SEO and expired content

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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  Either what they wanted is miss­ing, or it is old and out of date.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  If the page out­lines a pro­gram you no longer offer then add some text at the top that explains this pro­gram has been replaced by a newer bet­ter pro­gram and link­ing to it.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.