When you delete a page on your website, that content will no longer exist. When users access the website, they will see an error message, usually 404 "Not Found" if you use WordPress. As a website administrator and SEO person, how can you give the best experience to users and avoid them leaving the website too quickly? Is a 404 page an optimal choice? What do you need to do when deleting content so as not to affect SEO?
Why do you delete content on your website?
There are cases where you need to delete content on the website. However, it should be noted that you should not always delete, but consider deleting only content that is no longer relevant or is too old.
Here is some content you can remove from your website:
- Articles with thin content,
- Articles whose content contains information that is too old and no longer relevant to reality,
- Articles contain content that is not consistent with the content strategy of the website or your business direction,
- Similar term (category, tag) pages in case you combine them into one
This content often does not benefit users or SEO. Therefore, you can and should delete them.
What happens when content is deleted?
When deleting content on your website, you need to anticipate possible problems such as:
- 404 error messages in Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools because these search engines can no longer find your content.
- Users cannot find content on the website and will often only see a 404 "Not Found" page. Therefore, their experience on the website may be bad and they may leave the website immediately. Therefore, the website's bounce rate will increase.
How to deal with deleted content?
When content is deleted, there are 2 ways to handle it:
Build alternative content and redirect users
This is the best practice for both users and SEO. Accordingly, for each deleted content, you need to find similar content on the website to replace that content. If you don't have similar content yet, you should create one. You then redirect users with a 301 redirect to that alternative content.
This approach will make users not realize that they are viewing another content, because they are redirected automatically. Therefore, their experience on the website is still guaranteed and the ability for them to read new content is very high, so the website bounce rate will not increase.
With such redirection, search engines are also guided and understand that there is a replacement content for the deleted content, so they will gradually transfer the rankings of the old content to this new content and does not affect the overall ranking of the website.
Note, if you don't have alternative content, you should not redirect users to the homepage.
In WordPress, for detailed instructions, please refer to this article to know how to create a 301 redirect.
Notify that the content is actually deleted
Instead of redirecting users to a page with alternative content, another less commonly mentioned approach is to notify users and search engines that the content is actually deleted and no longer available on the website. Accordingly, the deletion action is a purposeful action, possibly for one of the reasons stated in the section above, and we really do not want that content on the website.
Although this treatment may not seem as good as the previous one, it is very useful for inappropriate content that you really don't want on your website.
Technically, reporting content has been removed should return a 410 "Gone" error code, not the usual 404 "Not Found" error code. This is a very important point in WordPress, because in WordPress by default all pages not found have a 404 error code.
To set the 410 "Gone" error code, use the redirection module in the Slim SEO plugin. Go to "Settings > Slim SEO > Redirection" and click the "Add Redirect" button to add a new rule.
In the popup that appears, in the "Type" section, select "410 Gone". Then just fill in "From URL".
Once completed, every time users or search bots access this address, they will receive the error code 410 "Gone", and the default WordPress error message page will appear, announcing the content is not available on the website.
Monitor deleted content
In addition to dealing directly with deleted content, you should monitor two more things:
- Monitor access to URLs of removed content, to ensure that they are redirected or return appropriate error codes.
- Update links from internal pages on the website to the page containing the deleted content, to ensure all your links work properly.
To track visits to deleted URLs, use the 404 log functionality of the redirection module in the Slim SEO plugin. This module has the ability to track and log accesses not found on the website. From there you will know which URLs are frequently accessed and can create appropriate redirects for them.
To update links from internal pages to deleted pages, use the plugin Slim SEO Link Manaxger. This plugin has a bulk updater feature, allowing you to bulk update links in article content, helping all your links work properly.
Deleting content on a website is something that rarely happens, but there are times when you really need to do it so that the website has more refined and quality content. In those cases, don't forget to create alternative content and create 301 redirects, and don't forget to monitor 404 URLs.