If a web page has been live for a time it has probably been indexed by search engines and may be returned in search engine results. When you move or delete a page that is indexed it can take weeks or months for the search engines to remove it from their indexes.
People may be trying to click through to the page from search engine results for months. They’ll get a “Sorry this page cannot be reached” error, which is not ideal, as many people stop at this point and return to the search results to click on another result.
In other words you could be losing visitors to your site! (Actually most will reach the site, but many “bounce” off the site – that is, they immediately leave when they get the “Page not Found” message.
There may also be links to the web page on other sites that were sending traffic to the page . Some of those links may have been helping the page to reach higher search positions.
Here are steps to consider when you move or delete a web page to minimize the negative impact on search results –
Setup a 301 redirect to best live page, but only if that page closely matches the topic of the old page or people will get confused.
A 301 redirect automatically forwards (redirects) the browser to another page. It also informs the search engines that it’s a permanent redirect and they will usually give credit for any incoming links to the other page. See this description & video about 301 redirects at Google.
To setup 301 redirects on Apache servers, see “How To Apply Page Level 301 Redirects In Apache Web Servers”
Keep the page up for a time with a note that the page has been moved, the item discontinued, etc and suggest a new page(s) with a link to it or suggest some other course of action such as other items they might consider etc.
How long? Periodically check to see if direct traffic to the page has dwindled (see below for directions using Google Analytics). Traffic should dwindle in time since you won’t have links to the page from the live pages on the web site anymore. You should also check to make sure there are no links to the page from other web sites (see below for more on this).
Rely on an effective custom page not found error page (404 error page). You should have this in place in any case. Learn much more about effective custom page not found error page in this Video/Text article.
Search for links to the page on other web sites and request that the link be updated. It’s best not to rely on 301 redirects for the long term so look for links to the page on other web sites and ask them to update the link. This also gives you an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with that site if appropriate and look for other opportunities with them.
Here’s a few ways you can find the links to a page from other web sites –
Use Google’s Webmaster Tools to discover many of the links to at page. Learn how to “Discover your links” with Webmaster Tools
Search on the page URL and you’ll find many of the links to a page.
Use Yahoo Site Explorer http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/ Enter the URL to the page and click Explore URL. Then click on Inlinks to find a list of links to the page. Tip: Add “-domain:XXXX.com” to the search to remove internal links to the page.
Search your web site for all links to the page and remove those links or search engines (and possibly site visitors) will continue to follow those links.
You can also use Google’s Webmaster Tools to discover many of the internal links to at page. You can learn about this in “Discover your links” with Webmaster Tools
Not sure if you should go to the trouble for a particular page? Use you site analytics to see how many people are “landing” directly on this page from search engines and other referral sites,
For example, in Google Analytics choose Content / Top Landing Pages. You’ll see a listing of most of the Landing pages on your site with the number of “Entrances” for each page for the period. This is the number of people coming directly to the page from search engines, other referal sites, etc (Note: You can scroll to the bottom of the listing to the Filter Page field, choose “Containing” in the drop down, then type in some unique part of the URL address in and click Go.
Then decide if it’s worth loosing many of the people landing on this page for weeks or months.
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