When you have a page on the site that isn’t relevant anymore, what should you do? The page is indexed by Google so might show up in Google searches and other sites might have linked to it, but so-and-so is no longer with your company or the event has passed. Chances are, the best thing to do is to delete the page.
Ahh!!! What about the Google?
Google wants to know when pages are deleted and should be removed from its index. The most straightforward way to do that is by returning a 404 page, which happens if you delete the page. If that has you thinking, but then I’m missing out on potential visitors – don’t worry. Those users are not sticking around anyway because the page they really wanted isn’t on your site anymore.
Google doesn’t want your dead pages
Websites should change and grow with you and part of that process is removing old stuff that isn’t relevant anymore. Providing Google good, new content is the best way to keep your site in search results.
Users don’t want to see your dead pages
If a user clicks a link to your site and that link was supposed to go to an Employee’s bio that no longer exists, they are not going to be happy trying to figure out why it linked to someone else’s bio or another page – like your Employee landing page. Give them your nicely formatted, and helpful 404 page. It tells the user this employee is no longer there. It also allows other site maintainers to run a broken link check and find the link to the page that no longer exists. If you redirect to another page, computers won’t know the page doesn’t exist. If the page returns a status of 301/302 (redirect), most site link checkers won’t report that the link should be changed.
What is this 404 and 301/302 stuff?
I realized I probably need to go back a bit and explain what your 404 page is doing. It isn’t just a fall back page. It returns a special status of 404. That status tells computers the page doesn’t exist. It notifies Google to remove it from its index. Broken link checkers use the 404 status to tell you a link on your site is broken. If you redirect a URL to another page, the page returns a status of 301 (moved permanently) or 302 (found).
Changing page paths?
If you are moving pages to a new section of your site, or changing a page slug (used in page url), then redirecting is the thing to do. If you move a page from one section to another and the path changes, add a redirect to the new path. The redirect should set the status code to 301 (moved permanently) so computers know the page moved permanently, and Google knows to update the link in its index.
Because WordPress has Redirect plugins that make adding redirects simple, and because some SEO consultants sell setting up redirects as part of their service, I’ve seen sites with literally hundreds of redirects. These redirects tend to cause more harm than good and I don’t recommend adding redirects without careful consideration of how useful the redirect will be. If the redirects are set up in WordPress, every request users make to different pages on the site have to be compared to all the redirects entered in the plugin before the page is delivered. This adds extra server processing time. In an age where every millisecond counts, you should think long and hard before adding 100s of redirects that have to be checked on every request. Is it really worth slowing down your site for that 10 year old PDF that has moved to a different directory? Adding redirects before WordPress starts up is faster, so check with your developer or hosting company to see about adding redirects before the page request hits WordPress.
Redirects can also get in the way of adding new pages. If you happen to create a new page at the same location where you have a redirect, you’ll probably have to pay your web developer to figure out why one page is now strangely redirecting to another page ~ unless you remember all those 100s of redirects you set up a couple years ago…
Save your $$
Redirects take time to set up. They also take time to debug when things go wrong. They also take time when you build a new site and someone has to go through all the redirects and figure out which ones need to stay and which ones should go. They also take up server processing time. Let Google do what it is intended to do and let the 404 status do what it is intended to do. You’ll save yourself money and headaches in the long run.