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What are Website Redirects and 404 Pages?

11th January 2023

404 + Redirects What Are They
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When managing website content and user experience, redirects and 404 pages are crucial elements that play a vital role for marketers and website managers, especially when websites are in transition. But have you ever wondered about how website redirects and 404 pages differ from one another? This post will reveal the different types of redirect and 404 pages and why they are essential. In the end, The Difference team has also created a website migration document that aids your team through times of change.

Imagine a scenario when a user tries to access a web page, and instead of the expected content, they are greeted with a 404 error page. Did you know that this simple error message can be transformed into a valuable tool that guides users to find the information they want? Or what happens when you move your website to a new domain? How can you ensure that your search engine rankings and backlinks are recovered?


These are just some of the questions that will be answered by understanding the different types of redirects and 404 pages. 301 redirects, 302 redirects, 307 redirects, 304 redirects, hard 404 pages, and soft 404 pages are all different tools that have their own specific use cases. Each of them plays an important role in preserving existing search engine rankings, maintaining website content, and providing a positive user experience.

What are 301 Redirects?

A 301 redirect is a way to permanently redirect one URL to another. It is used to tell the web browser and search engines that a page has been permanently moved to a new location.

When a web browser or search engine encounters a 301 redirect, it updates its internal records to point to the new URL, which helps to preserve any search engine rankings and bookmarks that may have been associated with the old URL.

Why are 301 Redirects Important?

They are important because it helps to maintain the link juice/pagerank of the page, when the page is moved to a new location. This way user is directed to the correct page avoiding 404 errors. Also it will be clear to the search engines and it will maintain the existing backlinks. Also, it will prevent users from landing on 404 error page.

What are 302 Redirects?

A 302 redirect, also known as a “temporary redirect,” is a way to redirect one URL to another for a short period of time. It tells the web browser and search engines that the page has been temporarily moved, but it intends to return to the original URL in the future.

Why are 302 Redirects Important?

They are important because it allows the developer to temporarily redirect the page to a new location, while preserving the existing search engine rankings, bookmarks, and backlinks of the original URL. For example, if a website is undergoing maintenance or is temporarily down for some reason, a 302 redirect can be used to redirect visitors to a “maintenance mode” or “coming soon” page, without losing any of the existing search engine rankings or backlinks.

Also can be used for A/B testing or running an experiment with a new webpage design without effecting the existing webpage.

It’s important to note that if the redirect is going to be in place for an extended period of time, it’s better to use a 301 redirect, which tells the search engine that it’s a permanent redirect.

What are 304 redirects?

A 304 redirect, also known as “Not Modified” is an HTTP status code, not a type of redirect. It is returned by the server to indicate that the requested resource has not been modified since the last time it was requested. This means that the client already has the latest version of the requested resource, and the server will not send it again, instead, it will respond with a 304 status code.

Why are 304 redirects important?

They are important because they help to improve the performance of web pages by allowing browsers to use cached copies of resources, rather than requesting them from the server again. When a browser requests a resource, the server will include information in the response, such as the “Last-Modified” or “ETag” headers, that the browser can use to determine whether the resource has been modified.

If the browser determines that the resource has not been modified, it will send a subsequent request to the server with an “If-Modified-Since” or “If-None-Match” header, along with the value it received in the previous response. If the resource has not been modified, the server will respond with a 304 status code, along with the headers “Not Modified,” and the browser will use the cached copy of the resource, instead of requesting it from the server again. This improves the overall performance of the website, by reducing the number of requests made to the server.

It’s important to remember that 304 responses don’t have a body and some headers are not allowed, like Content-Encoding, Content-Length. Additionally, it’s important to set the caching headers correctly and keep track of the version of the resources.

If they are not used correctly, it can lead to outdated resources being served to the user or unnecessary requests to the server.

Benefits of redirects:

  • Maintaining link juice of the page
  • Preserving existing search engine rankings, bookmarks, and backlinks of the original URL
  • Avoiding 404 error page
  • Improving User Experience
  • A/B testing or running an experiment
  • Maintaining the same HTTP method

What is a 404 Page / 404 Error Page?

A 404 page, also known as a “404 error page,” is a web page that is displayed when a user tries to access a non-existent or removed web page on a website. The 404 error indicates that the server can’t find the requested page.

Why are 404 Pages / 404 Error Pages Important?

