Shimon Sandler

404 Page Error Handling

The proper server responses dictate how search engines will treat missing or redirected pages. When checking to see if your site handles a “404 Page Not Found” response, it’s important to check pages outside the URL structure AND pages within the URL structure.

Make sure they don’t 302 redirect to the 404 page, and then return a 200 HTTP status code. Some websites report a “not found” error by returning a standard web page with a “200 OK” response code; this is known as a soft 404.

Below is a screenshot of a soft 404:
soft 404

Or, in the case below, the URL returns a 302 Header response:
302 header response

Both URL patterns don’t return the proper 404 header response when accessing a page outside or inside the URL structure of the site. Both should return a 404 page header response.

In addition to ensuring that the proper header response is being returned, it’s important to think about the user-experience. Once a visitor lands on your 404 page, are they lost? Do they just leave your site? Or, is there some kind of alternative navigation they can use to get back on track, and find what they were looking for, and stay on your site.

Customize the 404 error to be like that of the proposed HTML sitemap. Deliver a custom 404 page that contains links to additional parts of the site. This allows search spiders and users to continue moving on the site even when they reach a non-existing page. Keeping in mind a good user-experience, and in some cases you might want to add some humor to your 404 page.

Here is a list of some of the best 404 pages on the web.

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  1. Very sage advice. Customizing the 404 with the same navigation and layout as the rest of the site helps as well as a funny or psychologically charged quip about the apologies of the webmaster for all his/her indiscretions in life. 🙂 Including this one.

  2. “302” redirecting to a “Page Not Found” that DOES return a “404” HTTP response status is acceptable.


  1. […] users nor search engines like it when a search ends up at a 404 page error.  However, sometimes a 404 cannot be avoided – especially when it results from user error.  So […]

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