If you manage a site of any size, you’re eventually going to face the issue of what to do with expired content, and websites for certain industries tend to generate more expired pages than others. For example, eCommerce sites, job listings, real estate, news, etc. all amass tons of pages that are no longer relevant or have out-of-date information. How’s the savvy SEO supposed to manage all these old pages without losing link juice, frustrating visitors, or accumulating dreaded 404 errors?
What is Expired Content?
For the most part, it’s easy to recognize expired content when you see it. Basically, it’s anything containing old information or reflecting something no longer available. Some examples are:
- Filled job listings
- Real estate listings
- Out of stock items
- Discontinued products
- Seasonal products
- News stories
- Old contests
What to do with it All?
Admittedly, there isn’t one, quick way to deal with expired content (no one said SEO was easy)? Each expired page (or category of page) should be handled on an individual basis to provide the best experience for visitors and to get the optimal response from search engines. For example, a page containing a job listing that’s been filled can be treated entirely different than a page with out of stock items, which may be coming back.
To help you in your management strategy, here are some suggested, SEO-friendly ways to manage different types of expired content:
1. Avoid 404 Pages
Whenever possible, avoid using a 404 error on expired content. 404s offer nothing in terms of SEO (can actually hurt your SEO) and give the impression to humans and crawlers there is something wrong with your page. Also, visitors tend to take 404s as a cue to bounce from the site, which is the last thing any SEO wants as it reduces time on page, eliminates further engagement, and decreases potential conversions.
The only time you may want to use a 404 is if you have a page that is still being indexed and you definitely want it gone forever as there’s no beneficial way to implement a redirect (think spammy content or items from an old product line that are completely unrelated to anything you have now).
If you must create a 404 page, at least make it unique or customize it in a way to encourage people to stay on the site. For instance, below the 404 message you could offer keyword focused links and associated photos to other areas of the site. Anything that keeps visitors interested in your brand is a much better solution than a boring, accidental-looking 404 error.
2. Use a 301 Permanent Redirect
(Useful for pages with high traffic, backlinks, internal links, and news)
If you’re still getting a fair amount of traffic to a page or have external links directing to it, you wouldn’t want to lose that hard earned search engine optimization value by simply eliminating the page with a 404. Instead, why not use a 301 to hold on to your link equity and traffic but direct it to another page with related content.
301s work especially well if you create a custom message explaining why the user is getting redirected. For instance, saying something like, “This product is no longer available, but you may be interested in…” lets the person know why they are being redirected (as opposed to leaving them scratching their heads wondering why they keep clicking on one thing and being sent somewhere different).
When using 301s, its good practice to redirect pages to the parent category as it ensures users will land on something of value instead of another 301 — a continuous loop of 301s is a surefire way to lose a conversion.
In regards to news related content that you wouldn’t want to get rid of yet you don’t want it cluttering the main site, you can 301 this content to an “archive” section and also provide suggested links to current, related news stories. Such a tactic allows the old story to still get traffic, links, etc. and it also promotes engagement on other pages.
Downsides of 301s
The one thing to be careful of with 301s is having too many as it may slow down site performance. If you see a reduction in speed because of 301s, consider only using them on pages with the most SEO worth (lots of traffic, backlinks, etc.).
3. Keep it on the Site
(Useful for content that’s still interesting, out of stock items, seasonal products)
Another option is to not use any redirects and simply keep the expired information on the site. This strategy works well when the content is still interesting or offers some value to visitors yet is out of date or describes products or services which are no longer available.
However, instead of just leaving everything as is, consider posting a message describing the current state of the page. For instance, if the content is about an old contest you were running, why not leave a bold message at the top announcing a winner was chosen and the contest is over but to keep checking the site for future giveaways.
Or, if the content is something such as already sold realty listings, why not keep the information there, put a “sold” banner on top of the item, and a message to “contact us or click here” for similar listings. Many consumers are curious about sold items, especially in regards to realty, so using a strategy like this satisfies a need and encourages further engagement.
Additionally, pages listing temporarily out of stock or seasonal items are good candidates for staying on your site as they can continue to earn links and traffic, and they let customers know what types of products you offer and when they’re coming back. To avoid bounce and irritated customers, it helps to provide a notification system, which alerts interested visitors when certain items become available.
If you’d prefer out of stock or seasonal pages not be indexed or findable in search results, simply setup a noindex/follow meta tag, and then remove the meta tag whenever you’re ready for indexing.
Downsides of Keeping it on the Site
If you generate a lot of content and keep everything on the site, eventually you’re going to have pages and pages of expired information. Not only will this overload visitors with out-of-date stuff but it will also make your site incredibly large, more tedious for search engines to crawl, and soak up your crawl allowance. To prevent this, keep only your newest, expired content on the site and eliminate similar pages (those with different versions/models of the same product or those from the same category).
Once you know how to deal with different types of expired content, you need to devise a system for efficiently getting it all done. This is where things become a challenge — especially when you’re managing sites with thousands or hundreds of thousands of pages.
To cope with it all, start by categorizing all your expired pages and then decide how best to handle each category (i.e. should you use a 301, keep it there, archive it, implement a no follow, or use a 404). With that information, you can formulate a plan of attack.
One suggestion is to automate as many 301s as possible, so you don’t have to deal with thousands of pages individually (which would take forever). Setup URL mapping with specific rules to automatically redirect certain categories, date ranges, etc. (whatever fits your content).
Then create a checklist (daily, weekly, monthly) for the things you must do by hand, such as adding noindex/follow tags, resubmitting site maps, and customizing 301 messages.
The bottom line is you have to create a process that works for your website and keep up with it so expired content doesn’t start piling up and become even more difficult to deal with.
Do you have a tried and true system for dealing with your expired content? If so, share your secrets below.