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Best SEO Practices to Handle 404 Pages

A 404 error means “not found”. This is usually the page you get when you make a mistake spelling page name in a site, or if the page is deleted or moved. The problem is that the standard 404 page is ugly and unhelpful. Such error pages provide negative user experience and can harm the reputation of the supporting sites providing reference links for such content. Also sometimes important links from other such domains can be missed and relevant reference material made inaccessible.

There are 4 possible scenarios with custom pages:
  • 404- Responds with an error, but shows a custom page to help your visitors.
  • 200- If a page is missing, it’s replaced with custom error page
  • 302- If the page is missing, it’s replaced with a temporary redirect to a custom error page.
  • 301- Redirects errors to either a custom error page, or some other page in the site(i.e. sitemap, homepage or best guess)

How to find 404 pages?

Screaming Frog, Link Sleuth or Google webmaster tools can be used to find the 404 error pages. Google Webmaster tool is best for this and will help you not only find broken links, but the source of those broken links as well. You need to select “Crawl Errors” from the Google webmaster tool dashboard and then click on “Not found” to get the list of your links. Now you can select individual links and choose the “linked from” option to examine the link routes. Additionally, Redirection plugin in WordPress can be used to check and redirect 404pages from your console.

Will 404s kill my SEO? When 404s can be bad?

There are cases, however, where a site could be scored negatively as a result of an abnormally high occurrence of 404 pages. Does your site have 10,000 unique pages but 45,000 404s this month? That could be an indicator of a bigger problem with crawling and technical SEO. That’s also probably not a very good user experience, which could be reflected in poor user engagement and falling traffic, which could be reflected again by a search engine lowering visibility of your URLs in search results.

A high occurrence of 404s – when they are spiking and continuous – is not a good thing. But forget about SEO for a moment. Is that a good thing for users? Obviously not, and remember: search engines follow users.

What are the best practices for redirecting 404 pages?

  • 404s should not always be redirected
  • 404s should not be redirected globally to the home page.
  • 404s should only be redirected to a category or parent page if that’s the most relevant user experience available.
  • It’s okay to serve a 404 when the page doesn’t exist anymore
  • Don’t panic. 404s are normal.

How does Google, for instance, couple with the 404 error suppression? 

Google recommends “A good custom 404 pages will help people find the information they’re looking for as well as providing other helpful content and encouraging them to explore your site further”.
Tag : SEO
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