Do Search Engines Prefer Default or Custom 404 Error Pages?

Nov 28, 2007 • 7:25 am | comments (4) by twitter | Filed Under SEO - Search Engine Optimization

What is better? A custom 404 page or a generic one?

In 2004, Barry wrote that a custom 404 page is a "must have" for usability purposes. That's so true. But what about search engines? A forum member asks, would a generic 404 page be construed as duplicate content?

Well, first of all, if you're using a generic 404, who cares if it's duplicate content? 404 pages are not "content" though. They are "Error not found" pages.

But in all seriousness, the issue is that the return code should be 404, and if it is, the page won't be indexed. And further, 404 pages are not "content." They are "Error not found" pages.

Tedster adds:

The thing to be aware of is custom error solutions that return a 302 redirect code to get to the custom content. That can be trouble.

So make sure your pages have a 404. And as far as generic versus custom 404 pages, go with custom. It makes the user experience a lot more enjoyable (even if they can't find what they're looking for!) :)

Forum discussion continues at WebmasterWorld.

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Matt Cutts

11/28/2007 04:36 pm

The high-order bit is that if if there is no such page, you should return a 404 HTTP status code in the HTTP headers, not (for example) a 200 status code.

Barry Schwartz

11/28/2007 04:38 pm

Thanks for clarifying Matt. That is the point here... Thanks.

Michael Martinez

11/29/2007 07:51 pm

The search engines don't index pages that are sent with 404 codes. There was a time when passing the error page with a 200-code made sense for the Webmaster because then, at least, you could redirect visitors to to your site map. However, since both Google and Yahoo! have been requiring valid 404 handling for authentication, it just makes better sense to design a custom 404 page that is sent with the right code and some information helping people find the most important content on the site. Search engines really don't need to be involved in managing 404 codes but it's not a big deal to comply with their expectations. In fact, I would say in retrospect that it probably works better for my own visitors (who come in through hundreds of mistyped links every month) than to simply throw up a sitemap or main index page with a 200 code. Google and Yahoo! therefore get a thumbs up from me for requiring that I do 404 codes right.


04/03/2008 11:26 pm

If a page is indexed because there is a link on a site( which is the only link to that page) and then the link gets taken away but the page that it linked to still resides on the server does Google check for that page by going directly to the server(since it never received a 404 from that page being removed) or does it drop it out of the index because there are no links to it?

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