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This is what I'm doing currently.
1. Before implementing the new template design, put a canonical tag in the feature pages to the main product page.
Am I understanding this correctly that the canonical on the feature pages is something you have introduced now, prior to redesign? If so why?
Why give Google one change that will exist short term, just to change it again soon?
i wonder if you could re-direct each feature page to the specific section of the new page
Can you possibly redirect an URL to a specific section of a page? What method is used for this redirect? Can we do that in a .Net site?
So, I don't need a canonical in my case at all, just a redirect will work right? And I should make sure that both the redesign page and the redirect goes live together, correct?
I know that you can link to a specific section of a page. But I don't have enough knowledge to know how to do it with a redirect, or if it even can be done.
The HTTP 1.1 protocol[HTTP] contains a facility whereby servers can inform clients that the resource they requested is not available at the requested address, but at some other. The server sends back a status code such as 301 or 302 and the correct URI of the resource.
Clients then typically issue a new request, to the same or to a different server, with the new URI.URIs may contain a fragment identifier, indicated by a # (hash mark) in the URI[URI]. For example
A client that is retrieving this fragment will ask a server for the resource "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-xml-names" and will then locate the fragment "NT-NCName" in that resource. It depends on the client and on the type of the resource what is done with the fragment. A browser displaying an HTML[HTML] page usually scrolls the view port so that the indicated fragment is at the top.
Based on the above, you should be able to set the redirect location as:
1. Will a redirect is always enough or we should also think about identifying the external websites that links to these redirected pages and request the webmasters to replace the links with the new destinations? Is it suggested/recommend or mandatory?Yes, it is a good idea to contact external websites since redirect do lose approx 15% of the link juice (according to Matt Cutts)
2. How long before a redirected URL vanish from Google's index, until its next crawl?Not necessarily. Google may show the old URL for some time even though it has crawled the old page and seen the redirect. It is almost as it wants to crawl it a few times before it drops the old page. From my experience it usually drops the old page within the 2 weeks of crawling the old page and seeing the redirect, bt it may take the time to crawl all these old pages, which also depends on the number of pages redirected. But it usually settles within a few months.
3. Since we are merging all these pages into single redesigned pages the traffic will definitely go down right?Not necessarily. This will depend on whether the merged product page will rank for keywords the individual feature pages were ranking for. But it could also go the other way - that merging five pages into one strengthens the product page so that it starts to rank for more competitive term, driving more traffic.
4. These different feature pages were targeting different low priority keywords. With this merge I cannot possibly target them anymore right? Even though the content for them available, it's a single page. So a page cannot be targeted with more than 2 keywords right?It depends how far apart these keywords were. If the long tail was just a variation of the main keyword, it is possible that the main page ranks for it too.