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I have been designing a new company website on Wordpress. Its design and content is all entirely different from the old site. The old site was quite confusing, organizationally speaking, with lots of very similar pages with slightly different text. The new site does a better job of consolidating relevant information into appropriate pages.

Several of the old pages rank on Google, and we want to maintain these positions for the new consolidated page, as far as possible. I had planned on simply using 301 redirects to send visitors from the multiple old pages to the one, new consolidated page for each subject. So, for example:

Old
website.com/subject-v1
website.com/subject-v2
website.com/subject-v3

would all be 301 redirected to:

New
website.com/subject

To the extent that this consolidation reduces the overall number of pages on the site—and reduces the number of internal links connecting them—will this negatively impact page rankings? How much?

My company has a pre-existing relationship with a web marketing/SEO person (who, in fact, was responsible for the old site). He says that to maintain our SEO position, we should not redirect the old pages to the new ones, in the manner I described above, but instead recreate each and every page from the old website, leaving the content the same as it was, but not linking to these "new" old pages in the main navigation on the new site. Here are his full comments:

"We need to retain all of the existing website pages. They need to exist on the new website (excluding contact us pages). We then needs to take the content from [the old] pages and build a new corresponding page using the new website’s creative branding (template). These new pages WILL NOT be linked in the navigation. The web user will not be looking for this pages when they are on the website. But these 100+ existing web pages that we have within the current web site, are critical to many existing pages that rank. It’s essential we create these landing pages or risk losing all of the rank we have built in the last decade. The drop would be very quickly and the inbound sales leads [SEO company] generates every month via phone and email would begin to dry up.

"We have layers upon layers upon layers of linking structures. If we remove many pages from the site, that infrastructure which is so vital will collapse. It’s not different than if [SEO company] deleted all of the accounts that we have created over the years that push to those web pages."

My question: what should I make of his advice? From a user and branding perspective, I'm against the idea—one of the key reasons for creating a new website was to consolidate and update information according to a wider company rebranding, and I wouldn't want visitors from Google to be redirected to pages with content from the old website. From an SEO perspective, his comments seem to contradict other resources I have read online, but as someone who is decidedly not an expert in matters SEO-related, I wanted to get an informed opinion before raising this issue with the final decision-makers.

Thanks in advance for your input!

  • What does this consolidation actually do? Does it create larger pages with more information on each page? Does it try to cover topics more concisely such that only one similar sized page is needed about each topic? – Stephen Ostermiller Feb 12 '18 at 18:04
  • In general, the new pages are somewhat longer. The content (marketing language, images, etc.) is entirely new, but about the same service that was described over multiple pages on the old site. – F. Jacobson Feb 12 '18 at 18:09
  • If you look at search queries in Google Search Console, are people searching in ways that the combined pages are no longer going to answer? – Stephen Ostermiller Feb 12 '18 at 18:21
  • Thanks for responding so quickly! No—the combined pages are more relevant for our search terms (and frankly just much better—the old site was a bit of a disaster, in terms of both design and content). So, assuming the new content is all more relevant/engaging, would we be at a disadvantage by using the 301 strategy rather than maintaining all the old pages (in addition to the new ones)? – F. Jacobson Feb 12 '18 at 19:12
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Your previous SEO man's statement is correct. But there is another question: what would happen, if you drive your approach instead of approach recommended by your previous SEO man.

The answer on this question depends. I'll try to describe, which thoughts are behind the answer:

Lets imagine, your old pages, like website.com/subject-A-1, have external backlinks.

Case 1: you create a new website's exact counterpart for the old page, like new-website.com/subject-A-1. Than, 301-redirecting of the old url to the new one will route external backlinks to the new url with the same content too, and preserve the chain backlink→content.

Case 2: you don't create an exact counterpart for the old page. Nevertheless you establish a 301-redirect from the old url to the new one, as you describe in your approach. Doing so you do route external backlinks theoretically correctly to the new url, but the chain backlink→content will be broken.

In some cases it isn't bad to break this chain - for example in cases, where you equip the new page with more, longer and better content, as it was on the old page.

The desicion you'll make is based on two things:

  • whether and how many external backlinks are pointed to old pages,
  • what kind of content you would place on new pages.

Are there no or just a few backlinks and/or would you make the content on the new page MUCH better as on the old pages - don't hesitate to use the approach you propose.

Are there many backlinks and/or would be the content on new pages equal or purer as on the old pages - drive the approach by your previous SEO man and create for each old url a new counterpart.

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Your question is not easily answerable. Google has a complex system and big changes that you expect to improve rankings may do the opposite, or not have any effect at all.

As you describe the changes, it sounds to me like it should be a good move.

  • You content quality is better
  • You pay more attention to user experience
  • You are putting 301 redirects into place

Consolidating and combining content is a recommended SEO strategy for sites that are hit by Google's Panda algorithm. Google does not like sites that have many poor quality pages indexed.

On the other hand, you are combining several pages. If those pages are each ranking for something, there are no guarantees that the combined page will rank for the same things. In fact, it is almost guaranteed that Google is going to change your rankings for most queries. You may end up doing better in many cases, but you might never again ranking for terms for which you had been ranking.

I'm not sure what your SEO experts are talking about with "layers upon layers upon layers of linking structures". Putting 301 permanent redirects into place usually mitigate against any loss of SEO value from incoming links. They could be worried that the old pages have links on them to other pages which are important. I'd follow up on this point and get them to explain it better. Have them give you concrete examples of links they think are important that will be affected.

I usually advise SEO testing in cases like this. Test the waters with 10% of your topics. Initially only combine the pages in you test set of topics. Wait a few months and see what happens. If it works well, go ahead with all of them. If it doesn't, you may have to leave some old content in place as your SEO expert suggests.

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Simple answer: YES, consolidating pages will negatively affect your rankings.

If you want to maintain your rankings, do NOT combine your content into a new page. Simply redirect the old page to the new page with the same content and on-site SEO you had on the original and you should be fine.

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