This post walks you through the different options available when you want to properly delete a page with SEO in mind. We’ll even go through some step-by-step checks just to make sure that deleting a page is really the right decision.
I’ve also created a framework at the end of this post to help make the step by step process easier.
Let’s picture a scenario here. You want to delete what appear to be old or useless pages. You think they don’t hold any value.
That may be the case, but you need to run some checks, analyse the data and then make an informed decision.
But before we go into more detail, let’s lay out the options you can go with first.
Jump to a section
- What are the options to delete pages?
- Delete your page
- 301 redirect your page
- Add a noindex tag
- Refresh your content
- Offer alternatives to discontinued products
- Should I delete old pages?
- Check if these pages are receiving traffic
- Check if these pages used to get more traffic
- Check if other websites are linking to these pages
- The framework process
What are the options to delete pages?
1. Delete your page
When you delete a page in your CMS, a 404 status code is returned for that page. A 404 status code means “page not found”. Basically, you’re telling Google and other search engines this page no longer exists and that it should be removed from search results. It generally takes a couple of days for search engines to process and remove a 404 page from the search results.
Don’t be afraid to delete a page. There’s a myth that refuses to go away that all 404 pages are bad and harm your SEO. Spoiler, they don’t…
If a page or collection of pages don’t hold much value (more on this later), deleting them and letting Google and other search engines know they no longer exist is a sound approach.
Should I use a 410 status code instead of a 404?
The short answer to this is probably not.
A 410 status code means “gone”, the page is not found and won’t be coming back. It’s a more deliberate signal and encourages Google to remove pages from search results quicker than a 404.
Don’t get hung up on which of the two status codes to go with. I think 99% of the time a 404 status code is perfectly acceptable and in many cases the default option in a CMS.
The scenario where a 410 is useful is if a website has 10000s of pages that will be deleted and there’s more of an argument to get pages out of search results quicker.
2. 301 redirect your page
If a page holds value (again, more on this later) then you could implement a 301 permanent redirect.
This option doesn’t technically delete a page, but it does tell search engines that a page now lives somewhere else. And signals that help decide how a page should perform in search results, such as links from other websites, should be passed on to the new page.
It’s not quite black and white as that, though. If you want to pass on as much value as possible, then the new page needs to closely match the topic of the old page.
Most SEOs including myself still recommend you 301 redirect a page if it holds some value, even if there isn’t a closely matched page to redirect to.
It’s possible some value from the old URL will pass on to the new URL. Plus, some of those old pages that seemingly don’t provide much value may still receive traffic.
You wouldn’t want a bunch of people running for the hills with too many 404s, would you? It’s super easy to redirect pages with plugins like Yoast SEO for WordPress and within the interface of most CMS’s like Shopify, Squarespace and Wix.
3. Add a noindex tag
Again, this option doesn’t delete your page. People will still be able to directly access those pages, but a noindex tag will stop Google and other search engines from indexing these pages.
A noindex tag is some HTML code that tells search engines not to show your page in search results. It’s a directive, so if added correctly, search engines have to respect it.
Adding a noindex tag is a good option for low quality pages that need to exist, but you’d never want people to come across, such as thank you pages and login in pages or even tag pages.
4. Refresh your content
What about those pages that aren’t performing so well?
Is the quality of content lacking or has it become stale and outdated over time? Is your content optimised poorly? Or does your internal linking structure not support the success of a page?
5. Offer alternatives to discontinued products
This option is well suited to certain online retailers. Let’s say one of your products is discontinued. You think this page doesn’t provide any value anymore and should be 301 redirected or even deleted to return a 404 status code.
While both those options are legitimate solutions, a different approach is to leave the page live, but offer solid product alternatives.
Above: An ASOS out of stock product page offering “similar” alternative products
The advantage to this option is people won’t see a blunt 404 page or be abruptly 301 redirected to another page. With clear “out of stock” signposting and suitable alternative products offered, you could win from a user experience and conversion standpoint.
Above: The out of stock ASOS page is still indexed in Google
We can even see that Google is still showing the out of stock page in their search results, suggesting that a good out of stock page, with relatable alternative products can also be an SEO win.
One word of warning though. This approach won’t work for every online retailer and the alternative products really do need to be relatable. You wouldn’t want to land on an out of stock fanny pack page, to be only greeted with “similar” shoe products.
If you’re an online retailer and you think you can make it work, give it a shot by testing and monitoring performance.
Should I delete old pages?
Now you know your main options, let’s go through a process that will help you decide which is the right one for you.
Step 1: Check if these pages are receiving traffic
You might be surprised to find your pages are still receiving traffic.
The traffic could be coming from Google, people clicking through to your website from another website (known as referral traffic) or even someone who has bookmarked a page.
To see if your pages are receiving traffic, you’ll need to log into Google Analytics to see the session count:
Behaviour > Site Content > Landing Pages > Advanced
Above: Using the “Landing Pages” report in Google Analytics to identify if pages receive traffic
If your pages are receiving a decent amount of traffic, then you’ll want to reconsider whether you should be deleting them.
Step 2: Check if these pages used to get more traffic
This could be the biggest indication that you should refresh your content. If a page used to perform much better, then you may need to roll up your sleeves and do a bit of digging around to find out why.
Log into your Google Search Console account and use the search results report to find out what keywords used to drive you clicks.
You can then have a snoop around on Google, searching with those keywords to see the type and standard of content that ranks.
If your Google Search Console data doesn’t go back far enough, use your Google Analytics data and have an educated guess about the keywords you think your page should be ranking for.
Step 3: Check if other websites are linking to these pages
If another website links to you, it can really help your SEO performance. That’s why it’s really important to check if any pages you plan to delete have links.
If they have links and you believe they look natural, then you’ll want to 301 redirect your pages, ideally to a similar page, to pass on the value they hold.
The framework process
You should now have the information you need to make an informed decision. Whether you decide to delete a page, refresh content or offer an alternative product, this post helps you narrow down your decision and lists the different options you can take.
There may be more nuance to your particular website or situation, so feel free to ask a question in the comment section below.