Error page handling

We spend a lot of time ‘optimising’ our sites, adding content, building links, keeping the site fresh and ensuring that it all links up nicely.

But, in many corporates, server hygiene and best practice is commonly overlooked. This is normally by omission rather than any kind of malice.

I believe that using and handling errors correctly can be beneficial for SEO. You should set up a Server Response Code monitoring process.

404 errors can be good!

Handling your 404 page properly is an essential part of on-site optimization that is helpful both for your site visitors and search engines.

Legitimate reasons

  • The page no longer exists
    • Inventory has gone
    • Page is no longer relevant
  • There is an inbound link that is wrong!

Bad reasons

  • You moved something and didn’t redirect
  • Your rewriter tool has broken/failed.
  • You changed the URL rules / business logic

How to handle them!

Your server should return that page with a proper 404 header. This way any bots will know the status of that page and clean up their index.

What should be on that page? Well anything you want really.

Normal convention would suggest a polite message that indicates to the real user that the page no longer exists, but ensure it doesn’t blame them!

Maybe a sign post page is a good idea. Use your main search widget, or some static links. Or if appropriate that message with the contents of a normal page, commonly the homepage.

Errors happen – how you deal with them is the mark of a good digital marketer.

Other codes to monitor, for good and bad reasons

The use of 301’s, 302’s and the 500’s. By watching all of these, you can tell the health of your site and helps you tidy up.

Generally a healthy site is a happy site!

Useful links

One thought on “Error page handling

  1. Mark

    Solid advice. I’ve lost count of websites I’ve worked with that either don’t bother setting up a 404, or more recently, having 404 pages return a status code of 200!

    You’ve mentioned adding search boxes/links to your 404, which is great; trying to get the user to the page they were looking for. I’ve heard a lot of SEOs talking about adding key phrase links to their 404 pages to boost internal link juice – fair enough.

    However, as far as I can tell, I can’t find any examples of Google indexing a page returning a 404 header (did this basic research:

    So, I guess if you’re having to add links for SEO on your 404 page, “you’re doing it wrong” (:


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