You are building a site and whilst you agree that it’s not a good practice to generate links that don’t go anywhere, the site is in its infancy and you feel they are necessary to establish your site framework.
You are writing posts, and some of your posts are building upon ideas that you have surfaced in other posts.
Even as you write, some of the posts you are writing are inspiring follow-up posts that you will get around to writing … soon!
You have a lot of posts to write and they are all connected … and you want to acknowledge that connection.
You have links that don’t go anywhere. That’s not good. The search engines and their web crawlers will think that you don’t care!
You have a dilema.
Links are the threads that hold the fabric of your niche together, and you want to show where they are going to be and what they will link to.
Links that don’t go anywhere are frowned upon, and pages with only a couple of lines of text are frowned upon.
What do you do?
404 Not Found, or someting else?
404 Not Found
A 404 Not Found response from a web server tells your browser that the page it is looking for does not exist, and your web browser displays the 404 Not Found page, served by the host. Search Engine web crawlers also experience the same responses as they check in and look around your site.
If the web crawlers are following your links and the links aren’t leading anywhere, the web crawlers may well get the wrong impression – your site is incomplete, badly constructed or badly maintained.
When the webpage that you are looking for cannot be displayed, the chances are that it is going to be caused by one of the following:
- the page exists but the URL has been written incorrectly, and the server can’t find anything in the location provided,
- the page doesn’t exist … because it has been deleted, or it may have been renamed, updated, whatever, without any of the existing links being updated,
- the page does exist but it has been moved, either temporarily or permanently.
There are some other reasons, but they are esentially external and not relevant to this discussion – maybe some other time.
Generally speaking, 404 Not Found responses are not good.
What is a Redirect?
A redirect is a mechanism for replacing a non-existant page with an alternative.
The redirection process allows for one URL (the URL that was provided initially) to be forwarded, in the background, to a different URL. The web server tells your web browser that the page you are looking for is not available, it gives a reason why this is the case and then, if appropriate, provides an alternative URL. Your web browser accepts the alternative and redirects its efforts towards the new destination.
A redirect is the name given to the little bit of information that is returned to your web browser when a page that you have requested isn’t available. The response code tells the browser that the page does not exist, or that it can be found in an alternative location. The common responses that might be received, along with a simple description of what they mean, are described below.
404 not found Redirect to Homepage
Not surprisingly, Search Engines have a tendency to look down on websites that return a lot of 404 Not Found errors. Once the web crawlers have established that a lot of their crawling requests are being met with 404 Not Found errors, they will assume that the site is badly maintained and will potentially stop bothering with it. Too many 404 Not Found errors – that are the result of broken links – are going to have a negative impact on the overall ranking of the website, which is likely to result in a reduced number of visitors.
There are other reasons for 404 Not Found errors, a lot of the are going to be the result of spelling mistakes and miskeying. Whilst this may well be the fault of the visitor to your website – and there is very little that you can do about bad spelling – the result is the same.
It doesn’t matter what the reason behind the 404 Not Found error is in reality, it still looks like there is a problem with your site.
A lot of 404 Not Found errors will also be generated as the responses to random URLs fronted by your domain name (https://beginner.beginner.beginner.beginner.beginner.beginner.beginner.beginner.blooger.me/gobbledegook/). These may be spelling mistakes, as above, but they could also be some initial attempts to target your site.
Is it a good idea to set up a redirect to your Homepage for all 404 Not Found errors?
Redirecting errors to the homepage might help to deliver a more flowing, less “in your face” error experience, but it could also mean that the visitor is confused. The homepage is not what the visitor is expecting, and is therefore probably not going to meet their expectations. This is especially true if the visitor is looking for something specific. Redirecting to the homepage is possibly not the best option.
The information on the homepage is still going to be useful, so it’s probably better to develop some sort of half-way, hybrid page that includes an explanation of the situation (why the visitor has landed here), some key elements from the homepage, and maybe even some additional points of interest to regain the attention. It’s also going to be prudent to then add a link back to the homepage!
This is what I had in mind when I built the WORMHOLE. The wormhole is more than just an error catcher, and it uses the 307 Temporary Redirect below.
What is a 301 Redirect?
The 301 Moved Permanently redirect code indicates to the Web Browsers that a page has been permanently relocated. The web server is therefore telling your browser and any Search Engines that might be crawling by, that the page they are looking for has been moved – and that it’s not going to be changing back any time soon. The browser responds to this by redirecting the page request to the replacement address that was provided in the 301 Moved Permanently response.
