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We run an ecommerce site that was setup by a third party ecommerce software provider, basic shop with product pages, basket and checkout.

The third party vendor set up the htaccess file so that if a non-existent URL is enetered it redirects to the homepage instead of a 404 error being generated.

This results in google webmaster reporting duplicate titles and descriptions for pages that no longer exist.

I think that it would be better for a dedicated 404 error page to be displayed rather than redirecting back to the homepage

So is it better to have a website redirect a 404 to the homepage than have a dedicated 404 page instead?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Strong vote for a dedicated 404 page.

  • Less confusing for the user
  • Allows you to see more easily if something is wrong (through web server error log, your own logging script and/or Google Analytics)
  • You can tailor the page towards the situation (for example display a list of product categories)
  • Allows search engines to clean up their indexes. No longer existing pages in a search engine's index may prevent new pages from being added.

On the last point: Make sure to actually return a 404 error. From what you're saying it sounds like it's currently a 301/302 redirect. To do so include

ErrorDocument 404 /notfound.htm

in your htaccess file.

Also see

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/08/make-your-404-pages-more-useful.html

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+1 Beat me to that Google Webmaster Central link... –  danlefree Sep 20 '10 at 0:10
    
what jmb said, but I have dynamic pages for my CMS, so I first have to run it through that first. so Errordocument 404 /dynamic_page.php and if not found that would display /notfound.htm. –  Talvi Watia Sep 20 '10 at 3:51
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I want to up vote this no less than 129082094 times. I cannot even fathom when a silent redirect to the homepage is a good idea. An error page will always suck, but knowing it was an error is better than a blind reset. (By which I mean, reset to the first page.) –  VxJasonxV Sep 20 '10 at 7:09
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I would favor a 410 "Gone" response here. –  Jody Jul 6 '11 at 18:47
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I'd vote for a separate error page if only to let the users of your site know that the link they clicked failed or they typed the wrong URL. It would be confusing to get back to the home page. I know I'd be tempted to repeat my actions to see if I'd done something wrong!

If you added a "report this broken link" link or even logged it yourself, you'd get notification and a chance to fix problems with the site.

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