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I just got an email, from a former user on my website

He was complaining that Google still shows the contact page he created on my site, even though he deleted it a month ago

This is the first time in many years anyone requests this

I told him, that it's almost entirely up to Google what content it wants to keep/show and for how long. If it's deleted on the site, I can't do much, other than request a re-visit from the googlebot

The user-page already now says something like "Not found. The user has removed the content"

TL;DR:

But the question is: Should I generally add a 404 header (or other) for dynamic user content that has been removed from the site? Or could this hurt the site (SEO)?

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Google actually prefers 404 pages when pages no longer exist. There was a bit of a campaign waged by Google to replace redirects with 404 errors. But that whole effort rather fell flat. Thankfully.

In a traditional sense, when a page is removed, the web server issues a 404 error. I worked with CMS software a long time ago, and this was also true then. If your CMS or blog software gives you options, I would say use a 301 to save valuable traffic only if and when another valid page exists and would satisfy the user. Otherwise present a 404 error (at least- read on).

As for any existing 404 page, it can take sometime for Google to fetch the page and update the index. A 404 error is seen as temporary. For this reason, Google will fetch the page repeatedly over a period of time to ensure that the page is truly gone. If you want a more immediate effect, then use a 410 Gone error if this is an option. How long does it take for Google to give up fetching a removed page with a 404 error? I have no idea. But I can say, do not respond to 404 errors in Google Webmaster Tools for pages that have been removed.

With a 410 Gone error, Google will remove the page immediately. I suggest just being patient and keep the 404 error. It is easier.

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  • Thank you. How/why is 404 easier? I can setup 410's right now – mowgli Aug 19 '14 at 22:25
  • @mowgli A 404 error has traditionally been the natural effect of removing a page and forcing a 410 page more work. However, if you can easily issue a 410 error, then I would do it. – closetnoc Aug 19 '14 at 22:33
  • Yes. When a user content page is removed from this website, then it's 100% permanent and that url id is dead gone and cannot re-emerge (auto-increment id's). So perhaps 410 is best – mowgli Aug 19 '14 at 22:38
  • The only issue with this.. if there's a malfunction with the database or other (content not found), the page will now have a 410 header. Not so good in that situation.. Perhaps I should make an additional check somehow, even though that scenario would be RARE – mowgli Aug 19 '14 at 22:54
  • @mowgli It sounds like you got a handle on this! – closetnoc Aug 19 '14 at 23:05

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