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I know this question is someway similar to this one where they recommend using 404, but after reading this other one where they suggest to use 301 when changing site URLs (in the specific case was due to redesign/re factoring) I get a bit of confused and I hope someone could clarify for this specific example:

  1. Let's say I have an eCommerce site,

  2. let's also say the final user inserted some interesting items in the site and the eCommerce webapp created the item pages at the URLs: http://...?id=20, http://...?id=30 etc.

  3. Now let's say some of these interesting items got many external links toward them from many other sites because some people found those items very interesting and linked to them.

  4. After some years the final user deletes those items, so obviously the pages and URLs http://...?id=20, http://...?id=30, etc. now do not exist anymore, but still many pages on the web are linking toward them.

What should the eCommerce site do now, just show a 404 page for those items?

But, I'm confused, wouldn't this lose all the Google PR passed by the external links to the items pages? So isn't it better to use 301 redirect to HOME PAGE that at least passes the PR to the HOME PAGE?


EDIT:

Well, according to answers the best thing to do so far is to do a 404/410.

In order to make this question more complete, I would like to talk about a special case, just to make sure I understood. properly.

Let's say the user creates those items again (the ones he previously deleted at point 4), maybe he changes a bit their names and description, but they are basically the same items. The webapp has no way to know these new added items were the old items so it obviously create them as new items with new URLs http://...?id=100, http://...?id=101, does it makes sense at this point to redirect 301 the old urls to the new ones?


ANOTHER EDIT (It would be VERY IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND):

Well according to the clever answers received so far it seems for the special case, explained in my last EDIT, I could use 301, since it's something of not deceptive cause basically the new pages is a replacement for the old page in term of contents. This is basically done to keep the PR passed from external link and also for better user experience.

But beside the user experience, that is debatable (*1), in order to preserve PR from external broken links why not just always use 301, In my understanding Google dislikes duplicated contents, but are we sure that 301 redirect to HOME PAGE is seen as duplicated contents for Google?!

Google itself suggests to redirect 301 index.html to document root so if they consider 301 as duplicated contents wouldn't that be considered duplicated contents too? Why do they suggest it?

Let me provoke you: “why not just add a 301 to HOME PAGE for every not found page?”

(*1) as a user, when I follow a broken URL from some external link to some website's page I would stick more on this website if I get redirected to HOME PAGE rather than seeing a 404 page where I would think the website does not even exist anymore and maybe I don't even try to go to HOME PAGE of the website.

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that link is not from Google. It is a post of Google Groups, so do not take it as official advice. –  DisgruntledGoat Nov 20 '10 at 14:29
    
@myself: just a reminder to myslef and to whoever reads my question, what I was missing in the question is the idea of 404 page that does not look like the entire website went down: a user friendly 404 page. –  Marco Demaio Nov 24 '10 at 15:22

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Users first!!! Catering to search engines instead of users is a recipe for failure.

Good usability would be to redirect them to a page that explains that the product doesn't exist anymore and invite them to explore other related items. That way you don't lose the visitor due to a bad link or confusion. After all if they are following a link expecting one thing and are shown another it looks bad for you if you don't handle it properly.

I don't know if 4xx pages pass PR as I haven't seen anything conclusive pertaining to that but if you do you can "spread" the PR that page has by linking to your home page and any other important pages you deem necessary. If you do lose that PR it isn't a big deal. The usability you gain far outweighs whatever benefit the PR offered.

Update

A 301 is exactly what you want to do. It's the same product and by redirecting you make sure the new listing gets the benefits earned by the old page and users can still find the product they are looking for.

Update #2

Doing a 301 redirect for content that isn't found is both semantically incorrect (the content hasn't moved, it simply doesn't exist) and can be confusing to users (they were expecting product X and got your home page instead with no explanation why).

301 redirects do not cause duplicate content issues. They resolve them by alerting search engines that page A has moved to page B.

(*1) as I user, when following a broken url from some external link to a website's page I might stick more to this website if I get redirected to HOME PAGE rather than seeing a 404 page where I would think the webiste does not even exist anymore and maybe I don't even try to go to HOME PAGE of the website.

A much better solution that solves your problem is to show them a custom 404 page that explains the page no longer exists, recommends possible alternatives, and if they don't like any of the possible alternatives invites them to the home page. If they leave anyway then you never had a chance of keeping them in the first place. This solution is the most user friendly and offers you your highest chance of conversion.

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I updadted the question with a special case –  Marco Demaio Nov 15 '10 at 9:40
    
your answer was the one that made me understand more so far, but this subject remaoins to me still unclear. I updated the question with an important part, I would really liek to read your thoughts. –  Marco Demaio Nov 20 '10 at 12:57
    
@Marco: answer updated –  John Conde Nov 20 '10 at 15:01
    
your answer is very clear and precise. Thanks also for follwoing up on all the updates. I finally understood! –  Marco Demaio Nov 24 '10 at 15:13

To my mind, it will make more sense to use 410 gone status code in this case.

