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Our site is a huge one with about half a million pages built over the years. Many pages rank well for competitive keywords and have attracted high-quality link equity over the years. However, looking now, we have come to a conclusion that about 25% or about 100,000 pages are outdated and don't bring us any value in terms of revenue. Instead, they cost us server resources to maintain. We are planning to remove these pages PERMANENTLY. What could be the safe way to remove them without negatively affecting the SEO of the REMAINING pages?

-- PS: Kindly help me with appropriate status code and duration (all at once or gradually)..

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    Do those outdated pages have any SEO value? Do they have significant numbers of external links? Do they get search engine traffic (even if it doesn't convert)? Apr 20 at 9:40
  • The outdated pages have links. But the number and significance (authority of linking domains) of links are inferior compared to links to other pages. Traffic is lesser than 5% of overall traffic. We don't mind losing this traffic as it doesn't bring any appreciable revenue.
    – Kannan
    Apr 20 at 10:56
  • @StephenOstermiller More information: We are a site that receives global traffic. However, we find the most value from US, Canada, and European visitors. All the pages we are planning to remove are targeted at a third-world country. These pages add little to no value, outdated, and receive very little traffic. Hence we also hope this removal will result in a business consolidation and better ROI (resource allocation).
    – Kannan
    Apr 20 at 14:00
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I am a bit doubtful that recovering server resources is going to make enough impact to your business to make a difference. Removing 25% of your worst performing pages isn't going to remove 25% of your traffic. I doubt that you will be able to downsize your servers as a result. Even if you could, servers are cheap. A small amount of extra resources spent on servers rarely makes a big difference to a business.

If these pages are costing you in human capital, you probably have a better case for removing them. Pages that require editor, moderator, or developer time end up being far more expensive than the server resources they consume.

When evaluating pages to remove without hurting your SEO, you should consider additional metrics such as how many external inbound links a page has. Pages with lots of links should be kept, regardless of how badly they convert. They are helping your SEO far more than pages without links.

Removing low quality pages from your site can actually help your SEO. See Delete your pages and rank higher in search - Index bloat and technical optimization 2019. Deleting your pages that don't convert and don't have links is unlikely to hurt the rest of your site, and could even boost its SEO.

As far as the mechanics of removing pages:

  • Remove all internal links to the pages that are getting deleted. You don't want users or search engine spiders to browse to error pages from your good pages.
  • Use appropriate HTTP status codes:
    • Use "301 Permanent" or "303 See Other" redirects when there is a page that is being kept that is an appropriate replacement
    • Use "410 Gone" status for pages removed without a replacement. "404 Not Found" is mostly the same from an SEO standpoint, but search engines take 24 hours longer to de-index it after the crawler finds it.
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  • Thanks for the detailed inputs. I have a doubt. If not for other benefits, will removing pages that target low-value countries help local SEO in high ROI countries. For example, If I remove pages that target a low ROI Asian country, will that help local rankings in the US? (Since now most of the pages will be targeted to US visitors)
    – Kannan
    Apr 20 at 16:51
  • If the language is different, it probably won't have any effect at all. If it is the same language it is hard to predict exactly what the effect will be. I just wouldn't expect it to be dramatically negative. Apr 20 at 17:38

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