404 Pages: Tips for SEO and User-Friendliness

by Gary on June 23, 2009 · 6 comments

in SEO

Let’s face it 404 pages are a pain, for webmasters and for users. I absolutely hate clicking on a link and getting a 404 error page. However, what’s really our concern here is what it does for your SEO. What should you do about those 404 pages? Should you just leave it alone or should you 301 redirect all of them? As usual moderation and common sense is the answer to this dilemma. Randfish recently gave his opinion on when to redirect the 404 pages an when to just leave them alone.

Basically what he said was to just leave all 404 pages alone unless the page:

A) Receives important links to it from external sources,
B) Is receiving a substantive quantity of visitor traffic,
and/or C) Has an obvious URL that visitors/links intended to reach.

In short unless you can see that you’re really losing on substantial link juice then let it be. From the user stand point though I have to agree with Yoshimi that 301s can actually be more confusing to searchers then 404s. 404s are irritating but it is even more irritating to click on a link and be baffled when you end up back on the site’s homepage. At least a 404 page makes you realise that there’s a problem somewhere along the way and that you’re not just being crazy clicking again and again and encountering the same frustrating problem of ending nowhere you want to be. Of course, as Randfish says if it’s obvious that the URL was misspelled then a 301 redirect to the desired URL won’t be confusing at all.

To make 404 pages less irritating and baffling what you can do is to customise your 404 page. Jeff Atwood’s post on Creating User Friendly 404 Pages is a useful guide on how to do this. Remember though that a customised 404 page will not affect your SEO but anything that will make things better for your users is always good for your end goal.

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beijing guy June 24, 2009 at 10:22 am


interesting article. it reminds me of the 404 of obama’s campaign website, i am sure you can find it and use it for this article.

It was quite funny, and some people made jokes because mc cain didn’t have a personal 404 error page.

China guy

Richard Cummings July 9, 2009 at 7:17 am

I prefer customized 404 pages with recommendations that the user may enjoy or the “last 10 posts”…something that will keep the user around.

Jeremy July 11, 2009 at 7:33 am

Yes a customized 404 page is a great way to keep those visitors on your site. At least they might be interested in an alternate page. I admit I am lazy and I just redirect them all to my homepage.

odchudzanie July 14, 2009 at 1:24 pm

That is a clever advice. I would never think of leaving all those 404’s instead of creating redirection to some usefull site.

Bejing guy: what was that 404 campaing all about?

Kevin July 17, 2009 at 3:26 pm

That is a clever advice.Thank you for your work! I will try it on my blog

Shareef Defrawi July 29, 2009 at 4:23 am

Personally, I just create a custom 404 with a page resembling my sitemap and a brief note about the page being gone, use the links below to navigate… etc.