Say you had a page on Blue Widgets on your old site – when you go live with a new site maybe you decided to delete that page or you changed the URL.
So what happens if someone tries to go to that page on your old site? They will hit an error page AKA 404 “Not Found” page.
This is no bueno. In my somewhat-biased opinion whether this gets remedied or not can be a clue as to whether a developer is good or great.
So Why Redirect Defunct Pages?
If we don’t there are two primary negative effects:
1) The domain now has a bunch of 404 errors which Google keeps track of and will not see that as a good sign. Those null pages also may have had some trust/authority in Google’s eyes that get lost if they go nowhere. Even if these all just redirect to the homepage that is better than nothing.
2) Broken user pathways. So if someone had a page bookmarked or had emailed it to a friend, that link is now broken. Additionally there may be old marketing materials that link to it or other vendor / partner sites that linked to them.
How do you know which pages are broken?
1) Do a search in Google for site:limecuda.com but replace limecuda.com with your domain name. This will show the pages Google has indexed for your domain. As a post-launch practice I will usually do that search and open up each result and create redirects for any URLs I missed that result in errors.
2) If you have your site verified in Google Webmaster Tools it will show you Error pages that it has found. This is a good thing to look at from time-to-time to try and keep that number near zero.
When you have fixed an error reported by GWT make sure to click “Mark as Fixed”.
3) Another option is to use Google Analytics. If you go to Behavior>>Site Content>>All Pages and do a search for 404 it might show you some pages people have hit that didn’t exist.
4) Not necesarily even a broken page on your site but using brokenlinkcheck.com to scan your site may be another way to find error page and/or broken links.
5) Before ditching an old site we create a list of all its pages. This tool, https://www.xml-sitemaps.com/ can scan your site and return a list of its pages. Use this option: “Download Sitemap in Text Format”
How to Remedy?
There are a number of methods for redirecting these but they all have in common that they need to be the 301 (Permanent) type of redirect.
1) If you use a typical Linux-type hosting running Apache you can use the .htaccess file which is found in the root of the site if you access it with sFTP.
In that file you can add lines like the below…
Redirect 301 ^/old-url/ http://limecuda.com/new-equivalent-url/
Pro Tip: To assemble all of these URLs with the “Redirect 301” you might want to use concatenation in Excel or if you use an amped up Notepad tool like Notepad++ you can do some clever tricks like the following to add “Redirect 301” in front of every line. This uses the regex caret symbol ^ which means “at the start of”.
2) If you use a premium host like WPengine (runs many of our sites) then it might be running on nginx (pronounced “engine x”) in which case there might be a panel that looks like this…
You may need some RegEx for properly redirecting some of these.
Now you know why error pages are a bad thing, how to find them, and how to fix them.
Have questions? Please ask in the comments!