Question: We have tons and tons of posts and pages from years ago that we believe are harming our search engine ranking. We don’t want to just remove them because we’ve heard that can hurt SEO. What should we do?
As always, a common misconception has within it a kernel of truth. Broken links hurt SEO — but simply deleting pages does not. You can delete the pages anyway you like, you just need to make sure that you don’t break your links when you do so. You have two solutions: you can either just delete them or remove them from crawling through Google’s Webmaster Tools.
Deleting them entirely. Usually the best solution for a significant amount of content; you can just delete the pages off your server. Run a broken link checker and delete the links to those pages, then log into Google Webmaster’s Tools and request that your entire site be recrawled. Easy, but you do lose those pages forever.
Deleting them from search engine results. If you have only a minor amount of content that you want deleted, you can submit the url to the “Remove Outdated Content” tool in Google’s Webmaster tools. You can also submit entire directories (such as if you want your /img/ directory to remain uncrawled). But you shouldn’t submit dozens (or hundreds) of individual URLs to this tool, as it generally looks like suspicious behavior. A side effect, though, is that the pages remain in your site and available to readers — they just aren’t indexed.
Of course, just because something doesn’t directly hurt SEO doesn’t mean that it can’t indirectly hurt your SEO, by reducing the usefulness of your site. Test your site before and after to make sure you haven’t lost valuable content.
Answer: As long as you don’t leave behind broken links, removing pages from your site should not directly hurt your search engine ranking. You can remove them either manually or through the Remove Outdated Content tool provided by Google.