Websites change and evolve over time, products change or are discontinued, and services may no longer be available. In these instances it is often the case that a page URL will no longer be available whether thats because its taken off of the website completely or the URL is slightly different.
A resource that’s no longer available, such as a broken link, can cause usability, and in some cases SEO issues depending on how you handle them. In this article, I’ll be discussing some of ways that you can handle expired content or old pages, and the reasoning behind it. There are a lot of opinions on this, and if yours differs please feel free to add it into the comments section at the bottom.
Why is this important?
When a page is no longer available it can cause issues for a website in a few ways, such as making it more difficult (and frustrating) for users to find what they are looking for, and diverting or losing page equity (and therefore potential SEO value).
Usability Issues – If a user is on your site and during their time browsing they reach error pages it can decrease user satisfaction, cause the user to leave the site, or make the user less inclined to convert (whether it be a purchase or signup, for example). Over time if the number of missing pages increases, it could cause the site to appear poorly maintained and thus impact the site or businesses overall credibility online.
SEO Issues – One way sites can gain authority and rankings is through relevant (and unfortunately sometimes, not relevant) inbound links from external websites. If a third party website links to a product, service, information or category page that is no longer available all, the authority going to that page is (if you have one set up) redirected to the site’s error page. Over time this means that a site’s newer or alternative pages would be missing out on any inbound link authority from the old page. There are a few different ways to handle this and reasons for it that I’ll explain below.
General Expired Pages – (non-ecommerce) When a product, service or information page is no longer available, or if the URL has changed, this creates a broken link which can potentially cause the issues above. In general it is best to 301 redirect the original page to its new, most relevant alternative in order to maintain user continuity and SEO value where possible. When you redirect the page it is important to update any internal links that point to the original page (including blogs). This will ensure that search engine crawlers aren’t wasting valuable crawl budget passing through redirects, and a requested page isn’t slowed as it loads for the user too.
When would you not add a 301 redirect?
- If after all the internal links are updated on the site to point to the new version (or are removed entirely), and the old page has no backlinks pointing to it at all. This would mean that the page would naturally fall out of the search index, and not be an issue for users unless they’d saved it as a bookmark. It would save on site load time at the server by reducing the number of redirects.
- If it is only a temporary removal of the resource. In this case you’d simply remove it from the navigation on the site and update the page to make users aware that it is temporarily unavailable, with alternatives offered.
- If the page generates a lot of traffic that could be lost, or cause a user to immediately leave the page if it were redirected and not repurposed. In this case you’d not actually be removing the page at all, but you should add a clear message for the user with relevant alternative pages for them to pick when they land on it. If you only keep the page live for the user, then you could add a Canonical redirect in the <head> of that page which would tell search engines to give the linked page authority over the current page, and from an SEO perspective this would add value.
Ecommerce Expired Products
There are a couple questions to ask yourself before handling expired content in an ecommerce environment:
- Is the product is coming back?
- Has the product been updated or changed to a new version?
After you’ve asked yourself those questions, you are then presented with a few different ways to handle the page, each of which would have its own advantages depending on the size of the site and the popularity of the page itself:
1. Is the product coming back?
No – If it is not coming back at all you have the following options:
- 301 redirect the page to its most relevant live alternative product (if there is link authority to repurpose)
- 301 redirect the page to its category (if there is link authority to repurpose)
- Don’t add a physical redirect for the user but add an ‘Out Of Stock’ label with alternative relevant choices, then add a canonical redirect on the page to the relevant alternative for a search engine to follow and index/rank accordingly.
Yes – If it is coming back at some time in the future you shouldn’t have any reason to add a redirect at all and the ‘Out Of Stock’ option is ideal. An alternative option, if it is coming back in the future but not for a long time (e.g. a year), then you may want to add the canonical redirect onto the page before removing it from view, adding new internal links and building new inbound links when it is due to be back on sale. This then offers some additional authority to the page being canonically redirected to, during the time the product is off sale.
2. Has the product updated or changed to a new version? Sometimes products become out of date or are made obsolete because of a newer version, and this usually means that the original version of the product is no longer available to buy. Usually the upgraded product keeps the main name and the only real difference would be the iteration number or new model sub-name. For example the iPhone 4, iPhone 5 and so on for all time. When this happens it means that the original will no longer be available and a 301 redirect should be put in place to point to its new version, remembering to update the internal linking to the new product.
When would you not add a 301 redirect?
- If the site has a high turnover of products that are regularly replaced by new versions. Adding a redirect for every new version of the product would, over time cause slow load times on the site. This would be because there would be a large number of redirects to be checked off every time a page loads. In an ideal world you would mitigate against this at the initial stages of the site going live by keeping the page URLs as relevant as possible, whilst reducing the chances of needing to change it when a new product becomes available. A good example would be ‘www.mystore.com/new-phones/iphone’, as this page could then be updated with each new version and continue to build authority to the page as time goes on.
- Also if the page generates a lot of traffic it could be repurposed to provide additional quality to the users’ experience. In the iPhone example the old page could provide information on recycling the phone, or FAQ’s on making the battery last 1/2 a day around the time the new version comes out(!). Of course you’d still have to add an out of stock message, but the page would still hold value for the user and any relevant quality content that is added to the page would potentially add credibility to the site which could increase conversions.
Some things to consider before tackling expired content or old pages:
- Whilst a redirect can add value to the user and pass on some of the original pages authority, adding too many redirects to a site can slow sites down.
- Keep track of redirected pages, as you could harm the sites crawl rate and usability if you create redirect loops or create a chain of redirects.
- There is no hard and fast, black and white perfect solution to handling expired content. It can be as simple as a 1:1 redirect or you may have to consider the future of the site over all when large or regular changes are made as it can cause issues down the line.
- Remember that you can repurpose a page rather than disregard it completely.
- If you want to keep the page, up for the user but want to pass on any authority to the new or alternative page consider using a canonical redirect instead.
- In cases where the old page provided good value to the site owner, do your research to ensure you won’t lose too much value by redirecting, repurposing or removing entirely without any other action.
I hope this article has been useful and if you have any questions or alternative options to the ones I’ve covered, please feel free to add them into the comments section below. Now go and have a coffee, you’ve read a lot!
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