The requested resource is no longer available at the server and no forwarding address is known. This condition is expected to be considered permanent. Clients with link editing capabilities SHOULD delete references to the Request-URI after user approval. If the server does not know, or has no facility to determine, whether or not the condition is permanent, the status code 404 (Not Found) SHOULD be used instead. This response is cacheable unless indicated otherwise.

The 410 response is primarily intended to assist the task of web maintenance by notifying the recipient that the resource is intentionally unavailable and that the server owners desire that remote links to that resource be removed. Such an event is common for limited-time, promotional services and for resources belonging to individuals no longer working at the server's site. It is not necessary to mark all permanently unavailable resources as "gone" or to keep the mark for any length of time -- that is left to the discretion of the server owner.

Then, keep the page http://...?id=XX (don't delete the entry) with the item, but add a mention to inform visitors that this item is definitely no longer available.

For help you in your status code choices, try to take a look at:


[EDIT] about the special case

If one considers that the "removed" item is not really deleted but just marked unavailable, the best is to encourage the user to "reactivate" its item to make his changes.

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Thnaks, all those statis code are definitely an interesting subject that I will sure read more about. Your point is logic, but in my question I'm concerned about SEO and I'm clueless to what Google would do if it finds a 410 gone staus code. –  Marco Demaio Nov 15 '10 at 9:17
1  
I found the answer to my comment in this answer by JohnMu (Google employee) google.com/support/forum/p/Webmasters/… –  Marco Demaio Nov 15 '10 at 9:26
    
I updadted the question with a special case –  Marco Demaio Nov 15 '10 at 9:39
    
And I updated my answer ^^ –  Pascal Qyy Nov 15 '10 at 17:49

If a piece of content has been intentionally removed from the site, then naturally that page's PR will disappear. That's the appropriate behavior. PR represents votes from other users indicating that they believe that the linked page is valuable. So if the content they voted for has been removed, then naturally their votes should be discarded.

Now, you could redirect the URL to another page to retain or harvest its PR. But unless that page has a similar replacement content, this would be a deceptive and unethical practice, akin to retroactive cloaking in a sense. It's basically the same as buying up a recently expired domain so you can receive its PR.

If you want to remove valued content from your site, then you can't ethically hold on to the PR generated by that content. The correct thing to do would be to do as G. Qyy mentions, and use a 410 status code.

However, you can still benefit from the links to the now-removed pages by setting up a 410 error page that directs users to similar content or your homepage. And if you had a good internal link structure, then the removed page would have been passing on its PR to other pages the entire time it was still up.

Note: If this is a product that is simply out of stock, then you should leave the page up and just not allow users to add it to their shopping cart. Though they still might be allowed to add it to their wishlist or ask to be notified when the product is back in stock.

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I updadted the question with a special case –  Marco Demaio Nov 15 '10 at 9:40
1  
@Marco: In that case, it would be considered "replacement content" and a 301 would be appropriate. It's sort of like if you revamped your website, your pages might all be different, but they're just slightly updated versions of the old pages, so a 301 would be appropriate. Another example is if you released a new version of a product. As long as the users who were looking for the old page would be happy with the new one, then you can and should use a 301. –  Lèse majesté Nov 15 '10 at 11:23
    
+1 and updated again, I have still somthing unclear. –  Marco Demaio Nov 20 '10 at 12:58
1  
Agree with the last part of your answer. In particular, if users are finding that page via search engines, it's a good idea to keep the page with any appropriate content and a note that it's out of stock. You could list some similar items to encourage the user to move on. If there is one specific "replacement" item then use a 301 instead. –  DisgruntledGoat Nov 20 '10 at 14:26

For question: I would keep a 404/410 page for the excluded product, and create a new one for the new product.

For special case: probably I'd go with same above OR... use a 303 redirect. Perhaps a 301, but this definitively wouldn't be my first choice.

For second edit: As stated many times for web developers / seo guys: SEO is the result of a nice build page. Think on users first. Period.

Also don't reinvent the wheel because someone said you need to. Technologies exist and is your responsability to use them in a proper way. HTTP Headers and Response Codes covers almost any case you can imagine/need.

Now as user, I can say I don't mind if I reach an useful 404 page. Of course, ugly, times new roman size 10px, black and white, with techie text, are the worst ever a user can find. I hate that too. But if I reach a page that gives me the option to check a sitemap, search, and provide some probably similar links... this makes me happier than being redirected to home page.

Conclusion Do what you need to do, use what you already have (explore what you have better), and place yourself as your own user.

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