Removing a page from your website is in itself a straightforward task. However, there are several considerations that should be made before you hit that ‘delete’ button. This post explores some of the reasons why a website owner may wish to remove a page from their site, before running through the checks and considerations one must make before consigning a webpage to the scrapheap.
Why might a page no longer be required on a website?
There are many potential reasons why a website owner may feel that a page is no longer required on their website. Maybe there is a page on the website that relates to a service which is no longer provided, or to a product that is no longer supplied. The page may specify information that is no longer accurate, or the website owner may wish to change the optimisation and purpose of the page. This may drastically alter the URL structure, as well as essential meta data.
If you feel that a page is no longer required on your website, you should consider the following factors before simply removing the page:
Does the page still add value and serve a purpose for your visitors? Although you may feel that a page is no longer required, it may still provide a useful resource for your visitors. Using analytics to research a range of data such as visits, entrances, time on site and bounce rate will help you to reach this decision. It is also worth reviewing if the page in question has received any traction via social media.
Does the page currently generate a significant volume of traffic, bringing relevant visitors to your website? If your website has Google Analytics hooked up, you can easily check the volume of traffic that the page in question is generating by viewing Behaviour area of the tool.
Does the page have any high quality inbound links from external sites pointing towards it? There are several free and paid tools which can be used to check the volume and quality of inbound links pointing to a specific page. Open Site Explorer and ahrefs are amongst the most popular link analysis tools available.
Does the page have any internal links directed to it that will essentially become ‘broken’ if the page is removed? If the page in question has any other pages on the website linking to it, then removing the page will essentially create a broken link on your website. The link research tools mentioned previously can also be used to identify internal links.
Depending on the answer to the previous questions, there are several steps you will need to follow to ensure that the page is removed from the website in the correct manner.
Removing Web Pages and Status Codes
Status codes are used to provide messages to both humans and search engine bots regarding the accessibility status of any given page on a website.
404 (Not found)
If you have answered “no” to all of the previous questions and decided to remove a page from your website, then the web server will need to return a 404 (Not found) status code in response to requests to access the page in question. The 404 status code indicates that the page in question can’t be located on the server. This is the correct status to return if the content isn’t moving to another location. According to Google, 404 pages are “a perfectly normal part of the web”, as page’s are removed from websites all of the time.
Ensuring that the correct 404 status is returned (and not a “soft 404”) will ensure that the search engines know that the page is no longer a part of the website, thus dropping it from their index naturally over time. You should also ensure that your website has a well designed 404 to help maintain a good user experience on your website.
301 (Moved permanently)
If you have answered yes to any of the previous questions but you still wish to remove the page, then it is highly likely that you will need to implement a 301 redirect. 301 redirects are used to notify that a page on your website has permanently moved to a new location. They ensure that visitors accessing the old URL are redirected to the appropriate new location, and that value of any links pointing toward the old URL are retained and passed on to the new version.
For example, a 301 redirect could be implemented if you decide to change the content and optimisation focus of a particular page, as often when doing so you will want to alter essential features of the page such as the URL structure to refine the target keywords.
This scenario may also relate to updating pages such as blog posts, where changing the published date may alter the URL structure. A 301 redirect could also be implemented if there is a product or service on your website that has been discontinued. This may sound contradictory, but if this product or service still receives a high volume of search traffic that is related to another product or service, the last thing you want to do is deter visitors away from your website. Implementing a 301 redirect could be used to ensure that visitors are passed on to next most useful page on your website that relates to that product.
When deciding to remove a page from your website, remember that ultimately your decision may affect the visitors to your website. Think carefully about why the page may no longer be required, and ensure that you follow best practice guidelines to keep your visitors and the search engines happy.