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Without going into too much detail on why I am doing this, I would like some feedback on what is the best approach to do this without hurting the rank of the "kept" pages.
301 - If I create redirects from reoved pages I fear that somehow Google will see somekind of "duplicate" content. The reasoning is if Google sees multiple links to the same page it will trigger some-kind of duplicate content penalty.
404 - I really do not like the fact that links into my site will return a 404, but this seems like a safer option. I fear if Google sees several pages that did return a page now returning a 404 that this also will hurt me.
Any suggestions or comments?
So my preference is to let the url be 404 if there no longer is similar content -- and to use a 301 redirect if there is a url that has useful content for the end user who is looking for what was removed. Why try to hold on to search term results when you no longer have relevant content for them, you know?
I also think there's a potential for trouble here, over time, by pointing many 301s from very different pages to one url. You really can start to send out a very fuzzy relevance signal and lose ranking for those search terms where you do have relevant content.
I'm curious, how do you think a 301...a permanent redirect...will hurt you in the long run?
I've been using 301's...albeit judiciously...for several years without any sort of a problem.
Initially you may see a slight ranking change (and not always for the worse, oddly), but over time the pages tend to more or less get back to where they were before I put the 301 in.