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Moving or Removing Content

Moving or Removing Pages

Contents:

Moving or Removing Pages

Moving a page typically means that the URL from which the content is accessed has been changed, even it is located in the same directory, but the file name has changed, this constitutes ‘moving a page’. This could be part of a website migration, renaming a directory or just moving a single page to a new location.

Removing a page, often referred to as a ‘page retirement strategy’ refers to how we deal with pages being deliberately taken down from a website.

In either of the above cases, it is pivotal that it is handled properly in order to protect your SEO investment, PageRank, rankings and overall organic visibility. Below we have listed a number of other articles relevant to this topic that may be of interest:

Changing URL’s (Moving Pages)

There are many reasons that a URL may change, if this is a systematic and site wide change then a more structured approach will need to be taken, mapping old URLs to new URLs in a spreadsheet. We cover website migrations in another article, so for the purposes of this we just look at the components required to move a page with minimal negative impact.

Below we list the different checks and components you should consider when moving a page:

Redirection

There are really only two options for redirecting a page under these conditions, for example; if the move is a permanent one, you will need to use a 301 redirect, if the move is temporary, use a 302 redirect.

The redirect, literally redirects a user or crawler from Page-a to Page-b, this preserves between 85% and 90% of the PageRank (passing it onto the new URL). This is very important if Page-a is ranking well for target keywords or has high PageRank.

From a user perspective, this will prevent users who have saved the URL of the page (as a bookmark or something similar) from hitting an error 404 page. It also takes some time to remove pages from the SERPs, consequently immediately after the move, you will find that the old page is still being accessed until the new one is indexed.

Update Sitemaps

There should be two sitemaps at a minimum on a site (HTML & XML) both of which need to be updated to reflect the new URL and remove the old URL.

The XML sitemap needs to be resubmitted to Google, through Google Webmaster Tools, this will expedite the indexing of the new URL and the removal of the old one.

Internal Links

Any links within your site pointing to the old URL should be updated to point to the new URL, following the guidelines and best practices for internal linking.

Back Links

If the move is a permanent one, and If the old page has back links it is important to make an attempt to get these updated to point to the new URL. This may not always be possible, but if you own the external property or have access to it (YouTube link, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Business Profile, Partner links, etc) they should be updated.

Any other back links should be identified and updated by contacting the site admin / owner and asking them to change it. If all back links have been updated, it becomes less impactful to remove the redirect after a period of time.

Check Canonical Tags

Canonical tags exist on a page within the <head>...</head> section of the source code and if a page is being moved, this will need to be updated to reflect the new canonical location / URL of the page. Failing to update this will cause problems with getting the page indexed. This is often overlooked when moving pages.

Ensure Error Handling is Setup

More of a general piece of advice; and more relevant on large-scale URL changes this is always a good idea. Ensuring that error handing is setup provides a line of defence if the best practices detailed here are not followed or missed for a page. This is not a preventative measure but will help mitigate some of the damage caused by having broken links and missing pages.

Page Retirement Strategy (Removing Pages)

Removing / retiring a page is a commonplace occurrence on most sites and should be handled properly. You should always consider the impact and benefit of removing a page permanently from a website, it may be better to update the content to reflect an ‘out of stock’ product for example rather than retire the page.

We set out below each component that should be considered when retiring a page.

Redirections

If a page is being permanently removed, add a 301 redirect to redirect to the next most relevant page. This could be a category page is a product is retired or a similar product. If no other relevant page exists, redirect to the home page or the next page up in the site hierarchy.

This helps to pass on some PageRank and preserve rankings if any exist, but also provides a better UX to anyone landing on the old URL.

Internal Links

Remove all links to the page being removed, any link left in place will lead to an error 404 page, if error handling is setup properly. This applies to back links, remove any reference to the retired page where possible from external sites that you have control over or access to.

Update Sitemaps

Remove references to the retired page from both the XML and HTML sitemaps; you can also submit the XML sitemap to Google to expedite removing the page from the SERPS.

Ensure Error Handling is Setup

More of a general piece of advice; and more relevant on large-scale URL changes this is always a good idea. Ensuring that error handing is setup provides a line of defence if the best practices detailed here are not followed or missed for a page.

This is not a preventative measure but will help mitigate some of the damage caused by having broken links and missing pages.

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