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A question for +Pierre Far and +John Mueller . I have an issue with some 301 weirdness. I am looking at a page for a product that has been retired, and now 301s to its parent category. It has been 301ing for some weeks/months.

The problem is that if I search for the parent category the URL via Google with some keywords, the result shows up with the correct snippet but the URL of the retired product. You click the link and it takes you via the 301 to the correct page.

The cache of the page is for the parent category, so it seems that Google has seen the 301, but decides that the retired product URL is more appropriate than the category URL or something.

There are ~350k live products, with several thousand retired, and this problem seems to affect only a fraction of them.

Is my theory correct, or is something broken? Is my best option to 404 instead of 301 retired product pages (after a couple of months of return a 200 with some 'this is gone, but you may like...' type content), or to leave this be?

John Mueller's profile photoDavid Sottimano's profile photo
If you don't have a replacement product, I'd recommend returning 404 (with a friendly 404 page). 301-redirecting like you mentioned (without seeing the details) can result in the signals being forwarded, which can result in issues such as you're seeing. 
+John Mueller  Thanks for taking the time to respond, it's very much appreciated. In the case that product / job listings / classified ad pages are definitely no longer required, not receiving traffic but have accrued Pagrank, wouldn't the webmaster want to use a 301 to preserve at least * some *  of the PageRank (especially if there are inbound links)?

I definitely understand there can be algo signal issues with redirection, but the amount of soft 404 pages, let alone the amount of pages Googlebot would need to crawl would spiral out of control fairly quickly, right?
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