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The pages are indexed by G and others and visitors come to my site via searchterms on these pages, but the content is not relevant anymore.
What would be the best response code when anyone tries to access these pages after they are gone?
A 301 to my index page, or just a plain 404 on which a link to my index page is provided or a 410 (Gone) with a link to my index page that will be replaced after some time with a 404?
1. 301 redirect individual pages to similar pages with updated or similarly-relevant information
2. send a 404 Not Found error response, and use a custom 404 page with a site map, links or search box to direct users to other pages of your site (otherwise they are likely to simply click the Back button and go elsewhere)
3. Use a 410 Gone response code - technically this will probably be the "correct" response code, but search engines generally treat it as a function equivalent of a 404.
Personally, if I couldn't redirect to replacement content, I would go for a 404.