How & When to Properly Do a 404 Redirect

Have you ever gone to a website looking for a product or service only to receive an error message, halting your search? This error message is an HTTP status code. HTTP status codes are three-digit codes, which range from 100-500s, each with a specific purpose.

Not all status codes result in site errors, and HTTP status codes are normal across browsers and servers. Here are the types of status codes you may encounter:

  • 100s– The server is processing your browser request
  • 200s– The server has processed your request successfully
  • 300s– The server received your request, but it is redirected to the new location
  • 400s– The server made the request, but the page is invalid and could not be found
  • 500s– A valid request was completed, but the server could not process the request

Understanding these error codes will help you with all of your SEO efforts and help ensure your users are getting to the right places on your website. 404 redirects are particularly useful, and we’ll go over the basics of 404s and how to fix crawl errors when users encounter them on your site.

What is a 404 Redirect?

404 redirects are server response code informing a user that the web page he or she is looking for cannot be found; either due to user error when typing the url, or the web page he or she is looking for is not an actual web page. Additionally, a 404 redirect can populate if the web page the user was looking for was a live web page at one time, but the web page has since removed or the name and URL of the page were changed.

Are 404 Redirects Good or Bad?

404 redirects are both good and bad. The good news about 404s is you will not be negatively scored in Google search results for a low to normal volume of 404 redirect site errors. The bad news about 404s is if you have an irregular volume of 404 redirects in a short period of time on your site, this could cause a negative effect on your site’s overall search rating.

How to Fix Crawl Errors

For starters, we want to do a few things to ensure your site is correctly initiating a 404 redirect.

Firstly, using Google Search Console to monitor crawl errors—you will be able to see where Google crawls a site error. This knowledge will help you discover where the 404 redirects are happening, which will allow you to start fixing these site errors.

Secondly, Google Analytics can help you monitor the quantity of 404 errors on your page,  so you can determine the impact each error has on your users. This is especially important if you have a PPC ad that directs traffic to a predetermined landing page. Once that ad is no longer active, you may experience a larger number of 404 redirects on your site. Using Google Analytics will help you determine how to better direct these users who are triggering the PPC ad 404 redirect errors.

Thirdly, it is essential that you create a custom 404 redirect page. This allows you to inform your users that they are in the correct place. The page should follow your brand standards. This custom page will help users know they need to refine their search.

Another thing you want to do on this custom page is help your users navigate to the page they were looking for. Make it easy for your users to navigate back to your site. This can be done by adding a few popular links, which experience historically larger volumes of traffic, or by adding a search bar to the page like the example below.

By utilizing a custom 404 redirect page, you will not only help your users navigate your site to the information they are looking for, but you will be able to keep the users on your site and increase your conversions. This will only benefit your SEO efforts to your site. Here are some custom 404 redirect pages that not only are unique and engaging but also beneficial for keeping users on the website.

Keep in mind not all 404 redirects or site errors are bad. When used properly, 404 redirects can be beneficial to any website because you are able to keep more users on your site, which will drive more conversions. By monitoring your 404 redirect errors through Google Search Console and Google Analytics, you will be better informed why users are experiencing these errors, and you will be able to know how to fix crawl errors when they surface.

Ryan Skidmore
Digital Marketing Director
Ryan is a Digital Marketing Director at Big Leap. He is a master of quizzes and all things SEO.

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