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Removing Pages - 403 vs 404

3:10 pm on Dec 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Recently a number of pages that we didn't want crawled were removed. Specifically they were 403'ed (pages were inactivated in drupal which auto-results in a 403 and I confirmed this with a header test).

Now I know normally, when you want to ax pages...you should 404...but I want to keep these pages as an internal reference, so that's why I just de-activitated them which resulted in 403's instead of 404's.

My question is this a bad thing for SEO?

I recently received a warning in WMT that:

"Google detected a significant increase in the number of URLs we were blocked from crawling due to authorization permission errors."

And these are all the pages I just 403'ed. Is this a cause for concern? Do I HAVE to switch these to 404's to avoid trouble?
12:52 am on Dec 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member lucy24 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time Top Contributors Of The Month

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A WMT warning doesn't necessarily mean you did something wrong. It can be interpreted as "Did you do this on purpose?"

Do the pages currently exist? (Formally: Do the URLs correspond to physical pages that are accessible in some way other than redirection?)

If they no longer exist, did they formerly exist? If so, that's 410 rather than 404.

If they still exist, are they accessible to some people under some circumstances? If so, that may be 401 rather than 403.

What does "internal reference" mean?
1:02 am on Dec 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member themadscientist is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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I wouldn't worry about it, as long as they're no longer linked or causing an 'annoyance' to visitors, which it doesn't sound as if they are.

If WMT wording was a bit better I think things would be easier for webmasters to understand, like if they simply switched 'warnings' to 'notices' it would likely be interpreted in a totally different way than it currently is.

'Warning' seems to say 'there's something wrong' or 'cause for concern' inherently, but a 'notice' is much more likely to be interpreted as: 'Hey, we saw this, did you mean to do it, or do you need to correct it so we can get to the URLs and rank them again?'

Obviously, in your case, the answer is the second portion of what I think a notice would be interpreted as, and forbidding Google from accessing a URL you would like to keep for internal use should not cause a problem for SEO, as long as that URL is not linked and/or causing an annoyance for regular visitors.