A Beginner’s Guide to 404 Redirects

Written by Matthew Ludden / April 14, 2023 / 5 Minute Read
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Discover the significance of “404 Redirects” for website owners and learn how to effectively manage them to enhance user experience and SEO.


What Website Owners Should Know About 404 Redirects

A 404 redirect is one of the most common fixes for HTTP status codes and crawl errors across the internet.

For website owners, understanding site errors and how to correct them helps improve user experience and maintain the health of your website with Google and other search engines.

What Is A 404 Error?

A 404 error occurs when the page entered into a web browser doesn’t exist on the server. There are three reasons this HTTP status code occurs:

  • Typo in the URL: The classic user error – if you make an error when typing in the web address, the site error gives you the dreaded 404.
  • Broken Link: The link you clicked is incorrect or outdated.
  • Page Removed: If an existing page has been removed, the 404 page appears.

Any error message disrupts the user experience, and a website is likely to lose traffic if not corrected.

Fortunately, there is an easy remedy – the 404 redirect.

What Is A 404 Redirect?

Instead of more users seeing the “Page Not Found” message, a 404 redirect turns the roadblock into a detour.

A 404 redirect gets users back onto the main road.

In the case of the actual web page being replaced by another, you may redirect users with 301 redirects. These are redirects that tell search engines a page has moved permanently, helping preserve your SEO efforts. It’s like rerouting traffic to ensure a smooth journey, keeping both your users and search engines happy.

For typos, a custom 404 page can help users find their mistakes and get back on track. But more on that and other fixes later.

Key Takeaways:

For now, let’s summarize why a website owner needs to understand the problem with 404 error pages:

  • Importance of 404 Redirects: Key to engaging visitors and maintaining search engine favorability.
  • Enhancing User Experience: Redirects prevent dead ends, reduce bounce rates, and increase conversions.
  • Preserving SEO Value: Redirects maintain link equity and prevent the loss of SEO efforts.
  • Best Practices for 404 Redirects: Redirect to relevant pages, avoid chains, and monitor adjustments.
  • Common Mistakes to Avoid: Don’t redirect all errors to the homepage; prioritize user experience.
404 error page not found infographic

Why Are 404 Redirects Important for Your Website?

From a technical point of view, crawl errors damage your reputation across the internet.

Think of 404 redirects as the librarians of your website’s functionality. They fix crawl errors by pointing search engines in the right direction.

For visitors, a 404 redirect creates a seamless and engaging experience. A redirect leads your users where they need to go and avoids any unnecessary stumbling blocks along the way.

Enhancing User Experience

Imagine you’re in a store, and instead of an empty bin, a sign directs to the right aisle.

It’s a 404 redirect job for your website. In reality, even if a user hits an outdated link, they won’t even notice the redirect.

This keeps them happy, reduces bounce rates, and increases the likelihood of conversions. It’s about creating a smooth and frustration-free journey for your visitors.

Preserving SEO Value

404 redirects are important for maintaining the credibility and authority of your website.

For search engine optimization (SEO), when you redirect a broken link to a relevant page, you preserve the link equity.

When you redesign your website, improve website architecture, or about the content and layout of a web page, a 404 redirect tells Google, “The old page has a new address.”

Without redirects, all the hard work you’ve put into building links and authority for that page would go down the drain.

It’s about keeping your SEO efforts organized, ensuring that every link continues to contribute to your site’s visibility and relevance.

How to Implement 404 Redirects?

Implementing 404 redirects is simple with the right tools and a commitment to website maintenance.

Just like librarians index and catalog books, website owners need to keep all the pages across your website in order.

Identifying 404 Error Pages

First things first, you need to spot the broken links.

Tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics can help you track 404 site errors. A regular check of these tools helps you find broken links and 404 error pages.

You can also use tools like Semrush, Moz, and Ahrefs to check technical issues as soon as they occur.

Choosing the Right Type of Redirect

The most common type of redirect is the 301 permanent redirect. If a web page has moved, this tells search engines that the page has a new home.

A 302 redirect is used for temporary redirection. This is less common because it is useful only when you need to redirect visitors to a different page for a short period, such as during site maintenance or when a specific page is being updated. This way, you can inform search engines that the original page will be back soon, preserving its search ranking.

Setting Up 404 Redirects

If you’re using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, a redirection plugin makes this process simple.

Redirecting users is as simple as pasting the old url and typing the new web page in its place.

Best Practices for 404 Redirects

For large websites with multiple users, site errors are nearly unavoidable. Even small teams encounter errors.

By following these guidelines, you protect common errors from becoming detrimental to your website performance. The goal is to create a user-friendly and search engine optimized website.

Redirecting to Relevant Pages

When redirecting a 404 error, aim for a page that closely matches the content the user was seeking.

Before you delete a page, consider what page is most similar. In the case of a service or product that you do no longer offer, then creating a custom 404 error page is recommended.

Avoiding Redirect Chains

Keep your redirects simple and direct.

Long chains of redirects can slow down your site and confuse search engines, like a convoluted detour that leads to more detours.

Stick to a one-step redirect to maintain a smooth and efficient user experience.

Before adding a new redirect, check your redirection plugin to see if the terminating web page has been used.

Any existing pages should be redirected to the new page as well.

Monitoring and Adjusting Redirects

Even the most well-intentioned website owner can fall into the trap of common redirect mistakes. Steering clear of these pitfalls will keep your site on track.

Regularly check your redirects to ensure they’re working as intended.

Tools like Google Search Console can help you monitor their performance.

It’s like keeping an eye on road signs to make sure they’re still pointing in the right direction, allowing you to make adjustments as needed.

Common Mistakes to Avoid with 404 Redirects

Even the most well-intentioned website owner can fall into the trap of common redirect mistakes. Steering clear of these pitfalls will keep your site on track.

Redirecting All 404s to the Homepage

Avoid the temptation to redirect all 404 errors to your homepage.

This is lazy and irrelevant. When users encounter this they get frustrated and crawlers are unlikely to transfer link equity to a homepage.

If everyone that is redirected to a page bounces, then you are actually doing more damage than good to your website.

Ignoring the User Experience

Don’t forget that behind every 404 error is a real person looking for information.

Prioritize their experience by providing helpful redirects and clear messaging. It’s about showing empathy and guiding them to what they need, rather than leaving them stranded.

When Should You Consider A Custom 404 Page?

A custom 404 page improves user experience by providing helpful links and maintaining brand consistency.

Instead of a dead end with no direction, a custom page offers navigation assistance to reduce bounce rates and keeps visitors engaged with relevant content or special offers.

Conclusion: Utilizing 404 Redirects for a Seamless Web Experience

In the vast digital landscape, 404 redirects are your trusty compass, guiding users and search engines through your website with ease.

By implementing them thoughtfully and avoiding common pitfalls, you can create a seamless web experience that benefits both your audience and your SEO efforts.

FAQs About 404 Redirects


Redirecting a 404 error to a relevant page can significantly enhance the user experience and maintain your site’s SEO integrity. It’s like fixing a broken link in a chain, ensuring that the connection remains strong and unbroken.


When done correctly, 404 redirects are not bad for SEO. In fact, they can be beneficial. They help preserve the link equity and keep users engaged, which are positive signals for search engines. However, excessive or improper use of redirects can lead to issues, so it’s important to implement them wisely.