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updating thin content - 301 or 404 on removed pages

     
6:09 am on Jul 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Hello,

We have a website that allows website owners list their businesses.
Over the years, many of them run out of their businesses and those URLs listed on our site do not work anymore.

Outdated content have been cleaned up earlier this year.
Did a 301 redirect to the the category that a given profile page was assigned to.
Should we return a 404 response instead?

Also, we removed ALL (10k+) your contributed articles (a 404 page) due to thin or duplicated content.
(updating them did not come into play)
right now, the "site:" operator gives two articles still being indexed.

Back in December 2016 we were in top3 in Google for our main keyword.
Right now it fluctuates between 15 and 20th page.

How long does it take for Google to fully update the index?
Shoud we do anything differently?
Will we ever be back to top10?
5:46 pm on July 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Should we return a 404 response instead?
No, you should return a 410 (“Gone”) response. Make a nice custom 410 page designed for humans that includes links to the places you'd like them to go instead.
7:26 pm on July 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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The above. Also to add onto the human page, maybe grab the URL keywords and do a search on said page too for something similar
10:31 pm on July 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@mj23 ! So happy to have you join us at Webmasterworld! Somebody will soon post a link to rules and charters and all that other stuff, but glad to have you!

If you kill a page (delete it) 410 is your best response. As for G to update, your guess is as good as anyone's ... best answer is somewhere between never and just about ... At present the company is playing the AI and other Things and the black box remains opaque.
8:16 am on July 5, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Thanks guys for your replies.

As to 410s on articles - I agree, I guess those 404 errors should be gone from Google Console, right?

Still not sure about the profile pages though.. I see many websites that redirect their expired/removed product pages to appropriate category with a 301 response and a message:
"this product in no longer available. find similar in this category..". That's the way I currently handle these redirects..
Isn't that better?

besides, I have many links pointing to these profile pages, so by giving them 410 I'd lost lots of link juice..

@tangor I actually first joined this forum back in 2004 or 2005. Tried to restore my password with my old email address but with no luck. so I registered again. anyways, happy to be here again.
4:54 pm on July 5, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I guess those 404 errors should be gone from Google Console, right?
Not necessarily. What GSC calls an “error” isn’t always an error, or even something you need to change. Often it’s just an “In case you didn’t know” and then if your response is “Yeah, yeah, I KNOW, I did it on purpose so stop bugging me already” you just ignore the “error” report. A 410, specifically, will be listed among the 404s--but it won’t be listed for long.
6:19 am on July 9, 2018 (gmt 0)

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any clues as far as the 301 redirect on profile pages is correct?
6:28 am on July 9, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Hi mj23 and welcome to WebmasterWorld [webmasterworld.com] again :)

For some odd reason GSC doesn't see the conclusive intent of a 410. The error tool sees everything as an error. However, most believe that Googlebot and the indexing algo do support 410 Gone.
10:02 am on July 10, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for the explanation, keyplyr.

What about the 301 redirect to a specific category page with a message, instead of 410 or 404?
5:11 pm on July 10, 2018 (gmt 0)

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How many URLs would end up getting redirected to the same page? If you have a whole lot of different categories, it may be the appropriate solution, but please do think of your humans. When you enter an URL, you expect to end up on a page.

But come to think of it, how often do humans--as opposed to search engines, let alone unwanted robots--request pages that no longer exist?

Would you be able to distinguish between pages that legitimately used to exist, and ones that never did? It may not be desirable to have
/category/any-old-string-of-garbage
always* redirecting to
/category/


* My fingers wanted to type “categorically redirecting” but my brain stepped in and forbade it.
8:05 pm on July 10, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Bear in mind that an inordinate number of redirects to the SAME PAGE (not here, try here) COULD result in soft 404 errors on g's end. In that case it would not be desirable to do this. As lucy24 remarks above, the redirects ought to go to a real page that is either an upgrade or replacement for the redirected page.
7:18 am on July 27, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for your responses. Sorry for the late reply, but I was on vacation.

Anyways, yes I do have many categories (100+) and a profile page gets redirected to a category page that the profile page was assigned to.

Would you be able to distinguish between pages that legitimately used to exist, and ones that never did?

Sure, the profile pages that never existed return 404s. I only redirect the ones with bad content (i.e. adult content), with broken links etc.

I also started adding a noindex meta tag to the ones that have not been updated for years and google does not index them. Will I be better off if just remove them (301 to a category page)?

BTW, is this ok to place a nofollow,noindex meta tag on search results page that does not return any matches for a search query?
Google marked those pages as soft 404s and decided to give them those tags.
6:45 pm on July 27, 2018 (gmt 0)

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is this ok to place a nofollow,noindex meta tag on search results page that does not return any matches for a search query?
Personally I wish you'd place a noindex tag on any search results page. When I'm looking for something in a search engine, it annoys me to no end when I get a promising result ... and it just turns out to be someone else's search-results page. If I want to see a specific site's search results, I'll go to the site.