404 errors happen. They are a natural part of building your website. However a lot of search engine optimization (SEO) “pro’s” will tell you to redirect all 404 errors to your homepage.
Not only is this lazy and improper, it can hurt your user experience, and confuse Google. But let’s look at the reasons that people do this in the first place and go from there.
Typically redirecting 404’s to another page is great for the following reasons.
- It maintains link juiced that are passed through backlinks.
- Users avoid seeing a 404 page.
- You don’t get 404 errors in search console.
However, the above reasons are not necessarily good one’s, especially not for every 404 error on your site. Google has an official statement which you can see below (or for those who don’t want to hear it from the source, just don’t do it).
Now that we know its bad, let’s talk about why exactly is it bad.
Most Importantly, They Confuse Users
If you are a user that is expecting to land on a specific page to buy a product and you land on the homepage; that’s a problem. The expectation for the user is to either be taken to the product page or be told “hey there, this page doesn’t exist anymore. please check your link.”
If you redirect everyone to the homepage, they do not know what happened. This can be rather frustrating to the user. It is frustrating to the user because you broke the user’s expectation and they do not know why.
Additionally, on e-commerce stores, when a user is expecting to go buy a product and they are redirected to the homepage, they are never told “what happened”. All they know is they were trying to buy there favorite pair of pants or their favorite candle. You never told the user, “we are very sorry, but this product was discontinued.”
So the user is left frustrated because they cannot get the product they desperately want. And they end up leaving your site out of frustration and don’t buy anything.
It’s Confusing For Webmasters & Proper SEO Specialists
Redirecting all your 404 errors to the homepage can hide serious problems on your site. For instance, some plugins in WordPress once installed will 404 certain pages until you flush the permalinks. However, you might not notice this because all your 404s are going directly to the homepage so you are not alerted in search console.
Here are some other issues that you might come across.
- If someone linked to your site’s page and misspelled the link, you’re now missing out on good link juice to the actual page they wanted to go to.
- If someone took down a particular page but users are still bookmarked to it that page might still have had value to the users.
- A search engine can be confused. It will rank your homepage lower because it believes your homepage is now a substitute for that page’s content.
- It can also cause server issues. This is because processing hundreds of 301 redirects when it might not need too can waste your server’s resources.
They Can Impact Rankings In Google Search
Google treats these types of redirects as a soft 404. What this essentially means is, it is still technically a 404. So even though a typical 301 redirect will pass link juice, a blanket 301 redirect passes no link juice. Which makes a lot of sense if you think about it.
A 301 redirect says, this page has permanently moved here, but if the content of that page is nothing like the original, it shouldn’t get that link juice. Essentially all the work into setting up that blanket redirect will amount to nothing if you do this.
If you are currently doing this and still work with the SEO specialist who set up blanket redirects, you might want to get someone who is better equipped and more skilled in that area.
If you or someone else installed a 404 to homepage plugin in WordPress, I highly recommend deleting it. I recommend upgrading your Yoast plugin to the premium version (which includes a redirection module) or downloading the free Redirection plugin from the wordpress.org plugin repository.