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Imagine a site that contains 100's of 'homepages' for merchants. (e.g. www.example.com/cool_merchant)

Some of these pages may exist for long periods, build up a nice SEO presence, and then be temporarily disabled for some time (e.g. a few weeks).

How bad for SEO is it for bots to see these pages return 404 for a while? Should I show bots a 302 instead?

Note that the user will be directed to the home page with an AngularJS app (not a 'real' 302). By default the bot will see a 404 so I am wondering if we need to cater for bots specifically.

  • "temporarily disabled for some time." - How long is "some time"; a few days, a few months? – MrWhite Dec 1 '16 at 12:50
  • good question. let's say, a few weeks – Kieran Dec 1 '16 at 12:53
  • What is the reason for disabling the pages temporarily? – unor Dec 2 '16 at 16:36
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A 302 to the home page is likely to be seen as a soft-404 anyway, so that's unlikely to be of any benefit.

A 404 can be perceived as temporary (a 410 is more permanent) and if the page doesn't exist then a 404 is certainly valid. There's not a lot you can do; if the page doesn't exist then it doesn't exist.

However, if this is really a "temporary" thing and its absence is planned. Then a 503 "Service Unavailable" status might be appropriate. If the period of time is known then this can be stated in a Retry-After header. The search engines are likely to hold on to the resource for as along as possible. But a "few weeks" might be too long?

If the original page is not available for a lengthy period of time then the search engines will likely drop the page from the SERPs regardless of status code.

  • Why not use 307? This one is really Temporary Redirect as opposed to 503 Server Error. – tonydoe Dec 1 '16 at 17:08
  • Returning a 503 is a misdirection, as this code should be for genuine problems with the server. Based on the first half of your answer, I think maybe I'll stick with returning a 404. It's the truth after all! Thanks for your response. – Kieran Dec 1 '16 at 17:24
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    @tonydoe I don't think any 3xx redirection is really appropriate. The page has been removed and there is no equivalent page to redirect to. Yes, a 503 may not be appropriate in this situation. However, a 503 doesn't necessarily indicate a lasting "error" state - it is a recognised method of indicating "planned maintenance" / "temporary downtime" in order to minimise the effect on rankings. – MrWhite Dec 1 '16 at 18:04
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    A custom 404 is probably the best bet (for users as well). It is usually preferable for users to see a custom 404 with explanation and appropriate links, rather than be auto-redirected to the home page without explanation. – MrWhite Dec 1 '16 at 18:05
  • @w3dk what I mean is just that the questioner noted that users will be actually redirected to the homepage and this redirection would be active for a few weeks. It only seems logical to use Temporary Redirect code for bots. – tonydoe Dec 1 '16 at 20:52

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