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I run an eCommerce website that sells used printing equipment. We never have a quantity over 1 of any product because it is all unique used equipment, so our inventory is ever changing. I keep getting 404 errors for really odd permalinks that I would think Google wouldn't be indexing.

/product-category/mailing-fulfillment/page/2/?orderby=price

This is a perfect example. The reason this page no longer exists is because we have 52 items per page, and our inventory for that category has dropped below 52 items. I don't want to create a redirect because what if we forget to remove the redirect when we go back up over 52 items and add another page. How can I stop google from indexing URLs like this?

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If you delete a page and it no longer exists then the correct status is 404. A 404 error does not imply that your server is broken, nor does it effect your good standings with Google or Bing, why should it? your server is working correctly.

You have 5 options:

  1. 404 them and have a good nights sleep knowing that your server is working correctly.
  2. 301 Redirect them to non-relevant and have a poor night's sleep knowing that it could hurt SEO.
  3. 301 Redirect them to similar pages and enjoy spending half your life editing the .htaccess for very little or no return, unless you gain a cauldron of backlinks to those pages.
  4. 301 Redirect them to 404 holding page and sleep well knowing that your logs are clean.
  5. 410 Gone Status, that way Google & Bing should drop the page a little quicker and it'll help you see what is intended and what is not. Helpful to find intended 404's and not intended.
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    Thanks for the reassurance. I'll probably go with option 1.
    – hippocoder
    Jun 22 '17 at 13:50
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    @hippocoder I've just added a 5. that's most likely your best option. It satisfies Google Console, Filtering Through Errors and will help you drop the pages even quicker. Jun 22 '17 at 13:52
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    However... No.5 is not the best option if that page is ever going to come back ie. "when we go back up over 52 items". And you shouldn't 301 redirect anything that is going to come back either. And No.4 arguably does not create "clean" logs, it just creates "misleading" logs. (Google may see this as a soft-404 anyway?)
    – MrWhite
    Jun 22 '17 at 17:05
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    Definitely don't 301 anything that might come back within the next decade. Jun 22 '17 at 18:44
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    It's "misleading" in the sense that instead of getting a single 404 to the missing resource being logged, you now get a 3xx, followed by an additional 404 for the "404 holding page" (assuming you are manually returning the 404 status) - two for the price of one - which is not "clean" and not necessarily trivial to match up. And GSC is still likely to report this as a 404 in the report. If you instead returned a 200 for the "404 holding page" (which is certainly "misleading"), GSC is still likely to report a soft-404 - so this isn't "clean" either.
    – MrWhite
    Jun 23 '17 at 8:47
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Your best option here is to noindex, follow all paginated content. If you do this, only the first page of your product category will appear in search. Since there is probably something on the first page at all times (or at the very least, this page will exist even when there's nothing dynamically loading there), your users coming from search engines will always hit a live page. When you do have products appearing on page 2, 3, etc., they will still get picked up as product pages, not as category pages. Noindexing paginated content is as easy as checking off a field in most popular CMS's. And since there's usually no benefit to having paginated content in SERPs, you'll be cleaning up the index and benefiting your main product pages, too.

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  • I think this will work well! Thanks a ton. I'm actually flying to Boston tonight for work, I'll buy you a beer haha. Thanks again!
    – hippocoder
    Jun 23 '17 at 15:54

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