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Currently, closed questions are still indexed by search engines. This makes sense for duplicates, but I think this is counterproductive for other closed questions.

Encountering a closed question when search for something gives a bad first impression to the user, the closed question often won't be helpful to the user as it might not have gotten an answer before closing and was likely a bad question anyway.

Getting anonymous visitors also won't help the asker to get his question reopened, as visitors from search engines are unlikely to have the required 3k reputation.

One counter argument would be that closed questions should be deleted anyway after a while. And while this is true, in practice this doesn't happen systematically and many closed questions are just left alone and forgotten. There are 128,000 undeleted non-duplicate closed questions on Stack Overflow, so clearly the deletion of closed questions isn't happening effectively.

Indexing bad questions isn't making the internet a better place, it arguably even makes it worse and we should stop doing that.

Jeff Atwood seems to agree with me, at least for closed questions without answers:

Yeah closed and unanswered should definitely be delisted. These kinds of questions usually have negative votes so they do have a lower score in the sitemap weight but I am not sure how much emphasis G gives that. I will forward this on for SE to think about improving.

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By "search engines", you mean external search engines, like Google ? Aren't they the ones doing the indexing ? – Denys Séguret Jan 7 '13 at 9:29
@dystroy Yes, but you can tell search engines not to index specific pages of your site, either using robots.txt or the "noindex" meta tag. – Mad Scientist Jan 7 '13 at 9:31
I find it counter productive when I search and one of these closed questions shows up at the top of the results. It is usually of low quality or with no and or few answers. – Travis J Jan 7 '13 at 10:00
Yes but in this case you may lose some users that search for some keywords that is not on the final open answer. – Aristos Jan 7 '13 at 10:11
Some of those are questions that have good answers that contain useful information, though. Others are questions that aren't of bad quality, just not constructive given today's guidelines. I'm not saying we shouldn't do this, but I think more refinement is needed. I do find myself a little annoyed when I hit these through searches as well, but I think the scope you have right now is a little too broad. – Tim Post Jan 7 '13 at 10:26
@TimPost I'm coming more from the SE 2.0 side, where we have much less historical baggage than SO. On SO it might be necessary to adjust the criteria. – Mad Scientist Jan 7 '13 at 11:18
In reference to a discussion I opened on Meta SO earlier -- I would fully support any effort to add <meta name="robots" content="noindex,follow" /> to closed questions. – Scott Arciszewski May 11 '15 at 11:01

This sounds like a good idea, and it doesn't seem to be happening at the moment! Example search

But the scope would have to be narrowed down.

Questions that could be un-indexed wholesale:

  • Not a real question
  • Not constructive
  • Too localized

Questions that could be un-indexed except if they have lots of upvotes, or views:

  • Off Topic

Alternatively, questions could be generally exempted from the un-indexing if they surpass a certain vote/view threshold.

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The vote / view threshold would pretty much take care of our older (mostly archived) 'greatest hits'. However, if a question is asked that is not a duplicate and receives an answer with a score of 5 or more, it can generally be edited to fit the answer and made useful. – Tim Post Jan 7 '13 at 11:16
@TimPost as far as I understand, it sometimes happens that existing answers effectively lock things from substantial editing: "Change the question, and you invalidate all of the answers" – gnat Jan 7 '13 at 11:41
@gnat That does happen from time to time, I'm talking about the reverse of that. Crap question, several (similar) good answers to it, the question can generally be cleaned up (as long as the scope hasn't flipped mid way). – Tim Post Jan 7 '13 at 11:46

This problem is particularly noticeable when it comes to looking for libraries. For example, if you Google for "javascript charting", SO has the first two results but one is closed and the other locked. Therefore, they're frozen in time. Both topics are now outdated yet they're polluting the google results to make it harder to find a relevant answer.

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But questions looking for libraries are off topic. Of course, it might still be very nice to not bring people to Stack Overflow if we cannot help them. But just in case you think that we have better results for these examples: we don't. (Or we shouldn't.) – Arjan Aug 18 '13 at 15:07

I think there might a middle ground here that can be found as both sides of the argument have valid points.

One one hand, indexing these questions bring new users to Stack Overflow, but on the other hand, teasing a new user (or an existing user) searching via oogle with the possibility of an answer is not the best user experience. Similarly, there are a lot of good questions that are closed that bring in new users and should be indexed.

So I suggest a compromise and only indexing closed questions with at least 1 upvoted answer or questions closed as duplicates. The fact that the answer has an upvote means it was helpful to someone and might be valuable to someone else.

Indexing unanswered (non-duplicate) closed questions serves little purpose as the closed post will generally have little to offer a new user coming in via Google (or your search engine of choice). It's not like the new user will get an answer to their question and they won't be able to provide their own answer.

Meta sites should be an exception as closed questions there may still have value regardless of answered status.

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The standard rationale for not deleting these posts is that there might be something useful in the comments and this is often true - normally some version of "Why!!! Please don't! Noooooo!" but it can be something more technical. Doesn't the same rationale fit for this situation? – ben is uǝq backwards Aug 18 '13 at 21:24
@benisuǝqbackwards for someone experienced with SO/SE, I would say yes, but if I was a brand new user, stumbled in via google to a post that had no answers and only a few comments, I would probably glance and move on. – psubsee2003 Aug 18 '13 at 21:28
@benisuǝqbackwards however, I can see the argument. But I don't think there is a good solution. Including posts that have upvoted comments increases the likelihood of getting questions with variants of the "what have you tried" comments indexed. And frankly, I'd rather err on the side of fewer indexed questions to help limit the crap. – psubsee2003 Aug 18 '13 at 21:38

Finding a question in a search result that has been closed as off-topic is particularly infuriating. Being told that a certain question doesn't fit on a certain stack exchange site is arguably useful for the person that asked the question; it's worthless garbage though for anyone trying to find more information on that topic.

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