How to Remove a Webpage
What do you do?
In this article, I will cover why you might remove webpages, and how to go about doing it to minimize the impact to SEO. Feel free to jump ahead:
Why Remove Webpages?
Outdated content is one of the most common reasons for wanting to remove a webpage. That’s logical when a page isn’t worth the effort to update or rewrite.
Sometimes, you may want to remove a webpage because it’s no longer relevant. Other times, you might need to remove an entire section of your website, for example, if you no longer provide the service the pages are talking about.
SEO Impact of Removing Webpages on Your Site
When you publish a webpage, it can build SEO value over time.
If it gets links, has other ranking signals, and then ranks and brings in traffic, taking that page down can stop rankings and traffic.
If a person follows the link to your webpage from another site and the page no longer exists, they’ll get a “404 not found” message.
This can impact the user experience. The person will likely click away from your site (more lost traffic) unless you handle the 404 well. More on that later.
How Do You Remove a Webpage?
When you want to get rid of an old webpage from your site, you have four options:
- Update the content.
- Use a 301 redirect.
- Unpublish the webpage (and send any visitor to your custom 404 error page).
- Use a 410 status code.
Option 1: Update the Content
OK, so updating the content is not removing it. But updating content is often the best solution to outdated content.
In fact, refreshing old content is an SEO best practice, and keeping web content up to date can improve relevancy and rankings. (No doubt you’ve heard me emphasize content maintenance in a healthy SEO program.)
So before you remove a webpage, first figure out if you can refresh the content on that URL to make the information current.
You’ll want to make sure that the content is still “on topic” to what it is today. So, in other words, don’t change the page to a new topic, but rewrite the content as needed.
Example: If a website republishes a new research report every year, the page keeps the same focus but with new data. The website should simply update the content at that same URL with this year’s report and highlights.
Other times, certain topics can be refreshed to make them more evergreen. This might look like updating the statistics, current trends and the angle to bring it up to speed.
Remember, Google rewards webpages that keep their content up to date.
Option 2: Do a 301 Redirect
Before you kill a page, find out if there is a next-best webpage on your site to redirect that page to. If so, you can do a 301 redirect.
A 301 redirect sends the user from Page A (the page you want to drop) to Page B (the new location).
A 301 redirect also makes the search engine index the new page (Page B) and drop the old page (Page A) from the index. Plus, it transfers the inbound link authority of Page A to Page B in the process.
All in all, it’s a win-win for SEO.
One caveat: Make sure that the page you are redirecting to is topically relevant to the original webpage. Otherwise, it may be confusing to users and search engines as to why they are being brought to a webpage that is not relevant to what they were expecting.
If you cannot redirect to a relevant webpage, in some cases, you might redirect to a relevant category page on the website.
A last resort is to redirect to the homepage, but this is done on a case-by-case basis.
For more, read:
Option 3: Unpublish the Webpage (and Create a Custom 404 Page)
When you’ve exhausted other options like updating the webpage’s content or 301 redirecting the page, sometimes all that is left is to delete the page.
In these cases, your server should return a 404 “not found” error message to anyone who follows a link to that page from somewhere else.
It’s a bummer for user experience, but it does present a unique opportunity to help users explore new content. And that is by creating a custom 404 page.
A custom 404 page is a webpage that is served when a user gets a 404 error. This webpage should have helpful info on what the user can do next. For example, you can give links to other resources on your website instead.
This could help capture some of the traffic you would have otherwise lost if you didn’t have an engaging 404 page.
In terms of SEO, pages that are deleted and serve a 404 will usually be removed from the Google index when the site is crawled again. Usually, that’s just what you want after you remove a webpage. But keep in mind that you’re not going to rank for those keywords anymore unless you have another, better page on the same topic.
That said, I recommend running a report to identify 404s regularly, and then seeing if any of them can be a 301 redirect instead. Google Search Console is a good place to start.
But in any case, a custom 404 page will work nicely to redirect users to a new resource.
For more, read:
Option 4: Use a 410 Status Code
A 410 status code tells the search engines that the page is permanently gone.
Google treats 404s and 410s similarly. And Google has clarified this on more than one occasion (see this Search Engine Journal article and this Search Engine Land article for more details on Google’s stance).
Most sites default to using 404 errors for not-found pages. One exception is the Salesforce Commerce Cloud e-commerce platform, and there may be others. So if you use 410 status codes on your site, remember that you also need a custom 410 error page for users, which can be just like your custom 404 page.
Removing webpages is sometimes a necessary thing. Whether it’s just regular website maintenance or the need to get rid of no-longer-valid content, rest assured there are ways to handle this to minimize the SEO and user experience impact.
If you’d like help identifying weak areas in your website content, our expert SEO and content teams can help. Contact us to get a free quote and services consultation.