This evergreen post was published to our site in 2012. We’ve updated it and republished it.
Even Elvis can’t help you if you get a 404 for missing content
Cue Elvis. We need his singing while you read this post to help reinforce this post’s message. Return to Sender.
Moving websites or deleting pages should not result in a loss of web traffic. Learn about using 301 redirects.
People relocate from one residence to another all the time. So do websites. However, most of us would never move without a forwarding address. In reality, when you move a website and don’t direct search engines to the new content from the defunct pages, you are doing exactly that.
Whether deleting pages or consolidating, use redirects
If your website has grown tired, or you have a new domain or a new site, you don’t have to loose all the search engine cred you’ve worked so hard to build up. That inbound link from an online professional directory — without a 301 permanently moved redirect — will be gone. Just. Like. That. With a 301 redirect, the search engine gods will know where to find you and will send your page visitor right along to you.
If you need to change the URL of a page as it is shown in search engine results, we recommend that you use a server-side 301 redirect. This is the best way to ensure that users and search engines are directed to the correct page. The 301 status code means that a page has permanently moved to a new location.
A 307 redirect can be used if the content change is temporary. Say for example you’re holding a special sale for a product and you’d like to direct website visitors to your sale related landing page for the product. A 307 allows search engines headed for the product page to be redirected to the special sale page.
Google knows where your content is
Google indexes and caches pages in their search engine to make browsing faster. New sites often aren’t indexed immediately and so for a period of time, Google may direct site traffic to old pages which no longer exist. IF you tell search engines where to find the new pages which replace or are equivalent to the old pages, you have essence, have left a forwarding address for Google. So, when you update delete pages or create a new site to replace an old site, make sure your webmaster creates 301 redirects for the pages which are disappearing and being removed. The redirects tell Google and other search engines what has replaced the old content.
If you don’t do this, people coming to find your site and pages will get a big fat 404 error. To translate from geek speak, a 404 is the Interwebs’ way of saying, “Sorry, wrong number,” Or “Recipient moved, no longer at this address.”
Tools such as Yoast SEO allow you to create redirects
If you have a great webmaster to host your site and who can create the server level redirects, that’s super. However, if you’re not so techie, you can do it yourself provided you have the right tools for your site. It’s even more helpful if your site is built with WordPress as there are lots of plugins which can help you accomplish this.
If you have the premium version of Yoast SEO, you can set redirects using their Redirects Manager. According to Yoast, “In most cases, especially for a frequently visited page, you’d want to redirect the old URL to a new one with the information you think is most relevant to these visitors.”
As an example, if you previously had an “About” page but now you’ve renamed it or moved it or changed the URL to be About Our Team, you need to be sure to tell the search engine that About = About Our Team.
There are other tools in the WordPress repository that allow you to do this as well.
Still not sure how this works? Give us a shout. We’d be delighted to help you sort this out.