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I have a site which changed from one shopping cart to another.

Previously there was an .htaccess file which redirected all the old URLs to the homepage.

I changed it to report a 404 for any URL not found on the website.

Is it better to request these URLs be removed from Google's index via Webmaster Tools or keep them and use a rewrite in the .htaccess file?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you know the equivalent URL in the new shopping cart, do a 301 redirect to that URL. This is good for users, as they end up at the right place; and good for SEO as robots will gradually update to the new URLs and you keep the Page Rank.

If you don't know the equivalent URL, 404 (edit: or more correctly as Metalshark pointed out in the comments, 410). Robots will gradually remove these URLs from their indexes, and you can provide some useful tools/info to users to help them find what they're after - e.g. a prominent search box on your 404 page.

You should never redirect 'page not found' type requests to the homepage. This is bad for users (as they end up in the wrong place) and bad for robots (as they don't know that the URL they requested no longer exists).

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Agree with all, except the use of 404's. Would recommend 410's instead. – Metalshark Oct 11 '10 at 18:47

Removing them from Google doesn't solve the problem of people going to the old URL from bookmarks or links on other sites. It also doesn't transfer PageRank.

You should be careful about site migrations/restructuring. Always plan ways to redirect users looking for old URLs. A 404 is the least ideal option to show users. And even then, it should be a custom 404 that has information on how to find the resource that they were looking for.

There's really no point in deliberately removing a page from Google unless it's content that you don't want to be indexed. Otherwise, a simple 301 redirect will cause Google to update their index (remove the old link and add the new one) and transfer your PageRank as well. It's generally best to keep the 301 redirect up as long as possible (since you're not changing domains, you can keep it up indefinitely) so you don't lose as much traffic. And it also gives people time to update their bookmarks/links.

That said, a custom 404 that informs the user that the resource has been moved to a new location would be better to get people to update their bookmarks/links, since a 301 is pretty transparent, and most people may not notice the redirect.

Ideally there'd be a way to put up a "301 page" that tells both search engines/bots/browsers and people that the page has been moved to a new location. Because right now it's basically an either/or. You can either create a 301 that informs search engines/bots/browsers the page has been relocated, OR you can create a 404 that informs the user that the page has been relocated. But there's no easy way to do both.

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