SEO Best Practices for 404 Custom Error Page

- Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sometimes errors can pop up displaying a Custom Error Page will tell your website users what to do if they get misdirected in some way. The error page is shown whenever a server can't find the specified page. Unfortunately, most marketers see an error page as a "tech issue" and don't give it a second's thought.

A 404 Error or Page Not Found Error is a standard HTTP Response Code that appears on your Internet browser when the page you requested cannot be found. It is possible that the typed address is incorrect, or the page no longer exists.

SEO Best Practices for 404 Custom Error Page

HyperText Transfer Protocol (or HTTP) response status codes are returned whenever search engines or website visitors make a request to a web server. These three-digit codes indicate the response and status of HTTP requests.

Best Practices for Custom Error Page

The easiest and most effective way to fix 404 errors, from an SEO perspective, is to use a 301 redirect. 301 is an HTTP response code that signals to the user's browser (as well as Google's search indexing robots) that your content has moved permanently from one URL to another one.

A Custom Error Page is a placeholder for web pages that fail to load when a human visitor and/or a search engine spider tries to view a webpage. Improperly configured Error Pages may also produce duplicate content issues by producing the same content across unique URLs.

Create an Error Page

It is important to have customized 404 pages with recommended navigational options when website visitors request pages that return a 404 response code.

Report a 404 Response Code: Make sure your server responses back with a 404 Response Code and NOT a 200 Response Code (or any other Response Code) for all URL which doesn't exist in your website.

Robots META Tag 'noindex, follow': You can use <META> 'noindex, follow' tag, inside <head>...</head> section on the Error Page to tell robots not to index the page, but follow the links from the page, which should will your website navigation link (header, footer, top navigation, left navigation, right navigation etc).

<meta name="robots" content="noindex, follow">

Unique Title Tag: Use a unique title tag different from the rest of the title tags on your website.

  • Sorry, the page you are looking for doesn't exist.
  • Page Not Found - 404 Error.
  • The page you requested was not found.
  • Oh, Snap! Error 404!
  • Sorry, the page you requested could not be found.

Normal Crawlable Navigation: The Custom 404 Error Page should look like an error page, but it should still look like your website. By which I mean the error page should have normal navigation of your website (header, footer, top navigation, left navigation etc).

Do NOT Use Any Form of Redirection: It's possible to automatically redirect a 404 error to another page, but that is not good for your SEO as search engines will not remove that Error URL from its index.

Do NOT Use Canonical Tag: Using a Canonical URL tag in Error will create a serious URL confusion for search engines. A homepage link in canonical URL tag of 404 Error page will make no sense and confuse the search engines.

<link rel="canonical" href="" /> 

Web pages that return 404 (File Not Found) for extended periods of time and that have valuable links should be 301 redirected to other web pages.

Track the Error Pages with Web Analytics: You want to see how often users encounter a 404 page and where they go after. So setting up a Web Analytics Custom Events on the 404 Custom Error Page will help you to understand and track the visitor behaviours.

Joydeep Deb

Marketing . Innovation . Technology


About the Author
Joydeep Deb

Joydeep Deb is a Senior Digital Marketer and Project Manager with strong experience in Digital Marketing, Lead Generation, Online Brand Management, Marketing Campaigns, Project Management, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), PPC, eMail Marketing, Web Analytics, Web Technologies, Web Design and Development.

With an MBA in Marketing. IIM Calcutta Alumini. Lives in Bangalore, Karnataka - India.

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