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Properly dealing with expired content is important. I have a few clients who regularly update their website and remove content that is dated or obsolete. Usually I notice the content is missing and send them an email along the lines of “never remove content!” along with some explanation. But is just keeps happening, and it is hurting their visitors experience and their website’s search engine ranking.
The concern with removing expired content, or not removing it, is that visitors will continue to come to your website, directed by search engines and outside links, and will not find what they are looking for. Either what they wanted is missing, or it is old and out of date. You have just made a bad impression. Further, search engines are in the business of directing visitors to useful content. If they detect that sending visitors your way isn’t helpful they will rank you lower in their search results. Search engines want the pages and content they think you have to be stable and reliable. So what to do?
Best option — keep the content, rework it
From a search engine point of view my recommendation is never to remove a page from your website and to keep the content you have in place. This way when search engine robots check your website everything is as it should be. For visitors you should update the content with an explanation that what they are seeing is dated and direct them to where they can find the best alternative content. For instance if you have a page dedicated to an event which happened last night, update the page by adding text about how great the event was and suggesting the visitor join your mailing list to be informed about next years events. If the page outlines a program you no longer offer then add some text at the top that explains this program has been replaced by a newer better program and linking to it.
Second option — redirect to new content
If you don’t want visitors to see the old page and you have an updated related page elsewhere then you can automatically redirect visitors to that one. For a visitors this will result in them just arriving where you send them. You want to make sure the content is closely related or this could result in a bad experience. For search engines this type of redirect will inform them the content has been moved and they should consider preserving and shifting any relevance to the new page. This type of redirect is commonly called a “301 redirect” and can be slightly technical to set up, just send me an email.
Final option — nuke it 404
If you never want it seen again and you have nothing similar you want it associated with you can officially mark it “404 expired” and remove the content from the website. This tells search engines it should be removed from their index. Really, the only reason I can think of to use this final option is that the page in question needs to be quickly expunged from the internet.
SEO and Expired Content — Summing it up
Never remove content! Rework it to your advantage or redirect to something else. If visitors are finding their way to your website, either through search or referral, make sure they either find what they wanted or have a soft landing.