Expired Content & SEO: 5 Examples of How to Handle Old Listings
Many enterprise websites, in the marketplace and classifieds space in particular, have to deal with listings that expire. The items either sell out or become permanently unavailable, with no option of coming back (as opposed to e-commerce sites, where products can be restocked).
And that’s totally OK, according to Google!
It’s not always feasible to manage these listings individually, so you need a scalable strategy that will work for both your users and search engines.
When evaluating what to do with your expired listing pages, ask yourself the following questions:
- How valuable are they to visitors? (e.g. an online auction site that lets users see and compare the prices for similar items sold)
- How much traffic were they generating (organic, social, paid, etc)?
- How much PageRank did they receive?
- Are there live listings that are similar in content to the expired pages?
The answers to these questions will help you plan and automate your strategy. Additionally, it’s important to note that the strategies outlined here are intended for listings that become permanently unavailable / out-of-stock. If your content is temporarily out-of-stock or seasonal, you can leave the pages live, but remove internal links to these pages until they become available.
Continue reading all possible scenarios and SEO solutions for handling expired content, or jump to a specific one:
- 404/410 expired content
- 301 redirect expired content
- Keep expired content live
- NOINDEX the product pages
- Customizing the option that’s right for you
1. When to 404/410 expired content
Let’s say, for example, you’re working on a marketplace website that sells items that are fairly common in nature. After evaluating your expired listings, you determine that those pages no longer offer value for the user, do not receive visits or crawls from bots, and have low number of inlinks and PageRank.
In this scenario, it may be a good idea to remove the URLs from the site, making sure they return a 404 or 410 status code (choose the latter if you want the listing to be removed from the search engines’ index faster).
As a bonus, to create the optimal user experience that keeps visitors on your site, consider creating custom 404 pages that list similar items or a search box to help visitors find what they’re looking for.
2. When to 301 redirect expired content
If your expired listings don’t offer value for the user, but still have enough visits volume and/or PageRank (potentially from being previously promoted), you’ll likely want to choose an option that disallows visitors from reaching that page, but still preserves any search engine equity it’s earned.
The solution here would be to check if you have another page on your site with similar content. If yes, 301 redirect the expired page to it.
If you use the 301 redirect option, make sure you keep the following in mind:
- Avoid redirecting to the homepage or top category page. When choosing the redirect option for expired listings, remember that it’s best to redirect from an expired item page to a similar item, and not the home page or a top category page (per Google’s John Mueller’s recommendation). This ensures that the content of the destination page is similar to the expired listing, otherwise, Google may treat it as a soft 404.
- It’s OK to 404 the page if there’s no similar content. If you can’t find a page that’s similar enough, then it’s better to remove the listing with a 404/410 status rather than 301 redirect it to something irrelevant.
- Beware of redirect chains! Redirecting to another listing runs the risk of creating redirect chains (e.g. you redirect an expired listing to another listing, which will also expire soon and be redirected to yet another listing). Having redirect chains negatively affects your crawl budget.
3. When to keep your expired content live
Let’s say, for example, you’re working on an online auction site that lists rare items. You encounter some expired listings that still appear to add value to your site visitors. For example, maybe those expired listing pages allow visitors to compare prices or find details about the item sold.
In this scenario, it may be best to keep the pages live on the site.
If you choose this option, we recommend taking the following actions to ensure you don’t harm your SEO performance:
- Set noindex tags on the listings that expired. This will lower the chances of keyword cannibalization.
- Minimize the negative impact on the site’s crawl budget by removing the expired URLs from site structure or use nofollow links.
- Allow these listings to be searchable by people who are already on your site via your on-site search bar, as long as your on-site search result pages are not indexable.
- Use meta data “unavailable_after” tag, if you know your listings will expire after a certain date. This is essentially a “timed” version of noindex. (Note: Must be in RFC850 format — example: “Monday, 04-May-20 12:00:00 UTC”).
- Use the structured data “validThrough” property to the date when the listing expires.
- Exclude expired pages from your sitemaps.
4. When to NOINDEX your product pages
We worked with one large automotive marketplace website that took a pretty unique strategy for handling their expired listings.
After evaluating their expired content, they found that:
- Their product detail pages (PDPs) do not have characteristics that are unique enough for previous price comparisons.
- PDPs do not drive significant search traffic.
- There was simply too much inventory. If all their listings were available for crawling, it would lead to index bloat and waste their crawl budget.
The solution they came up with was to place a NOINDEX tag on all PDPs, even when they are in-stock. Because of this, they don’t ever have to worry about the expired listings.
5. Customize the option that’s right for you!
So, which strategy is right for your website? The answer, which you’ve probably heard your fair share of times in the SEO world, is: IT DEPENDS!
As your site changes and grows, you may want to try different approaches, or you can even combine your strategies. For example, leave the expired listings live for a period of time with NOINDEX, then completely remove them with a 404.
The main point is, work on creating a solid and scalable strategy for your expired listings — it’s a big step in the right direction when it comes to your crawl budget optimization!