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I maintain a website for an organisation. It has undergone a couple of rebuilds, and each time the pages of the old site have been kept available for historical interest.

It has been brought to my attention that a Google search for the organisation's name (in this case, the abbreviated name) brings up the home page of one of the legacy sites as the top result. Obviously, if somebody searches for an organisation, the first result they should see is a page of the current website, not an old one. Furthermore, there are a number of pages from the legacy site in the first page of results.

Is there anything I can do about this? Maybe something I can do to the old pages to tell search engines that these pages are of lesser importance?

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    Are the pages on the new site same as the old one? If yes why don't you implement page level 301 redirect from old to new one? Should both the sites be live? – Kannan Jul 21 '18 at 20:54
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    Would you mind if the old sites were not indexed in Google at all? There are many solutions to tell search engines not to index pages even if those pages are still available to users. – Stephen Ostermiller Jul 22 '18 at 12:43
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    @Kannan How would this enable the pages to be kept available for historical interest? – Stewart Jul 23 '18 at 12:25
  • @StephenOstermiller Telling search engines not to index those pages at all is straightforward. Really, my question is about whether I can lower the rankings of these pages as an alternative to non-indexing. – Stewart Aug 25 '18 at 10:32
  • "the home page of one of the legacy sites" - Do the "new" sites have a different domain name? Or are the legacy sites moved to a different / "archive" URL on the new site? (...and redirects implemented?) – MrWhite Oct 20 '18 at 21:44
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The solution to de-rank the legacy pages in relation to the live page is to create more internal links to the current page, that is, the one that you want to have more prominence in search results.

Link to the current page from all of the legacy pages with text such as "You are viewing the legacy version of this page. The current page may contain updated content." Search engines will see the large amount of internal links to your current site and give it prominence. At the same time, you will be giving your users a tool to navigate to the current version if they load the legacy version by accident.

For all of the major search engines, there is no way to directly lower a search engine result's position without removing it from the search results altogether, but by using this internal link trick, you can send search engines a signal of which pages on your site are the most important to you.

  • By the way, canonical tags are out of the question because they are for tagging substantially identical content. Since your legacy content is not the same as the live content, the canonical tag is semantically incorrect and likely to be ignored. – Maximillian Laumeister Oct 20 '18 at 16:47
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Use link with rel canonical to clarify which version of the same webpage you would like to appear in SERP. Each page needs to have the link tag in the <head> section of it.

<link rel="canonical" href="Absolute URL to the main version of page">
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    This will only work if the pages actually have 80% the same text. Google is now ignoring canonical tags when it thinks the pages are not duplicate enough. This solution will also prevent the old pages from getting indexed altogether if Google honors the canonical. It sounds to me that the asker would prefer that the pages are indexed, but low priority. – Stephen Ostermiller Jul 22 '18 at 12:45
  • Old pages are likely to have some links. Just not letting Google to index old pages might harm SEO stats. As he explained, they just rebuilt the website. So it's more likely to have changed the way the website looks, behaves, UI/UX, etc. The content is probably much the same. – Shayan Davoodi Jul 22 '18 at 13:10
  • What if the page in question doesn't have an equivalent on the new site? – Stewart Jul 23 '18 at 12:24
  • Then you can simply add a <meta name="robots" content="noindex"> meta tag to it so it won't get indexed/will get removed from Google's index and won't be listed. – Shayan Davoodi Jul 24 '18 at 13:31
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    It seems to me that the purpose of canonical is to indicate the primary URL of a single page that is accessible via multiple URLs - e.g. with or without the 'www.' in the hostname, index.html or bare folder reference, or different capitalisations if the webserver isn't case sensitive. Mapping legacy pages to live ones is quite different from this. This aside, it's basically saying "don't index this page", which can be done more directly, rather than "keep it low in the rankings" (see my comment on the question). – Stewart Aug 25 '18 at 10:49

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