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Currently I use custom 404 error pages, having the following meta on them :

<meta content="noindex" name="robots">

My guess is this way Google will remove deleted pages faster from the index, anyone has experienced a case where it does ?

Also, is it better to have the url path rewritten to the actual error page, like the url pattern: http://{mysite}/{404_error_page} or is it best to keep the old deleted page's url when serving a 404 error ?

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1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The fact that a page is being served up with a 404 error means that responsible web indexes will not be storing the 404 page itself anyway. That is what the HTTP status code is for - the number 404 isn't there for the user's benefit! As far as removing the original page from an index, it would be better to make resources which are truly gone return an error 410 Gone instead.

Regarding the second part of your question, please do not rewrite the URL. This is incredibly user-hostile; if someone opens up a link in a background tab that happens to have gone invalid, a rewritten URL means that there is no way for them to figure out what the intended URL was, and thus no way for them to know what page had the problem. It's especially bad if the rewritten URL goes to an entirely different domain; I have recently seen certain cheap hosting providers do this for things like bandwidth overage error pages and it does nobody any favors. Also, if you redirect on 404, the resulting page might not be served up with a 404 status, meaning that the page then might end up being indexed anyway.

If the URL is no longer valid because the content has simply been moved to another location, consider redirecting the old URL to the new one (or its closest equivalent); that way, the old URLs are still useful from other locations, and will eventually be replaced with the new URLs in search indexes.

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I like your answer and you're right, I don't want my links to show like this seofailblog.com/404-serp-fail in SERP... Thanks ! Indeed deleted pages links are still indexed but their content are not showing in google page preview, I guess it is OK. –  ZenMaster Jun 30 '12 at 18:52
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@ZenMaster Well I guess what I should have said (and will update my answer to reflect) is that a 404 error caused by older content no longer being there is usually a mistake that needs to be fixed; either the content has been moved elsewhere (in which case it should get a 301 Moved Permanently redirect) or removed entirely (in which case it should get a 410 Gone). –  fluffy Jul 1 '12 at 8:21
    
+1 it's relevant and I already did a 301 on moved pages after searching for related questions. About permanently removed pages, if the CMS I am using doesn't give a 410 option, maybe I should do it anyway with .htaccess, I'll give it a try and monitor index changes. –  ZenMaster Jul 1 '12 at 8:45
    
Yeah, unfortunately 410 isn't very widely-used and I've never seen a CMS that actually supports it. mod_rewrite seems like a pretty straightforward way to support it, though. –  fluffy Jul 1 '12 at 17:32

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