lucy24 - 2:46 am on Nov 12, 2012 (gmt 0)
Every time I think this one through and ask myself:
"What's the right thing for visitors?"
"Redirect to the index page."
Really? This visitor-- speaking strictly as a user now-- absolutely HATES getting redirected to the front page in response to a 404. I don't even know if I simply misspelled the page name, so I have to start all over again.
Incidentally when I said "makes search engines happy" I really should have said "makes google happy" assuming for the sake of discussion that there is a difference. I keep a cursory record of redirects-- here meaning anything other than flat 200 or 403-- and I see that some groups of long-410'd pages are still visited regularly by the bingbot, long after google has lost interest. This behavior may be worth investigating. In a different forum, probably.