Turn Harmful 404 Error Pages Into Helpful 301 Redirects

It's a fact, Page Not Found, known as a 404 error, can harm your website Ranking with Search Engines as well as being a Turn-Off for Visitors.

A search engine that repeatedly gets a 404 error will de-list the page from its index. Too many 404 error pages on your website and its ranking with the search engines will suffer.

Visitors are always just one click away from clicking to another search and another website. Present them with a page not found 404 error and these days they'll not stick around long enough to search for your missing page.

How Many 404 Error Pages Do You Have Right Now on Your Website ?

Unless you check your web stat error logs regularly you'll never know just how many 404 error pages your site has. Even if you don't have a single 404 error right now, I can absolutely guarantee you'll get them.

How Can I Avoid 404 Error Pages ?

The simple answer is you can't, a 404 error can not be avoided.

They happen when you rename a page.
They happen if you delete a page.
They happen if you change the page file extension i.e. htm to html or php.
They happen if you move a page to another location.
They happen if other sites link to pages which don't exist.
They happen if visitors have bookmarked pages that no longer exist.
They happen if visitors mistype a URL.

How is a 301 Redirect Helpful?

A 301 redirect enable you to send you visitor or the search engine to any replacement page you specify. A 301 redirect is also important because it's what's known as a permanent redirect. A permanent redirect is the one preferred by search engines so they are the only ones you should use if you want your website to be search engine friendly.

How Do I Setup a 301 Redirect?

Basically there are two ways to setup a search engine friendly redirect. One is by directly modifying what's known as the .htaccess file found in the root directory of your website where your web pages are stored.

The second way is to use a software redirect script. The advantage of using a redirect script is that you can setup and maintain any number of 301 redirect 's through a control panel.

You can also do very clever and helpful things that will make your website even more friendly to visitors and the search engines, but more of that in the 2nd Part of this article.

Setting Up a 301 Redirect Manually

First let's deal with modifying the .htaccess file to setup a redirect manually just so you know what's required. Then I'll tell you a much simpler way to do this and a whole lot more.

First you must find the .htaccess file on your web server. There could be more than one, but you need to locate the one in the same directory as your web pages.

On some web hosts the .htaccess file is hidden, it's there but you just can't see it listed when you FTP to your host. On most web servers it's visible, so I'm only going to deal with the visible file. Download the .htaccess file as ASCII not Binary to your PC then open it with a text editor like Notepad or Textpad, not Word.

In the .htaccess file, type the following line but substituting your locations for the missing and replacement files shown in [ ] brackets, excluding the brackets.

Redirect 301 [relative URL of missing file] [complete URL of replacement file ]

For example:

Redirect 301 /directory/discover.html
http://yourdomain.com/adventure.html

For every other redirect required you must add a new line of code to the .htaccess file then FTP to upload it as an ASCII file back to the same location you downloaded it from.

If all this sounds quite complicated, you'd be right, it can be. But life gets a whole lot easier in the 2nd part of this article Setting Up a 301 Redirect with Redirect Script Software.

Tony Simpson, Advises on the use of Automation in Website Design, Promotion and Optimization of Websites. The 2nd part of his article is at: Setting Up a 301 Redirect with Redirect Script Software where the advantages of using automatic redirects is outlined.

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