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An old site that is being rewritten needs to have it's URLs redirected to the new site. There are a few hundred pages that may or may not have corresponding pages on the new site, probably with different slugs, and adding mappings manually will require more hours than we can spare.

It was suggested that all old URLs be redirected to the new front page, but I remember reading somewhere that this confers a penalty in page rank because it's what link farmers do. Is this true or can we take the easy way out?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

This will hurt you in several ways:

  1. Most important, people following an old link or clicking on a search result and getting to the home page will see this is not the page they were looking for and leave the site, they will not look for the new page, they will not search your site, they have been trained by spammers that if the page you got to is irrelevant it’s probably a scam – no point in keeping your ranking just to “bounce” all that incoming traffic.

  2. This will lower the quality of search results by getting people to less relevant pages – things that makes Google look bad are likely to be panelized, if not today then on the next algorithm update.

  3. Google is known for temporarily dropping sites that mass-redirect from the search results for a few weeks until it sorts everything out (there isn’t much you can do about it, just be aware it will probably happen)

What you should do:

  • Every page that receives significant traffic should be redirected to the appropriate page on the new site - no excuses, if you don’t do that you will lose the traffic anyway (see point 1 above).

  • Likewise, any page that has a significant number of inbound links should be redirected to the correct page (this will make you look less spammy so it makes it less likely you will get penalized)

  • For the rest of the pages, try to redirect them to something that is somewhat relevant if possible (example: if the pages are in subdirectories by topic redirect each subdirectory to the main page on the topic in the new site)

  • For everything else, redirect to the home page

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Having gone through this, I will add "Have Google Webmaster Tools set up several months before doing this." It will gather all your site link data. Then create all your 301 rewrites as stated above and allow stuff that has truly disappeared to 404. Now monitor the 404 errors in Google Webmaster tools to pick up any that still have relevance for redirect. You may find that you have relevant inbound links from the beginning of time that Google can still follow if redirected that you have been losing link relevance on since they were renamed years ago. –  Fiasco Labs Nov 13 '11 at 22:17
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