They are important because they help to provide a good user experience by letting the user know that the page they are trying to access doesn’t exist or has been removed. Without a 404 page, the user would see a default 404 error message from their browser, which is often less user-friendly. A well-designed 404 page can provide the user with helpful suggestions for finding the information they were looking for, such as links to the website’s home page, a search bar, or a list of popular pages.

Additionally, 404 pages can also be important for SEO and website maintenance as well. If search engines encounter a 404 error, they may assume that the page is permanently gone and it may remove the page from its index. Having a proper 404 page with proper redirection or action can help the search engine to understand the situation. And also it’s easier for the webmaster to track the error pages, if there are many 404 errors, it may indicate a broken link or a removed page that needs to be fixed.

It’s a good practice to keep an eye on 404 errors, fix broken links and redirect old pages to new pages as much as possible.

What are Hard 404 Pages / 404 Error Pages?

Hard 404 pages are 404 error pages that are returned by the server when the requested resource cannot be found. This is in contrast to a “soft 404” error, which is when a website returns a status code of 200 OK for a non-existent page.

Why are hard 404 pages important?

They are important because they provide a clear indication to both users and search engines that the requested page does not exist. It gives clear indication that the resource is not available, it helps users to understand the situation and search engine crawlers to avoid indexing non-existing pages.

Hard 404 pages also help search engines to properly crawl and index your website. When a search engine encounters a soft 404 error, it may assume that the page is still live and index it as such. This can result in search engines indexing broken links or outdated content, which can negatively impact your website’s search engine rankings.

Properly configured and well-designed custom 404 pages can be helpful for users to provide guidance or a method to find what they were looking for. Additionally, it’s a good practice to setup a monitoring system to track 404 errors and redirect them to a proper page or fix the broken links.

What are soft 404 pages?

Soft 404 pages are considered problematic as it can be confusing for both users and search engines. For users, it’s not clear whether the page they are looking for exists or not, which can lead to frustration. For search engines, it can be difficult to determine whether a page is a real 404 error page or not.

Why soft 404 pages should be avoided?

Soft 404 pages are important to avoid as they can negatively impact SEO. When Search Engines encounter a soft 404 error, it may assume that the page is still live, and it could continue to crawl and index it as such. This can lead to search engines indexing broken links or outdated content, which can negatively impact your website’s search engine rankings.

Therefore, it’s important to correctly configure your website to return the appropriate status codes for non-existent pages, a 404 Not Found, or a 410 Gone status code. Additionally, have a proper custom 404 page that gives a clear indication to the user that the page they are looking for doesn’t exist. Monitoring your website for 404 errors and tracking them can help you to fix the broken links, redirect the pages and prevent soft 404 errors.

Benefits of 404 pages:

  • Providing a good user experience
  • Identifying broken links and removed pages
  • Properly crawling and indexing by search engine
  • Redirecting to a proper page
  • Properly configured and well-designed custom 404 pages can provide guidance or a method to find what users were looking for

A Summary For Website Redirects and 404 pages

  • A 301 redirect is a way to permanently redirect one URL to another. It is used to tell the web browser and search engines that a page has been permanently moved to a new location.
  • 302 redirects are a way to redirect one URL to another for a short period of time. They help to maintain the existing search engine rankings, bookmarks and backlinks of the original URL. And also it can be used for A/B testing or running an experiment.
  • 307 redirects, similar to 302 redirects, but it maintains the HTTP method used in the original request. It’s necessary when it’s required to maintain the same HTTP method.
  • 304 Redirects is an HTTP status code, “Not Modified” it helps to improve the performance of web pages by allowing browsers to use cached copies of resources, rather than requesting them from the server again.
  • 404 pages are web pages that are displayed when a user tries to access a non-existent or removed web page on a website. They help to provide a good user experience by letting the user know that the page they are trying to access doesn’t exist or has been removed. Additionally, they can be important for SEO and website maintenance, as they help to identify broken links and removed pages.
  • Hard 404 pages are 404 error pages that are returned by the server when the requested resource cannot be found. They provide a clear indication to both users and search engines that the requested page does not exist, and it helps search engines to properly crawl and index your website.
  • Soft 404 pages are pages that return a status code of 200 OK but contain content that indicates that the requested resource could not be found. They can be confusing for both users and search engines and can negatively impact SEO.

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Alex Lawford

I unlock the potential of your SME, startup or scale-up; building and scaling brands. I work directly with founders, CEOs and senior leadership teams to craft strategies, implement marketing and unlock opportunities utilising technology.

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