Creating Custom 404 Error Pages, Redirects and SEO

Creating Custom 404 Error Pages, Redirects and Search Engine Optimization or SEO

The definition of a 404 error means this page "not found". You’ll stumble across this type of error page when you type in the site URL wrong, make spelling mistakes, or if that page has been deleted or moved. Today’s issue is that the default server 404 error page is ugly and un-assisting.

Webmasters have figured out that by using custom 404 error pages you can present more helpful information to your visitors. While others have taken it a step further and have made that custom 404 page a redirect back to the home page. This would result in any links (and PR) pointing to those pages that have been deleted (or misspelled) to be passed on to the website.

The problem with this scenario is that if you use a redirect to pass Page Rank from an error page to a normal page, the redirecting page will usually return a "200 OK" or 302 Redirect code, rather than a proper 404 message. This in turn will mess up search engine results and can result in a whole bunch of duplicate indexed URL’s.

This is not good for your site and SEO. Today There are a bunch of indexed "error" pages in search engines that should not be there. Google is currently the largest search engine and gives out the biggest penalties for duplicate content.

The proper result for an error page is to return a 404 error code. The best action to be taken for your visitors is to create error pages that are either helpful by itself with links to a directory or site map and or redirects to a helpful page. From an SEO viewpoint any link popularity for broken links should be passed on to the individual page of your choice.

The best solution overall would be something that accomplishes everything above. But unfortunately, this is not possible. When a search engine is sent the error code, it treats it as a dead page and will eventually remove it from its index.

PR and link weight are only passed on if a page is not a 404. But your site logs will not report errors if it responds as a 200, and your site will not verify (for example, if you use Google Sitemaps) if you don’t have a valid 404 page.

There are 4 Error page scenarios:

  • 404 – Not Found error message, as commonly encountered when using a web browser on the World Wide Web, but shows a custom page to help your visitors.
  • 200 – When this page is missing, it is then replaced with the custom error page and is still indexed.
  • 302 – Intended to be used as a temorary redirect, usually used while a a site is under construction or a server is being moved.
  • 301 – This error message means you have attempted to access a page that has been moved

Each of the aboe will have their SEO benefits and possible imposed penalties.

Custom Error Page Types

404 Not Found Response

200 OK (or 302, or 301) Response

Properly Defines the result – a missing page.

Tricks the search engine into thinking all is well.


Does not validate, but won’t break your site.

Shows up in logs so you can fix it.

Does not show up as an error – harder to find.

Does not pass on PR or link weight.

Passes on PR to final page.

No duplication issues.

Can result in a duplication penalty.

If you are not sure how to modify your Error pages through htacces, server side or webmaster panel, contact your hosting provider and they should be able to point you in the right direction.

Modifying Error Pages in CPANEL

You can modify your error pages in cpanel after logging in looking for ‘Custom Error Pages.’

Here you will see a list of error codes and by clicking each one you can now choose which custom tags to place within your page and which custom HTML code you’d like your visitors to view. If you are unsure what to paste into your 404 error page, review how other good SEO sites are manufacturing their error pages and do the same for yours.