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I heard somewhere that 301 keeps the old one alive in the SE index
@Marketing Guy were you receiving traffic to those pages before (the ones you removed) you were Panda bitten? Also, how long did it take for you to see recovery?
404s are a perfectly normal part of the web...
If some URLs on your site 404, this fact alone does not hurt you or count against you in Google’s search results. etc etc
If you’re getting rid of that content entirely and don’t have anything on your site that would fill the same user need, then the old URL should return a 404 or 410. Currently Google treats 410s (Gone) the same as 404s (Not found), so it’s immaterial to us whether you return one or the other.
Now they will stop requesting a 410 a lot sooner than a 404.
currently 404 and 410 get the same treatment. But folks are looking into whether we should treat differently.