This content has expired and gone to meet its maker – maybe?

by JP Rowe

The Backstory

A travel company creates a page on their website advertising a ‘once only’ tour. The page gets indexed by Google, found by the company’s clients and ‘the rest’, as they say, ‘is history’.

The Dilemma

After the tour has run, should the company:

  1. Remove the tour from the website completely thus creating a 404 response?
  2. Leave the tour up on the site with a message “this tour has finished” and/or “please look at these similar trips”?
  3. Direct to another page in the website such as the home page or a list of other tours?
  4. Something else?

There are pros and cons to each of these – but one thing is for sure – deleting the page and creating a 404 response is the very worst thing to do. It is thought that Google actively demotes sites which contain over a certain percentage unresolvable URLs.

No. 2 (Leave the tour up on the site) may be an option however, if the company has lots of pages with expired content, it might become overrun with old pages outnumbering the current ones thus frustrating the customer.

No. 3 (direct to another page) could also frustrate for the customer because the page they are redirected to may not exactly match the listing on Google thus increasing the sites bounce rate. (The bounce rate is a measure of visits to a site during which the customer doesn’t interact with landing page at all).

Expired Content

There is much discussion on the web as to the best way to handle expired content. And, with a small site, whichever strategy you choose to adopt it is a fairly manageable task. However, with a site with hundreds of pages of tours it can become a nightmare keeping track of redirected legacy pages and expired content.

301 Redirect

If the page containing the expired content is never going to be resurrected, then a permanent, hard redirect 301 is the best way to keep Google happy and retain the site’s search engine ranking. A redirect simply redirects www.xyz.com/apage to www.xyz.com/another-page. Easy.

302 Redirect

Let’s suppose that the expired content is a tour page which will, one day, be resurrected with new dates and prices for a repeat of the same tour next year. Perhaps the page should be treated with a little more respect to preserve its Google goodness built up over many months. Enter, stage right, the 302 redirect. A 302 informs Google that the move is temporary and they should retain the vital statistics because the page will return someday soon. Whether Google actually respects this request is unknown – but at least a 302 has the right sentiment.

Conclusion

Use 301s and 302s liberally across your site as you see fit. Although a few 404s won’t drastically affect your ranking it is better to get all your redirects in a row. There is no limit to the number of redirects you can apply a website but take care not to retire a page which is the destination of a previous forgotten redirect.

“Tis better to be found and redirected, than never to be found at all.”

Quote: Oscar Wildebeest

Photo: Norwegian Blue (ex)Parrot © Dominik Lange