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301 or 404 - which is best for removing pages without hurting site?

1:25 pm on Feb 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I have a site which is several years old. There are three main sections. I am going to re-vamp the site and keep what I think is the best section. I am going to remove several pages which Google and other search engines have indexed.

Without going into too much detail on why I am doing this, I would like some feedback on what is the best approach to do this without hurting the rank of the "kept" pages.

301 - If I create redirects from reoved pages I fear that somehow Google will see somekind of "duplicate" content. The reasoning is if Google sees multiple links to the same page it will trigger some-kind of duplicate content penalty.

404 - I really do not like the fact that links into my site will return a 404, but this seems like a safer option. I fear if Google sees several pages that did return a page now returning a 404 that this also will hurt me.

Any suggestions or comments?

9:17 pm on Feb 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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A 301 says, in essence, "this content is now permanently moved to a new address."

So my preference is to let the url be 404 if there no longer is similar content -- and to use a 301 redirect if there is a url that has useful content for the end user who is looking for what was removed. Why try to hold on to search term results when you no longer have relevant content for them, you know?

I also think there's a potential for trouble here, over time, by pointing many 301s from very different pages to one url. You really can start to send out a very fuzzy relevance signal and lose ranking for those search terms where you do have relevant content.

10:23 pm on Feb 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Only based on my own experiece doing it both ways - the 301 will hurt you in the long run (I assume due to the 301 filtering that has been added in the last year and a half to the algo) wheras the 404 will keep that filter away.
11:52 pm on Feb 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

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> Only based on my own experiece doing it both ways - the 301 will hurt you in the long run

I'm curious, how do you think a 301...a permanent redirect...will hurt you in the long run?

I've been using 301's...albeit judiciously...for several years without any sort of a problem.

Initially you may see a slight ranking change (and not always for the worse, oddly), but over time the pages tend to more or less get back to where they were before I put the 301 in.