Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Wizards: What would you do if? — you had a website getting about 400 visitors a day, but the site was coded back in 1999 with hundreds and hundreds of pages in php… moving forward I'm building a WordPress site now on a staging account till it is ready to launch live, I have no desire to import the pages or content… just want to start fresh with WordPress… I've emailed Google but had no reply, researched the web and found mixed solutions… QUESTION IS – Should I use a typical 404 redirect to the home page? (since tons of pages will be gone) – or another method? What would you do? or suggest?
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Surely you’re at risk of losing audience if you 404 as the search they stumbled upon will be irrelevant. This will send signals to Google that your content is irrelevant.
I would first write alternative pages for your most popular pages as a start at least. Then build out your other pages after.
I also think all your indexed pages will lose rank in this event as well if you 404.
Ideally you should have a new page for any old url and redirect with a 301.
I have done this for a client before with about 200 pages, it doesn’t take too long, but well worth the effort if you don’t want to lose traffic.
Thanks for the detailed reply, I guess I should not rush into going live, and focus on saving old links and use the 301 method.
Phil » Moskowitz
that’s what I would do. But it really depends on what you want to achieve. 🙂 good luck anyway.
Moskowitz ✍️ » Phil
Thanks, and having say 600 or more 301's won't slow down the server? I'm using Kinsta Google cloud hosting, they have it's own redirect module which is easy to use, so no WordPress plug-in would be required.
You should be okay.
You can do it via the .htaccess file as well.
There is a WordPress plugin that redirects that also tells you how many hits that redirects has had as well.
As time goes on and your pages are all re indexed again, you can start removing the redirects. You can also remove indexed pages from the search console once your new site is indexed fully.
301 Redirects are the way to go. If your new pages will have the same content as the old think about naming them with the same exact URL. This will keep all incoming links and pages in the index. The pages that will have different names need 301 redirects with the old URLs pointing to these new pages. If you do not use 301 Redirects and you name all your pages with new URLs your site will drop completely out of the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) and take a very long time and a lot of new work to recover.
Jon the new site has a new url structure, plus it will be https … if I do 301s from old URL to new URL, that’ll be okay eh?
Roland » Moskowitz
Yes as long as the content from the old pages is the same or very similar to the new pages. You don't want to redirect from a page that has one topic to a new page with a completely different topic.
This may satisfy you: 301 Redirect Is the Solution
You should actually review your Google Search console data for the site and find out which pages are bringing you the most impressions and traffic. It's not wise to completely eliminate all old pages if they are still relevant and bring in traffic value. I would import only the pages that are of value and then 410 all the rest. You can even do that right now so you have a smaller site to manage before migrating the old content. Keeping that established content = keeping the page authority and trust that has already been built up. If you eliminate all of it then your trust and authority will begin to tank severely. Just my 2 cents worth.
It is a good idea to at least subscribe to a few top SEO info blogs and keep abreast of SEO knowledge in general. The landscape was a lot simpler 20 years ago, the complexity these days is heavy and there are significantly more web sites that compete against each other for rank.
To answer your question:
No you should not. First of all, Google will ding you for redirecting a large number contextual pages that have SEO value (no matter how small) if you redirect to a generic page. And if that redirect is to a 404, you will lose 100% of whatever SEO value you had on the site before.
If you have hundreds of pages, that doesn't sound like a lot. If you can map out all the unique URLs and do a 1:1 301 redirect from those URLs to the new URLs within your .htaccess file it will be tedious but you will be able to carry the rank juice from each of those pages to the new ones. Honestly, hundreds of pages isn't a lot, especially if it's already PHP-driven which probably means you can automate extracting out all those unique URLs in one shot. If it were me I would write a quick script to generate the list in just a few minutes. Also, since WordPress is database-driven and supports automated import of content, you could quickly code up a second script to map the old URLs to the new ones.
With just a bit of up front effort, you can retain almost all your URL juice and pass them to the new URLs.
If you have thousands or even millions of pages, the concept is the same, but I would not recommend doing 1:1 redirects in that scenario unless you like your pages slowing down 10000% because your web server has to load a huge .htaccess file with too many regex-matched redirects. In those scenarios, you should make a plan to use pattern-matched redirects and have as much control over mapping old-URL to new-URL.
For example, if your old URL looks like:
Then you would be sure to build your new WordPress URLs like:
Then create a rewrite rule like (generally, whatever matches your needs):
RewriteRule ^crapapp\.php\?category=([^&]+)&page=([^&]+) /$1/$2 [R=301,NC]
Do tests and don't set to 301 while testing, set to 302 until you are confident it works then set to 301. After the switch, check your logs THOROUGHLY for errors until a few weeks have gone by and you are sure Google is crawling the changes correctly. Also check Search Console during the change to take note of anything negative or positive happening.
I know you said you have no desire to import the pages or content but you have no choice. Useless you like losing 100% of your SEO. A big part of page rank is still backlinks and if you kill all those URLs then you lose ALL their backlink juice and they will end up in a black hole. Google will lose all understanding of your site except for the home page and will have to re-learn the site with a crawl and until you start getting backlinks to the new URLs you will effectively disappear from Google searches within a week or 2.
This may satisfy you: How Cost did You Buy an Aged Domain for 301 Redirection?