From time to time, most websites will go through a redesign, a CMS change, or some other situation that results in URL changes, changes in content location, or the removal of content. When that happens, it’s vital to take the right steps to ensure you don’t lose any of the SEO equity you’ve built up over the years. In this blog post, we’ll discuss options to rectify broken links and the actions you should take to retain link equity on pages that have been moved.
Moving content to a new location
When moving content to a new location (URL), the best way to maintain link equity and provide a good user experience is a 301 redirect. A 301 redirect informs a web browser and the search engine crawlers that although a page is no longer accessible via the URL specified, a related page exists in a new location and is the one that should be returned. This simple fix passes 100% of the link value from a previous page to the new page. It also maintains user experience in a virtually seamless fashion, as users typically will not notice the redirection.
Ideally, you want to 301 redirect old content to the nearest possible content so as to still provide the content that the user was expecting when they clicked on the link.
Removing content temporarily
A 302 redirect is similar to a 301 redirect from the perspective of a user. To a search engine, however, it’s a signal that this is only a temporary redirect and that the original page will return at some point in the future. The search engines will retain the original URL in the search results and won’t forward the link value to the URL redirected to.
Therefore, if you have a page for a seasonal product or event, a 302 redirect would be the way to go. If the product is permanently removed, a 301 redirect should be applied to direct the user to the closest alternative.
Removing content, with no similar content on the site
During website updates, you may have to take down old content or sections for which there are no alternative pages that could provide the kind of information a user would expect. The best response in such a case is to return a 410 error code to inform search engines that the content should be removed from their indexes as soon as possible.
You should also have a custom 404 page in place for any other pages that are removed. Your 404 page shouldn’t be indexed by the search engines (do you really want to see “Page not found” showing up as one of your results?). This custom 404 page should mimic the look and feel of your site, include a message telling the user why they’ve landed on it, have search functionality, and link to important areas of your site.
Before you start your website changes, plan out what’s going to happen to your content. Based on that plan, decide what should get 301 and 302 redirects to preserve page equity and where a 410 or 404 error code makes more sense. Pre-planning will help you stay organized as you implement the changes and preserve as much of your current organic search traffic as possible.
Do you have experience with website changes and redirects? Which approach do you favor and why? Let us know in the comments!