Do You 404 Or 301 A Web Page?

May 13, 2013 • 8:29 am | comments (14) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under SEO - Search Engine Optimization

404 or 301A HighRankings Forum thread asks what should this webmaster do after he deleted an unwanted page. Should the webmaster 404 the page or 301 the page.

To me the answer is simple. Let's look at the definitions of a 404 vs a 301.

  • 404 Not Found: The server has not found anything matching the Request-URI. No indication is given of whether the condition is temporary or permanent. The 410 (Gone) status code SHOULD be used if the server knows, through some internally configurable mechanism, that an old resource is permanently unavailable and has no forwarding address. This status code is commonly used when the server does not wish to reveal exactly why the request has been refused, or when no other response is applicable.
  • 301 Moved Permanently: The requested resource has been assigned a new permanent URI and any future references to this resource SHOULD use one of the returned URIs. Clients with link editing capabilities ought to automatically re-link references to the Request-URI to one or more of the new references returned by the server, where possible. This response is cacheable unless indicated otherwise.

In my opinion, if the page you are removing has a suitable alternative page on your web site, then 301 it. Do not always 301 the page to your home page. If there is no suitable, and by suitable I mean, a page that is very similar to the page you are removing, then 404 the page.

301 if there is a related and similar page to the page you are removing. 404 if there is not.

Forum discussion at HighRankings Forum.

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05/13/2013 12:40 pm

Surely the decision lies with what benefit that the site has to offer, if there is a related page where the links/equity can be redirected too then yeah a 301 would be suitable but if the webmaster has killed the page and decided that the page has no home on the site anymore, surely a 410 would be better suited?


05/13/2013 12:57 pm

why you would lose the link juice for 404, just redirect to the main page !where is the problem in that. its better than showing ERROR msg to users.

Barry Schwartz

05/13/2013 12:58 pm

But technically you should only redirect pages that are similar.


05/13/2013 12:59 pm

You seem to have missed the fact that 301 can pass penalisation too, so a redirect should not be the first port of call when you are removing a page.


05/13/2013 01:21 pm

So why you don't use redirect 302 to the main page!.Why you would show an error message to users and kill his experience , visitors hate ERROR messages and Google too that is the simple fact. Instead of that you can redirect through 302 to the main page(until alternative page is ready) it dose not pass link juice nor the user will have bad experience. But i'm not with keeping 404 pages.


05/13/2013 01:23 pm

You can 301 a page which has a viable alternative, as far as dead addresses go. If you're merging addresses (tracking URLs which you need to keep) then Canonical Tags are a better option. If a page has gone and you're not going to return it, you don't want to use a 404. You want to use 410 - gone.

Josh Charig

05/13/2013 02:46 pm

I would probably nearly always 301 a URL to ensure any link equity it has is passed on somewhere else. If the URL was penalised in some way I'd probably 410 it.


05/13/2013 02:48 pm

A 410 might be better suited, but how many people know how to do that? It's easier for most people to return a 404. Customize the 404 so the searcher can search your site, make it funny to intrigue them; whatever you can do to make it a better user experience.

Siva Gopi

05/13/2013 03:18 pm

We can 301 redirect to the closely related page instead of 404 that lead to a custom 404 or else a home page. What happen when we use 404, we are loosing the customer as we are taking our customer to the custom 404 page or home page which is of no use for the customer. This may lead to increase in the bounce rate and the most important thing is we are loosing the customer. So always try to find the page which is closely related to the page you are redirecting. Most eCommerce sites will track the clicks made on every individual products. With that analytics report you may know which page you should redirect.

Christopher Meinck

05/13/2013 03:51 pm

What about tags? Yoast's tag optimizer doesn't have an option to 404. He suggests redirecting to homepage.

Lyndon NA

05/13/2013 07:02 pm

I cannot believe this. Common people - it's 2013, not 2005 ! It's not complicated. If you remove a page AND there is no similar/alternative/replacement AND there is no head/category page ... then you either; a) 410 it b) 404 it You do Not do "soft 404s" (which is 302s to the homepage, or redirects to an error page) If there are no similar/alternative/replacement pages, but there is a Head/Category page, then "may"; a) 410 it b) 404 it c) 301 it to the head/category Notice, you still do Not do stupid "soft 404s" or faff with 302s! As for the mentality of "don't show an error" - why not? You honestly think that landing on the homepage rather than the expected destination is "better" for the user? You ensure that your navigation is 100% correct (do Not link to gone URLs), and then provide a USer Friendly Error page. That means it should; 1) Say "not found" 2) Provide links to primary pages (home, sitemap and contact) 3) if at all possible, link to the level above the missing page (head/category) 4) If at all possible, link to "possibly related" 5) Include a site search box If there are no similar/alternative/replacement pages, but there is a Head/Category page, then "may"; a) 410 it b) 404 it c) 301 it to the similar/alternative/replacement page Seriously - the fact that some of you are suggesting inefficient, ineffective and old-hand concepts that Google themselves advise against is ... is ... not surprising to be honest (typical "SEO Pro" to be honest :( )


05/14/2013 12:52 pm

Those that know how to Google search can find insights in how to customise the 410 error page, a simple redirect would allow that?

Fredrik Eriksson

05/15/2013 06:28 am

It's not all about Google you know. They don't know the details for every single situation and there is more to it than just SEO.

Akash KB

11/11/2013 08:08 pm

Why not 410 - If there is no suitable page (without quality backlinks to the deleted page)? Why not de-indexing a page instead of showing a 404 error to users, and thereby reducing the user experience??

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