Why Is Traffic Disappearing If I 301 Redirected My Content?
Even when you delete a page on your site so no human visitor can find it, Google’s search bots are still going to try to access that URL. A 301 redirect tells Google that URL A no longer exists, and the search bots and any visitors from the SERPS and inbound links should automatically pass through URL A to URL B. The 301 redirect helps preserve your traffic and SEO value of that old URL and helps the new URL gain some organic credibility from the day it is launched. Failing to implement 301 redirects, especially when you are redesigning the site and reorganizing the navigation, can severely damage your organic presence and set your website back years in terms of SEO value.
However, some sites might notice that, over time, organic traffic is actually a little lower than it was before the 301 redirects. So what happened? If the 301 redirects are in place shouldn’t traffic stay the same? Well think of it like this. Imagine your website initially had 10 pages of content. That’s ten different URLs that can appear in Google and drive traffic to your website. Remember, Google ranks individual pages of a site, not just the site as a whole. If you deleted and redirected 5 of those pages, your website now has 1/2 as many entry points as it once did, right. Eventually, Google will actually REMOVE those deleted and redirected URLs from the SERPs and you won’t get any organic traffic from those pages down the road.
Take a look at the graph below. You can see how traffic trended down very quickly once that URL was deleted back in November 2013.
Within two months or so traffic went from 200+ visitors a month to this one page to no visitors what so ever. If you were looking at your Google Analytics account from a high level it might appear that your website was losing organic traffic for no reason. Is something wrong with your SEO program? Did your site get dinged with some kind of penalty? No! But that URL that used to send 200 visitors a month is no sending 0. Imagine if you deleted 5 pages—that’s 1000 visitors that you could be potentially losing given enough time, simply because you are cutting down on the amount of content you have in the SERPs.
Obviously sites need to delete content as they grow and evolve. Leaving a bunch of irrelevant URLs up just to grab a few extra visitors from the SERPs makes no business sense, especially if those pages point to products/services you no longer offer. Of course you have to delete those pages! But when you delete pages from your site you’re eventually going to lose the traffic that page used to bring in. It doesn’t mean anything in wrong, it just means Google has re-crawled and re-indexed your website properly, updating your organic presence to fit your actual site.
It’s very important to keep track of all the URLs you delete and 301 redirect. Obviously you want to keep an eye on them to make sure the 301 redirects worked properly and you have no 404 errors. But you also want to keep track of them so should traffic dip a little bit you can check on those URLs and explain the loss.
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