|Consolidating Sites Using 301 Redirects|
Best approach: domain level or page level?
I have inherited (in an acquisition) three sites that amount to one tangled mess of duplicate content. I want to consolidate the three sites into one using 301 redirects so as to transfer existing page rank.
First, a little background...
The problem with the 3 sites is that they sell the same set of 500 or so products. The duplicate content is on the individual product pages; the other pages on the sites are fairly unique.
All 3 sites are PR3 and are 5+ years old. They all have roughly equivalent number of pages indexed and backlinks. One of the sites (site A) has better conversion, so I will redirect the other two sites (sites B & C) into this one.
Which do you think would be the better approach for SEO...
1. 301 redirect the individual product pages on sites B & C into the product pages on site A. Display some sort of prominent message about the transition so the user understands why he is being transferred.
2. 301 redirect every page of B & C into domain A.
The advantage to #1 is that it leaves the original content in place, and keeps sources of inbound links to site A. The advantage to #2 is that it transfers the max amount of page rank to site A.
If you make a 301 redirect, say from B to A, then the user will never see the page on domain B. S/He will be instantly transferred to domain A.
So, WRT. "it leaves the original content in place" this will not matter at all.
As for what to do, a page-by-page redirect strategy is always better than redirecting a specific page to the root of another domain.
So: Always redirect an "old" page to the same page on the new domain.
Thanks, Claus. Just to clarify, by "it leaves the original content in place" I meant it leaves the content that is original in place (but the duplicate content gets redirected). So the home page, for example, which is totally unique for all 3 sites, would stay in place under approach #1. Does this make it any better than #2?
Ah, I see ... I didn't realize that you wanted to do a partial consolidation only. That way You will still have maintenance of three sites, not one.
Personally I would opt for consolidation of all pages on one domain.
If you do option one, you will essentially only transfer part of site B & C to site A.
The remaining parts of site B&C will lose the link juice from the pages you redirect to domain A (as those pages will no longer link back internally in terms of on-site navigation). So, those two sites will become smaller, and less powerful. The counter-weight of this is one site that does not grow in content (as all products were there anyway) - it only gets two extra links per product page (and some second-order "inherited" link juice with those). So, it's a marginal gain in link juice.
However, if you consolidate all pages on one domain, that domain will become significantly stronger, both in terms of content and in terms of link juice.
So, if "total cosolidation" is option 2, I would say that option 2 is best.
Beware, though: Regardless of what you do, it may take a while for the full effect to show in the SERPS as soon as you start doing redirects on a larger scale. SOme rankings/keywords may even tank for a while, until Google decides that the move is "legit". I'm sure you already realize this, but I'm saying it just to be on the safe side.
Wonderful explanation, Claus. Many thanks.
So it sounds like I should 301 everything.
One small tactical question...if a page on site B does not have a "good match" on site A -- in the case where a product on site B is not being sold on site A, for example -- where should I 301 the page? Should I point the 301 to the site A page that is most similar, or should I point it to the site A domain root?
Just saw this now, so it's not that I didn't want to answer, just that there are so many pages on the www it's hard to catch up with them all :)
Personally I would make a 404 page with helpful links that point to the most related products. Perhaps even a line of nice sales copy to go with it.
The page would return a 404 code and not a 301, but there would be real live links to the other products and to the new domain root. It would be extra work, but in terms of converting customers I think it would be worth it.
For Google this would clear the invalid product URL from the index, and at the same time get the new products indexed, and for your visitors it would be helpful, and encourage a sale for a related product.
If you can't do this, I'd suggest making a 301 to the most similar product. However, if "most similar" is only as similar as "rocking chair" and "lamp" (both are for indoor use)... then I would just dump that link to a straight 404 regardless of the link juice loss, because the 301-benefit I would get from Google would not be able to compensate for the loss of sales due to totally confused visitors.
(ie. "if the site gives me a lamp when I ask for a rocking chair, why should I trust it with my money?")
If you're dumping product pages, that's not full consolidation. If you were fully merging the three sites, I'd expect site A to now sell all products also previously sold by B and C too.