404 error page or 301 Redirect – SEO dilemma
You find a link to some useful information and click on it, only to get the dreaded 404 error. This is one of the key frustrating experiences for a user. The default 404 error pages are a pain, for both the webmasters and users.
The SEO Dilemma
The 404 error pages presents a problem for any SEO project and the following questions for the Search Engine Optimizer.
- What exactly should one do about the 404 pages?
- Should we keep them or should we replace them using the 301 redirect?
If your answer to the questions is NO, you should offer a custom 404 error page
- Does the page appear in search engines i.e. does it still exist in the search engine’s index?
- Does the page receive a good amount of traffic?
- Does the page receive important inbound links?
- Is there a new page which a visitor to the 404 page would find useful?
- You strongly want this page dropped from the search engines
Otherwise, it is better to plan a 301 Redirect to another appropriate page. This will help you capture the value of your backlinks and redistribute it into your site and also let search engines update their index.
The issue of too many 301 redirects
301 redirecting every 404 error page url to home page can lead to
- Confusion for the website visitors as they are looking for some specific information and the redirect takes them to some other page.
- No option for user to choose from a list of urls
- Bad for a site’s profile in search engines
With a custom 404 error page at least the visitor knows that something is wrong and there are options so he can take action to remedy the situation.
Criteria to choose between 301 and 404
For pages which were strong drivers for traffic, rankings and backlinks to your site and you had to remove them for some reason, a permanent 301 redirect is a better option to help recover backlinks and some traffic.
For all other situations, it is better to customize the 404 page so as to provide links to other pages of the site and give your visitors the choice to go where they might be interested in visiting.
The customization of your site’s 404 error page will definitely be helpful for the end user providing a much better user experience.
This post is brought to you by Dharne & Company. We offer SEO Services in Orange County and the Los Angeles area to help small and medium businesses achieve their website goals.