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As a new blogger, you're probably busy cranking out blog posts left and right, and the thought of deleting blog posts hasn’t crossed your mind. Yet.
Or, maybe you’re in the same place I was at the beginning of my blogging journey. You are cranking out blog posts without paying much attention to SEO, only to realize a few months later that you could’ve used a shorter URL than the one you chose. And that you could've optimized the blog post better.
Either way, at some point in your blogging journey, you’re going to want to delete blog posts, and when that time comes, it’s good to know how to do it safely.
So, in this post, I will walk you through how to safely remove a blog post without hurting SEO. And trust me, it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
Step 1: Decide if and where you’re going to redirect the user
One important thing to know is that even if you delete your blog post from your WordPress site, the URL will still exist, and anybody who tries to visit that URL will see a 404 message.
A 404 redirect isn’t technically bad for your SEO, but can result in a poor user experience, which is why Google recommends that you either redirect the user (and crawlers) to a relevant page or that you send them to a 404 page.
So the first step is to decide if you're going to send anyone who's trying to access the deleted blog post URL, to a different relevant page, or if you're going to let them see a 404 page.
You don't have to redirect a page before deleting it, but if you have relevant content elsewhere on your blog that the reader may benefit from reading instead, why not redirect them there instead of sending them to a 404-page?
When redirecting, it is essential that it is to relevant content so you don't just redirect it to your blog page or your homepage. If you don't have a relevant page you can send them, it is better that you send them to a 404-page than it is sending them to an unrelated page.
Step 2: Take a Backup of your Website
Before you start making changes to your site, it's always good practice to do a backup of your WordPress site. That way, you can always restore your website to its previous state.
If you're just deleting one or a few blog posts, you can skip this step, but if you're planning to delete many blog posts, then I highly recommend taking a backup before you start.
There are a few different ways you can backup your WordPress site, and many of the hosting companies have easy backup solutions. If you have a hosting account with SiteGround, for example, they offer a one-click WordPress backup solution.
Otherwise, you can use a WordPress plugin like UpdraftPlus to create manual backups of your site.
Step 3: Remove any links in the post
Once you have a backup, the next thing you want to do is remove all links that you have in the blog post (to avoid creating broken links).
To remove the links from the blog post, simply go through your post and where you have an anchor text, either delete the entire anchor text (which will remove the link) or mark the anchor text, and the block description will show and when it does, click on the “unlink” icon.
Step 4: Remove any links pointing to the post
Next, you want to identify and remove any links pointing to the blog post you're planning to delete. Again, you want to do this to avoid having broken links on your website.
The easiest way to identify the pages that may be linking to the post you’re planning to delete is to go into Google Search Console and select “Links” in the left-hand menu (you may have to scroll down the page to find it).
In the internal links section, select the page you’re removing, and it will open up a page that shows you which of your other pages are linking to this page.
You can now go into those blog posts, and do the same actions as in the previous step to remove the links.
If you're planning to redirect to a relevant page, a great thing to do is to review that relevant post to see if you already have the same links in that post and add any that are missing (and that may be relevant).
STEP 5: SET THE POST TO NOINDEX
Before deleting a page from your WordPress website, it's a good idea to set it to “noindex”. This tells search engines not to include the page in their search results.
You can do this by editing the page and adding a “noindex” tag to the HTML. If you're using a plugin like RankMath, you can easily mark it as “noindex” with just a click.
Once you've set it to “noindex”, you can delete the page without worrying about it showing up in search results. Just keep in mind that it may take some time (sometimes up to a year) for search engines to stop indexing the page and for it to be removed from search results. That's because it takes time for search engines to recheck the site and update their index.
Step 6: Delete the Actual Post
Once you've unlinked the post, you can safely delete it without worrying about accidentally creating broken links.
You do this by logging in to your WordPress dashboard and navigating to the post that you want to delete. When selected, a menu will appear underneath the title, where you can select ‘Trash' to remove it.
This will move the post into the trash folder, and it'll be automatically deleted after 30 days. If you want to delete the post immediately, you can click on the on the ‘Delete Permanently' link instead.
If anyone is now trying to access the blog post, they will see a 404 page. As I mentioned in the beginning, this is perfectly fine (from an SEO perspective) if you don't have any relevant page to redirect them to, and you can skip the next step. But if you do have a relevant page that you can guide the reader to, the next step is to set up a 301 redirect.
Step 7: Set up a 301 Redirect
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect that tells search engines that a page has been moved to a new location. It also automatically displays the new page to the reader.
The easiest way to set up a 301 redirect in WordPress is by using a plugin like Rank Math. Navigate to Rank Math settings, and make sure that Redirections is toggled on.
When the Redirections functionality is active, it will be visible in the left-hand side menu.
Go into Redirections and enter the deleted URL in “source URLs,” and write the URL you want to redirect to in “Destination URL.” Select “301 Permanent Move” in “Redirection Type,” scroll down to the bottom of the page, and click on the “Redirect Now” button.
And that’s it! That’s how to remove an old blog post safely without hurting SEO, and how to redirect to a related page.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below. I’d be happy to help!