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It’s the equivalent of a person cluttering up their closet with an outdated wardrobe.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?

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