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I have classified ads website with 15,000 ads. Currently daily a lot of ads are deleted or expired so are no longer available.

What is the best way for to manage this missing pages for search engines (Google)? Redirect all to homepage (301)? or leave it accessible but "not available" forever?

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  • What type of classified ads are these? You might want to different things for different categories. Real estate classified generate interest even after the house has sold, but that might not be the case for all types? Aug 24, 2021 at 20:01
  • Do you have data about how much the item sold for (like the final price of an auction)? If so, keeping the page up could make sense to help people trying to price their similar item. Aug 24, 2021 at 20:02
  • My category is Tires. New and used. I have linked other shops with XML so if they delete an item then automatically delete at my website. And a lot of used ones is sold everyday...
    – RoX
    Aug 24, 2021 at 20:41
  • @RoX Do you have a overall "Tire deals" page, or somewhere else relevant to redirect the traffic from the expired/deleted ad? In other words, where is the next best place to take the user if their goal is to view your tire ads or current promotions. Aug 24, 2021 at 21:12
  • Google recommends you use the unavailable_after tag if you want content to disappear from search results at a known date in the future. It could help prevent stale results from showing in search until Google recrawls them. Ex: <meta name="robots" content="unavailable_after: 2020-11-16"> Nov 16, 2021 at 0:05

2 Answers 2

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Leaving pages accessible with a "this product is not available" message has the potential to make your site appear low-quality to search engines. If search engines send traffic to such page, users will tend to see that the product isn't available, hit the back button to go back to the the search results, and select a different site. I've seen that having a high bounce-back-rate can have a disastrous effect on SEO.

Redirecting the pages to the home page is problematic for both usability and SEO. From a usability standpoint, users don't find the content they wanted and your home page is unlikely feature similar enough content to satisfy them (like the same model and size of tire for which they were searching.) Search engines treat redirects to the home page like a 404 error and stop indexing the content of the page without passing any link juice to your home page. Google calls home page redirects "soft 404 errors."

The best thing that you can do for users is show them a list of the most similar current content:

These P225/70R16 97H tires were already sold, but here are available tires that will fit your vehicle.

  1. link to other similar classified ad
  2. Another link to another similar classified ad
  3. etc.

Once you have that functionality you have two options for search engines:

  1. Leave the content of the original classified ad accessible forever, but put the list of similar links above it so that users have something to do other than hitting the back button.
  2. Remove the content and return a "410 Gone" HTTP status with a custom error page showing the list of similar links.

The first option will allow the pages to be indexed by search engines. That could be OK if a significant portion of the users that land on the page are satisfied by the other classified ads in your similar list.

The second option prevents search engines from indexing the old content so that it can't hurt your current content.

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  • "Leaving pages accessible with a "this product is not available" message has the potential to make your site appear low-quality to search engines" - where is your information source for this? Products going out of stock or no longer existing is totally normal. An ecommerce site may have 100s, even 1000s of products go out of stock on a daily basis - this is absolutely not an indicator of quality. In fact a site that has a proper stock handling mechanism is probably an indicator of higher quality. Oct 31, 2021 at 15:28
  • eCommerce sites with items that are temporarily out of stock are a very different case. Those are not short lived temporary pages. An eCommerce site will have a small percentage of its pages out of stock whereas this question is about a classified site where most of the pages have expired. Oct 31, 2021 at 18:43
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If a page no longer exists then a 404 is the traditional way to respond.

410s are a teeny tiny bit better because they are stating that the page is permanently unavailable.

Has the content 'moved' to the homepage? No? Then a 301 is not really the correct response, however you might argue it is a better experience for users. If that is the case then feel free to use a 301. But just be aware Google may not remove old content quite as quickly.

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    301 to the homepage if a user was expecting a promotion or ad is not a better experience IMO Aug 25, 2021 at 13:57
  • "however you might argue it is a better experience for users" but someone could reasonably argue this and they would be entitled to their personal opinion. It is all moot however as per my answer, the correct response is a 404 or 410 once the page no longer exists. @MikeCiffone Aug 26, 2021 at 14:27
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    I strongly disagree that a homepage 301 for missing content is ever acceptable or a better experience for users. I believe nobody should feel free to use a 301 in that case. I'm issuing a downvote to signal to others that I disagree, but please don't take it personally! Aug 26, 2021 at 17:35
  • @MaximillianLaumeister you clearly didn't read my original answer though? I state that a 404/410 is the correct response, however users could if they chose use a 301 if they decide it is a better experience. It doesn't really matter what your opinion is on whether that is a better experience or not. Because it is an option, and a highly popular one at that. A 301 redirect to the homepage is correct in situations where that content HAS moved to the homepage, so to blanket state it is never acceptable is provably incorrect. Oct 31, 2021 at 15:34
  • Also I would just add that although I really shouldn't take this personally... as a technical SEO with over 15 years of experience, seeing my technically superior answers downvoted in place of junk answers from devs who read an article on SEO once a decade ago is painful and has directly led to me not contributing. Oct 31, 2021 at 15:38

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