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Why would 301 look like spam? People move pages all the time. 301 simply means: we used to be at URL a. Now we're at URL b.
If you noindexed the old pages and manually told humans where to go, you'd lose all your accumulated SEO standing and have to start all over again-- and risk being accused of cloaking if g### thinks you're intentionally serving different content to humans. Which, of course, you are.
since all of this was on one site before, the content is similar and related, so branching out to another domain might look like we're trying to rank another site for similar content.
But if you use 301s you would be telling the SEs that the content no longer exists on the old domain so no similar content problemt. A 301 is best practice in this case and has been used successfully by many folks who changed domains without problem. You probably will see a drop in SE referrals at first as it takes the SEs a bit of time to digest the changes.
We are going to be moving a big part of our site to a new domain.
Well I was thinking about it, if you do have some different content you need to move, why not moving it to a sub-domain instead of a completely different one? I would think it would help the authority of your domain and you have less complications with spiders.
Maybe I'm just being too cautious
We believe this is beneficial to the user, and really should be it's own site. It also makes our main site less cluttered and easier to navigate and more streamlined.