If you have reached the point in your blogging journey where you are moving pages around and are concerned about the SEO impact of essentially changing the permalink associated with a page, then you will be interested to learn that using a 301 Moved Permanently redirect will also redirect most of the link equity associated with the original page location (permalink). This is a good thing.
If you are still at the beginner stage of your development, then just keep that in the back of your mind … for later.
What is a 302 Redirect?
I have included the 302 redirect code here for completeness. It’s unlikely to be needed by a novice.
The internet runs on HTTP, the HyperText Transfer Protocol, and this sets the rules around how stuff works. There are two main versions, the rather imaginatively titled Version 1.0 followed by the equally inspired Version 1.1. The only reason for mentioning this is that the definition of the 302 response changed. In Version 1.0, the response was 302 Moved Temporarily; in Version 1.1, the response was 302 Found.
The 302 Found of Version 1.1 response indicates that the location of the target resource has been temporarily changed, which is not particularly dissimilar to the older 302 Moved Temporarily of Version 1.0.
On encountering a 302 Found response, your browser will recognise the change and will redirect to the new page location as advised. A search engine will also recognise the change but will not take any particular action: the search engine will not update its links to the resource. This means that any link equity associated with the original location will not be transferred. To transfer the link equity, you will need to use the 301 Moved Permanently option.
There is some evidence to suggest that the 301 Moved Permanently code and the 302 Found code might be treated by some participants in a similar manner, which is no good for my purpose. I do not want my pages to be the subject of permanent changes.
The 307 Temporary Redirect specification implies that the code should not be treated like a 301 Moved Permanently code, and by association, a 302 Found code.
states that “the user agent MUST NOT automatically redirect the request“, which is what I need.
What is a 307 Redirect?
The 307 Temporary Redirect is supposed to be used when the requested resource is temporarily located at a different address to that provided originally, or given in the link … according to the HTTP/1.1 specification.
From what I can gather it was developed because the boundaries between 301 Moved Permanently and 302 Found were becoming blurred. I am learning stuff but I am no expert and I need a redirect that cannot be interpreted as a permanent change. I think the 307 Temporary Redirect fits the bill.
My Conclusion about Redirects
If a page cannot be served from the address provided, technically it does not exist and a 404 Not Found response is in order. In WordPress, most themes include a default 404 response page that looks a little more professional than nothing … and in most cases, the default 404 page is available for editing.
Too many 404 Not Found messages are bad. Visitors don’t like them, the Search Engines and their web crawlers don’t like them … and they have the ability to make a visitor keying error look like a system error. There doesn’t appear to be an upside to this situation.
I am developing a site: this site. In the early days of developing a site, there are usually far more opportunities and ideas for pages than there are pages that have been written. To some degree, this is inevitable and if you are not knee-deep in ideas for posts, you have to wonder if you may be paddling in the wrong pool.
Writing articles with links to posts that haven’t yet been written is not something to be recommended … at least for an established site. But I think maybe the guidelines could be interpreted differently for a site with only a small number of posts, especially since such a site is also likely to be attracting only a small number of visitors.
It might also be a consideration that only applies to sites that are created as a development blog. I don’t think that the problem would arise if my intention was just to write a series of stand-alone articles. My intentions for this site are to fill a lot of the knowledge gaps for beginners, which I believe makes a high number of links necessary. Maybe it’s just my problem.
Many posts develop specific ideas that originated in other posts, and many posts inspire follow-up posts. Links are inevitable and are a necessary part of the website infrastructure.
The links are the threads that hold the fabric of the site together.
The links and the narrative surrounding the links are intertwined. The problem is that in many cases the narrative doesn’t work without the links, but the links that make the narrative work don’t lead anywhere … at the moment!
The writing will catch up and so the situation is only temporary.
A simple 404 Not Found is going to tell the search engines that the site is a bit of a mess, and not maintained particularly well. We don’t particularly want this, even temporarily.
A 301 Moved Permanently might make the web crawlers happier, but it means that when the posts I have “linked” to are complete, I will have to then get the crawlers to notice them.
A 302 Found is a bit “iffy”. It might or might not be treated like a 301 Moved Permanently, which I don’t want. I’m not going to risk that one.
I appear to be left with the 307 Temporary Redirect, which may have implications that I don’t yet know about, but whatever they are they are probably not going to be any worse than the alternatives. It makes sense, I want the link to be redirected temporarily, so what could be better?