by John Sher­rod, Direc­tor of SEO

To redi­rect or not to redi­rect? That is the question.

Even the most order­ly and well-kept dynam­ic web­sites can inad­ver­tent­ly cre­ate a vast dig­i­tal foot­print of unde­sired pages (unique URLs) that can poten­tial­ly clut­ter Google’s index. Test pages, error pages, redun­dant, retired and unde­sired pages; pages that shouldn’t exist, and pages that don’t exist (yet some­how do) can jum­ble a domain’s pres­ence in search engine databases.

It’s the equiv­a­lent of a per­son clut­ter­ing up their clos­et with an out­dat­ed wardrobe. It’s time to throw out those para­chute pants already. And the strong-shoul­dered jack­et from the 80s can go too.

Bing is a bit more exclu­sive about what gets in their index in the first place, but Google grabs as many URLs asso­ci­at­ed with a site as they can. And in Google’s case, all pages on a domain affect the site’s over­all per­cep­tion of rel­e­vance. So it is impor­tant that web­mas­ters make every effort to de-clut­ter their website.

Some quotes from a Googler (Wysz) clar­i­fies some of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of shal­low con­tent that was tar­get­ed by the Pan­da updates: 
“…it’s impor­tant for web­mas­ters to know that low qual­i­ty con­tent on part of a site can impact a site’s rank­ing as a whole.” 
“…Bear in mind that peo­ple search­ing on Google typ­i­cal­ly don’t want to see shal­low or poor­ly writ­ten content…” 
“…Remov­ing low qual­i­ty pages or mov­ing them to a dif­fer­ent domain could help your rank­ings for the high­er qual­i­ty content.” 
Read the whole thread here.

So, yes, it’s impor­tant to keep your domain free and clear of thin pages that add no val­ue. But there are many ways to do this and not all sce­nar­ios are the same.

There are three main choic­es when it comes to address­ing unde­sired URLs on a domain.

  1. Delete them and just let them fail (404 not found error) 
    1. Redi­rect those pages (sure, but which ones?) 
    2. Leave them alone (just do noth­ing – Undesired!)

Some pages need to fail. They just do. Review­ing the advice from Wysz above, remov­ing / delet­ing (not redi­rect­ing) low qual­i­ty pages is some­times the best choice.

Page types that should be deleted:

  • Test pages, “hel­lo world” pages that oth­er­wise have no con­tent and odd pages that were nev­er meant to be viewed by an end user
  • Error pages that are the result of a soft 404 (ex. an error page that redi­rects to an addi­tion­al URL that uses the bro­ken query as a URL para­me­ter such as /Error404?aspxerrorpath=/supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
  • Pages that shouldn’t exist AND have nev­er exist­ed in the past.

There are cer­tain­ly many oth­ers (and please add your sug­ges­tions to the com­ments) but I’ll move on to pages that should actu­al­ly be redirected.

In a nut­shell, redi­rects should be employed when pages (URLs) have accrued val­ue. Val­ue can be inter­pret­ed has hav­ing pageR­ank, being the tar­get of inbound links, or hav­ing sig­nif­i­cant age.

Let’s also be clear that any page that is being redi­rect­ed to har­vest lega­cy val­ue should be a 301, per­ma­nent redi­rect. If you need to test your redi­rects this is a good source.

Page types that should be redirected:

  • Pages that have accrued pageR­ank. Use a chrome plu­g­in to test.
  • Pages that receive traf­fic. Take a look at Ana­lyt­ics reports.
  • Pages that have inbound links point­ing to them. There are lots of tools to test inbound links. Check GWT – Google Web­mas­ter Tools -or use a tool like ahrefs.
  • Pages that have his­to­ry. The major­i­ty of instances when a page with age doesn’t have pageR­ank or inbound links occur dur­ing site redesigns. URLs may change exten­sions and/or page names and it is impor­tant that redi­rects occur 1:1 to the new file location.
  • Prod­uct pages that have been removed or no longer sold / available.
  • When pages have Canon­i­cal dif­fer­ences. For exam­ple, the non-www and www ver­sion of a page both resolve. A 301 redi­rect should be employed for all pages so that only one ver­sion resolves.

What cri­te­ria to you use when decid­ing which URLs to delete and which to redirect?