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A client is in the late stages (code complete) of a website redesign and unfortunately hasn't implemented 301 redirects to point high traffic pages to the new URL's. As I understand it our only option at this point is to create redirects within the CMS.

Our CMS allows us to do this:

  1. www.mysite.com/category/current-page.html will redirect to www.mysite.com/new-category-name/new-page.html
  2. The site now uses custom logic on our 404 page to check this list of redirects and if one exists forwards the user to the new-page.html

I understand that using 301 redirects would be the correct way to maintain our page rank but I think that would require a code change which isn't possible.

Question

How will search engines respond to this? Will they wait until the redirect happens and allow us to keep our page rank (authority, trust, etc) or will they see the 404 page and down-rank us? Worst case...will they make our new-page.html start from a rank of "0"?

Thanks for your help.

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Oct 25 '13 at 21:47

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You must implement 301 redirects in order to keep your page rank in case your urls have changed.

If you don't do that your rank will disappear forever, and your new urls will start from 0.

You've said your client's website will return http 404 code, that's not good at all, you should avoid it. If your are putting code to handle and fire redirect inside your 404 page, you must take it out from there and put it somewhere else, try to find a place where to execute it before sending 404 code.

From Google Webmaster Tools Help, here:

When to return a 404 status code

When you remove a page from your site, think about whether that content is moving somewhere else, or whether you no longer plan to have that type of content on your site.

If you’re moving that content to a new URL, you should 301 redirect the old URL to the new URL—that way when users come to the old URL looking for that content, they’ll be automatically redirected to something relevant to what they were looking for.

From Google Webmaster Tools Help, here:

Soft 404 errors

Usually, when someone requests a page that doesn’t exist, a server will return a 404 (not found) error. This HTTP response code clearly tells both browsers and search engines that the page doesn’t exist. As a result, the content of the page (if any) won’t be crawled or indexed by search engines.

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