How to remove pages and retain traffic

I spoke a few days ago about how I made the decision to change one of my sites from a blog to a forum. When removing so many pages from a site you are obviously going to give out a lot of 404 errors ie. visitors would get a ‘Page Not Found’ type message when they tried to view a blog post which was no longer there.

I briefly mentioned the other day that I set up a 301 redirect for some of these posts. A 301 redirect tells search engines that the content has simply been moved to a new page. The blog had 198 posts in total. I checked google analytics and saw which posts were getting the most traffic and I copied and pasted these on to my forum. Then I edited my .htaccess file with the old page and the new one.

Here’s an example of a line I used for one of the pages :

Redirect 301 /2008/05/15/nes-coffee-tablenes-coffee-table/

This can also be achieved easily through cpanel. The blog had around 198 posts however I decided to only copy about 10 posts from the blog to the forum (mostly reviews and longer more in depth blog posts). I didn’t copy the rest because they simply weren’t relevant ie. news stories which are months old etc. Individually the pages which I never copied were not bringing in a lot of traffic however collectively they were. I realised how much yesterday when I saw the volume of 404 errors and how much traffic dropped. I kicked myself for not realising this had to be addressed sooner and then looked at the best thing to do.

The solution was actually painfully easy. Since I wasn’t going to reproduce the pages I just setup a redirect to the home page. This will direct all visitors who come to the site via a search engine listing for an old blog post.

All I had to do was add this line to my .htaccess file :

ErrorDocument 404

Of course, long term this isn’t a great solution. A 404 page should explain to visitors that they have reached a page which is no longer there. However, since 99% of my 404 traffic will be from people who came via an old blog link, it might be worthwhile doing something different in the short term. For example, for a few months I could redirect visitors to a page saying that the blog was recently changed to a forum. After that I could create a traditional 404 error page with the ‘You’re looking for something which isn’t there type response’.

I’m hoping that this setup will help me gain more new members to the forum organically (because the traffic is targeted). Next time I do something like this, I’ll make sure I get all of this setup beforehand! :)

I am an experienced blogger who has been working on the internet since 2000. On this blog, I talk about WordPress, internet marketing, YouTube, technology and travelling.
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