a 301 on a page for both SEO best practices and users, it is important to create a 301 redirect correctly on the old web page to a new, more useful page.
Matt Cutts, former Google Distinguished Engineer and head of Google’s Webspam team, states in Google’s Webmaster Tools on 301 redirects:
If you need to change the URL of a page as it is shown in search engine results, we recommended that you use a server-side 301 redirect. This is the best way to ensure that users and search engines are directed to the correct page. The 301 status code means that a page has permanently moved to a new location.
301 Redirect Examples
The proper 301 redirect that needs to be created depends on the type of web server your website is hosted on. The following are examples of how to properly implement the redirects in certain situations.
Apache Web Server – The .htaccess 301 Redirect
Apache web servers let you use the .htacess file to redirect the old URL to the new one. For a single page redirect, include the following in the .htaccess file:
Redirect 301 /oldurl /newurl
PHP 301 Redirect – Single Page Redirect
If you need to direct a single PHP page to a different PHP page, place the following at the top of the source code of the page you are redirecting.
<?php header(‘HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently’); header(‘Location: http://www.new-url.com/newpage.php‘); ?>
ASP 301 Redirect
For a single ASP (Active Server Page), include the following at the top of the old page that you are redirecting:
<% Response.Status="301 Moved Permanently" Response.AddHeader='Location','http://www.new-url.com/' %>
ColdFusion 301 Redirect
<cfheader statuscode="301" statustext="Moved permanently"> <cfheader name="Location" value="http://www.new-url.com/">
How to Verify that the 301 Redirect is Working
It is critical that you check to be sure that the 301 Redirect is working properly. To do this, use an HTTP Header Checker Tool like the one provided by SEOBook’s HTTP Status Code Checker at http://tools.seobook.com/server-header-checker/. When you type in the old URL into the tool, it should show you that it has been properly 301 redirected with: HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently.
SEO Benefits of 301 Redirect
Not only does a 301 redirect help the user experience, but it will also help your SEO efforts with Google PageRank, Google’s system for ranking web pages. Matt Cutts explained in the video, What percentage of PageRank is lost through a 301 redirect?, that a 301 redirect is exactly like having a link. Matt stated:
“The amount of PageRank that dissipates through a 301 is currently identical to the amount of PageRank that dissipates through a link.”
Seattle, Washington based MOZ, explains that it is not only common practice to redirect one URL to another, but it is critical to use best practices to maintain SEO value. In their article on Redirection SEO Best Practices, they state:
“A 301 Redirect is a permanent redirect which passes between 90-99% of link juice (ranking power) to the redirected page.”
While spring is a great time to clean out your closet, it is also a great time to evaluate old, outdated web pages. By correctly implementing 301 redirects that direct old pages to new ones, you will be following best SEO practices as well as offering your viewers the best overall experience when visiting your website.
How about it? Are you ready for some spring cleaning? Have you used 301 redirects on some of the pages on your website? I would love to hear your thoughts.