Getting a high search ranking is a satisfying accomplishment, but businesses don’t rest on their laurels at the peak of SERPs. Anything companies do to get to the top can change if Google adjusts its algorithms, and there are plenty of other businesses hungrily eyeing keywords and figuring out how to dethrone the leaders. Basically, you need to be constantly vigilant to make sure your content marketing strategy is strong.
Keep an eye on structure
An underrated factor in search rankings is website structure and usability. If searchers can’t easily navigate websites, Google’s crawlers will similarly have a hard time and won’t be as apt to index pages. This is particularly challenging for business sites, where there are numerous product and service landing pages. When there are numerous secondary pages, companies must also create strong connections between them so the entire web presence is navigable.
A user recently asked Matt Cutts about the importance of website cleanliness and sound structure in the latest Webmaster Help Channel video. The question was specifically about ecommerce product pages, but its implications are pertinent for all sites. The question referred to items that are no longer available in virtual stockrooms, with the webmaster inquiring whether it is better to remove these pages, and if so, how it will affect crawling and SEO rank.
Cutts, as he often does, went back to the most fundamental Google response: How will these pages affect usability and overall website navigation? Essentially, removing an entire page (with or without an HTTP 404 return) will cause a break in a users’ browsing if a company only has a few products or a limited number of services. Conversely, a site with hundreds or thousands of products could probably remove an entire page and not be affected.
Walk a mile in searchers’ shoes
The best course of action web marketers can take in a situation like this is to picture how a user would encounter a missing product or service. If offerings are temporarily unavailable, alter pages to indicate that they’ll be back. However, if your company is retooling its web strategy or overall business plan, and the existence of a landing page might throw a wrench in the entire process, it’s acceptable to completely delete a page. Just be sure to take a comprehensive look at the overall website navigation before making such an enormous alternation. Sales pipelines or calls to action that run into dead ends because pages were removed won’t just make it difficult for users to traverse websites – they’ll be recognized by Google’s crawlers and negatively impact search rankings.