Web pages aren't meant to live forever. One of the biggest benefits to Web pages is that if there is old, outdated information on your Web site, you can simply remove it and your site is instantly up-to-date.
But in many companies (including About) deleting Web pages is taboo. If a page must be removed, then it must be redirected to some other location, so that the customers aren't lost and continue to find what they are looking for. Or they might get upset that the page they wanted doesn't exist and go elsewhere.
Redirects Are the Answer, But Are They Really?
Many people put up redirects whenever a page is taken down or moved. This way, the customer always gets a "real" page and the 404 "page not found" error page is only used when the URL is actually mis-typed in some fashion. The theory is that this prevents "link rot" for other Web developers and it helps the customers by taking them to a similar page, or perhaps the homepage so that they can start their search again.
But this doesn't help. Unless the redirect that is set up is to another page that has virtually identical information, the link rot still exists. In fact, the problem is worse. When a link goes to a 404 page, it is easy to set up scripts to tell you that the link is broken, but if the page still shows up correctly, the Web developer has to click on every link in their site manually. In some situations, this has been a serious problem, like when domains are purchased by "adult" firms. The link still works, but the content is completely different.
Removing Old Content
If you have content on your site that is old and outdated, then it's important that you remove it. Leaving it up will ultimately confuse your readers more than if you took it down. Leaving up old information is also damaging to your reputation. If you have a link to information that is incorrect, chances are that information is in Google. And if your customers search Google for a matching keyword, they might get your old information, rather than any new information you have. In fact, the older the page is, the more links it probably has to it, and possibly the better ranked it is in Google. If you redirect it, eventually the GoogleBot will recognize the change take the page out of the directory. But if you remove it completely, it will be gone in the next sweep.
How to Know What to Redirect
Sometimes it is important to set up redirects for your customers. Here are some things to check:
- How accurate is the information?
If the information is incorrect, it's important to take it down. If you can't take it down, then you should redirect to the correct information, not just to a generic page (like your homepage).
- Is the change just in your format, like HTML to JSP?
If you're doing that, it's a good idea to make a regular conversion, for example, leave the filenames the same and only change the extension. Then you can set up a redirect at the server level that simply re-writes the URL to the new format.
- How many pageviews a day or week does the old page get?
Pages with very low hit rates are not as important to redirect.
- Are you considering redirecting all the old pages to your homepage?
This is no different than showing a 404 error page, except that search engines and Webmaster tools don't always recognize the redirect. Rather than doing a redirect, it would be more effective if you simply re-write your 404 page to be more helpful.