August 14, 2013
We have a website that was built many years ago when things were done differently. I believe it to be fairly authoritative for a specific keyword, but am convinced that we got penalized at some point (well before Panda/Penguin). Nothing we did was intended to be spammy. Rather, it was just how things were done way back when and we didn't correct them as time went on.
We have a webpage where the drill-down navigation method intended to bring the customer to their intended product ends up creating over 10,000 pages (!) of virtually zero-content. We have long ago created a database-driven form that lets the customer find their product without all of those pages. Yet we have been remiss in removing the low-quality content pages for fear of losing any benefit from links we may have received.
We are completely convinced that any benefit that we might have received from incoming links is greatly defeated by this mass of low value pages and would like to remove them. But we are still concerned about doing this correctly. Should we 301-redirect all of these pages to a single page? Or would we be just as well off deleting them entirely?
While you mention that you're "completely convinced" that you are not receiving any benefit from those pages, you should verify that via your Google Analytics. To do this, check the "Landing Page" report and do a search for a string of text that can be found in the URLs. Make sure that you're not receiving any organic (or any) meaningful traffic to those pages. If you are receiving traffic to some of them, you may want determine if they're possibly still useful to people and if so, keep them incorporated into the site in some useful way. It would be a shame to lose those visitors if you don't have to.
If after reviewing your analytics you're still convinced that the pages are essentially useless, it's probably best to 301-redirect their URLs to their closest counterparts rather than remove them and create 404 errors. Even more so if there are links pointing to them on other websites. This way you won't have all those pesky 404 errors showing up in your logs (or in your Google Webmaster Tools account) and any link popularity will be passed to the URLs to which you redirected them.
Hope this helps!
Jill Whalen has been an SEO Consultant and the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston area SEO Company since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen
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