Why It’s Not Recommended And What You Can Do

I no longer want this page…

It can be tempting from a site owner’s perspective to remove a page that no longer serves a purpose, and the way in which we determine what pages to delete is quite common. It is understandable that pages can be deleted for the following reasons; content becoming obsolete or out of date, products which are no longer available on an ecommerce site, and pages which no longer drive the traffic they used to.

To non-SEO savvy people, all of these may seem valid – and indeed they are – however we must ask ourselves when considering pages for removal, do we know how this will affect your site rankings? The answer is, you won’t actually know until it happens, and the chances are it will always have a negative effect on your SEO efforts.

Before you look to delete a page from your site forever, determine ways in which you can save the page. A page with good, relevant content and a fair link profile is definitely not something you want to be deleting from your website, as this page is likely to be ranking really well for the terms relating to the theme of the content. Whether or not optimisation is present, it is recommended that a page that ranks well (or at all) should not be deleted under any circumstances. Doing so will cause that page to drop position in the SERPs, or in the worst case scenario drop off completely. Any efforts for that page previously implemented will be lost and therefore SEO ranking will see a negative effect.

The only circumstances that should be considered for page removal is if it has been uploaded by mistake or it contains errors, which are not fixable from within the CMS. Otherwise, there are a wide number of factors that will need to be considered before deleting a page for good.

Can the page be updated with new content? Will that product come back into stock in the near future? How can you improve the page to provide the user with a better experience? Does this page pass on any link juice to other pages on the site, or does this page receive link juice from external sources? If relevant link equity is passed between pages, you should definitely reconsider deleting this page.

It will be beneficial to always ask these questions when it comes to deleting a web page.

All the same, I don’t want that page to appear on my site…

If you have come to a decision and conclude that the page you want to remove is completely useless, there are ways in which you can compensate for the lost page, and more importantly direct a user to a page that keeps them on your site.

Here are some basic measures you can take to address this issue.

404 errors

404 error pages are important to implement when a page you no longer want is deleted, not only does it look good on your site, but it also helps the user continue to navigate your site even if the page they were looking for no longer exists. This action is necessary to apply to pages you do not intend to improve and just simply want to remove from the site completely. If you can still get them to a page that is relevant to that searcher, you’re on the right track. Even though these are essentially error pages, they will show up as such in any external crawl you set to perform, but this is normal and will not disrupt the rest of your site’s normal crawl activity.

301 redirects

Another possible action would be to apply a 301 redirect to the page you intend to remove. This is a permanent measure and recommended highly for SEO practice as it allows link juice to be passed on. A 301 redirect will allow the URL to send the user to a different page whilst keeping them on your site. However, it is important you set up these redirects with relevant pages in mind; if certain products can translate to others on a different page, by all means direct the page there.

Generally, if there is a page that holds key information and would make sense to naturally lead the user to a page they were looking for, this is good practice and generally works better than a 404 error. Not only is it good for the searcher, but also informs the browsers and the search engine crawlers that the page has been permanently moved to a new URL and its content is improved. Unfortunately, this process can take some time, as the robots have to recognise the new 301 and validate it for ranking equity to be passed through. However in the long run, it serves a good purpose.

According to Moz, “A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect which passes between 90-99% of link juice (ranking power) to the redirected page.”

Unless the site owner deliberately does not want to pass on link equity from the old page, the 301 method is beneficial to adopt to preserve any SEO efforts made. These redirects are largely used when websites are being moved over to new domains, when canonical issues are present (when duplicate versions of a page or set of pages exist under different URLs), and also when a site owner wishes to combine two websites.

As mentioned above a 301 redirect is permanent and should not be applied to a product page where items are only temporarily out of stock.

I want to keep this page but improve performance…

If you have determined that your page holds a good reason to still exist within your site and you wish the page to still be shown, great work. Chances are, this page will hold some SEO value no matter how small. In which case, there are many ways in which to improve its performance and make it a page that is relevant and helpful relating to search terms, starting with generating content that follows this ethos. You can also look at applying optimised meta data, implementing page titles, header tags, meta descriptions. All of these will require keywords which correspond with the themes of your pages and of the site overall. These will all help to boost SEO performance for your optimised pages, and as a bonus will also enhance your result in the SERPs to look more user-friendly.

So just to clarify, why shouldn’t I delete pages as a rule?

All of your web pages will have a chance to rank and may already be driving some relevant traffic that you are unaware of unless you dig into Analytics. Deletion of such pages could have a detrimental effect and once they are gone this traffic may be difficult to re-obtain. It will not be much fun to see a page drop out from the SERPs, even worse a page you have consciously optimised. As with most pages, they can be improved and, in turn, SEO performance can be improved in time. Keeping this in mind, any pages you consider deleting should be given due consideration before removing. It would be much more beneficial to look for ways to keep these pages current; if a product goes out of stock, perhaps provide similar alternatives on the page so the user isn’t immediately discouraged. Similarly, if content is out of date, simply update it or, as a last resort, redirect the page to one that is most relevant.

There are many more ways in which you can hold fire with deleting pages, importantly without affecting your SEO performance.

You can continue reading about deleting a webpage, 404 error pages and 301 redirects at the following sources:

  • http://www.evisionsem.com/blog/
  • http://moz.com/community/q/how-to-best-remove-old-pages-for-seo
  • http://www.searchdiscovery.com/blog/when-to-redirect-web-pages-for-seo/
  • http://www.seroundtable.com/404-301-web-page-16773.html
  • http://www.seroundtable.com/farmer-headers-13111.html
  • http://moz.com/learn/seo/redirection
  • http://wiredimpact.com/blog/301-redirects-what-are-they/

If you have questions or comments, please feel free to leave us a comment below.