How to Remove Content from Your Web Site Using 301 Redirects

Hostway Marketing - January 20, 2010

By Melissa J Luther

Nothing in life stays the same, and that includes your Web site. This is a good thing, because a Web site should be dynamic, growing and changing with your business. Unfortunately, while the search engines love fresh new content, they are less enamored of changes to existing content.

You have worked hard to gain authority with the search engines and achieve a good rank for your Web site, so don’t let necessary changes torpedo those efforts. 301 redirects tell the search engines that the content on the page in their index has moved to a new page. They then understand that all links on the Internet that point to the old page now belong to the new one.

This is simple enough to understand if you are simply moving around content or creating search friendly URLs, but what about completely removing content. If your Web site has content you no longer want or need, or pages that are similar enough that you don’t want to keep both, then what do you do?
If you are removing content from your Web site, you have two choices.

  • Use a 301 redirect to send your visitors to a page with content similar to the original page. For example, if you had a page explaining how to use widgets but have removed it in favor of a page explaining how widgets work with do-dads, this might still answer your visitor’s needs and you can redirect the widgets page to the widgets and do-dads page.
  • Redirect to a page explaining that the old page no longer exists. Create your own “page not found” file and 301-redirect to it. Offer a short explanation of your new site design and provide links to some of your other popular pages as well as to a search page, if you have one. Never allow visitors to get the default 404 file not found error. Default 404 error pages displease search engines and irritate visitors.

Do not redirect missing pages to the home page, either. This just confuses and annoys visitors.
There are multiple ways to create a 301 redirect, and the appropriate method for your Web site will depend on the server you are using and the modules installed, as well as how much access you have to the various files and folders. Steven Hargrove has an excellent discussion of How to redirect a web page, the smart way, where he offers the code for creating 301 redirects in various scripting languages (PHP, ASP, Java, etc).

Keep search engines and visitors happy by always using 301 redirects to help them find the content they are looking for, no matter what you did with it.

About the Author

Melissa J Luther, owner and founder of LookSee Information Solutions, LLC helps small businesses create and maintain a strong online presence. She takes a multi-channel approach, with a well-optimized Web site as the center of an online presence that includes content creation, PPC advertising, linking and social media as appropriate.