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SEO Website Audit

Shutting Down a Site

November 19, 2008
Hi Jill,

I work for a nonprofit that since 2000 has been operating an e-commerce website to provide emerging artists with a web presence. It has earned a toolbar PageRank of 5, thanks to some decent inbound links. Due to a variety of things, the parent company of the website has decided it's time to shut the site down.

Is there a certain protocol for doing this?

We are keeping the domain name registered and may someday decide to relaunch the site. I know that if we create a custom 404 page announcing the site's closure, we will lose all link popularity and rankings and have to start over again from scratch. I'm wondering if it would be better to keep the site hosted for informational purposes by having just a one-page site that directs new visitors and old customers to links to some of the artists' individual websites rather than redirecting to a 404 page? I suspect you will answer that it doesn't make much difference since a one-page website will lose its Page Rank and search engine rankings anyway, but I just wanted you to confirm.

Thanks in advance for your advice!

N. Anthony

++Jill's Response++

It's difficult to say for sure without knowing all the details. However, my first choice would be to simply keep the site exactly as is, at least in terms of the content. While you may no longer want to offer the e-commerce functions, perhaps you could allow the artists to simply add a link to their own websites (if they have one). In other words, when people get to the artists' page on your site, you could continue to provide the info you're providing, but add something that says, "To view more or purchase this artist's work, please visit their website here."

If for some reason that's not an option, then I would suggest setting up permanent 301 redirects from the artists' pages to their own websites. This will at least transfer some of your link popularity over to the artists' sites.

The worst thing you can do is put up 404 not-found pages. Those will remove the website completely from the search engines and if you do decide to relaunch it, you may very well be starting from scratch. Leaving just one page up for informational purposes is completely different from 404'ing it. (Technically, they provide different http header responses to browsers and spiders.) You won't lose PageRank, at least not from external links, if you keep an informational page up as the main home page; at least not until or unless the other websites that are linking to yours remove their links. Remember, PageRank is completely and totally about links and nothing else, as opposed to where your "page is ranking" in the search results, which is affected by the combination of hundreds of factors.

Another option is to redirect the entire site (via a 301) to another website that the company owns, which might be on a similar topic. That will enable the link popularity from the shut-down site to transfer to their other site. I do that all the time with my sites if I decide to close them down for some reason.

Hope this helps!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Company.

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Post Comment

 Hostgator said:
If I were you I will just let the website rot there. There is no harm putting a non-maintenance website online anyway. However if your company think that will affect the reputation then it will be another case.
 Cari Haus said:
I would also vote to leave the content there while turning off the e-commerce portion of the site. You could even put some Adsense or affiliate ads on the site and maybe generate a little income, if that was in harmony with your organizational goals. It would seem like a shame to lose that page rank and search engine indexing, especially if you might want to re-launch the site someday.