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I've just gone through my sites 404 list and redirected all of them to the front page.

There were in general 2 categories of links. The first was relative links of client sites which we may have hosted (we are a web development company), which somehow have ended up relative to our URL. The second were links which were very general, most likely used by spam bots to register on the site (we have blocked all anonymous registration).

My questions is: Should I not have done this? If any of these are spam style links from another site, will redirecting them to my front page actually harm my SEO ranking? How do other users deal with a list of 404 errors?

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Redirecting 404s to the front page is considered bad because users will not be receiving the content they expect. The team at Google have said many times that a website that reports a 404 to a user is not bad, 404's are perfectly normal.

You should only 301 a 404 when you have something ideal in its place... For example:

  • Page about Cats /cats 404 > 301 to /felines is valid
  • Page about Cars /cars 404 > 301 to /dogs is not valid
  • Page about Bikes /bikes 404 > 301 to / is not valid if the front page is not all about bikes.

So to stay on the good side of Google do not try to retain PR / Backlinks gained from pages that no longer exist if you do not have relevant pages to fulfill there place. To read more about my claims you should read more about 301 abuse online.

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I've actually got a well designed 404 page, think I must still be asleep this morning! +1 Good answer –  Rick Donohoe Mar 26 '13 at 11:19
    
No problem.. ;) –  bybe Mar 26 '13 at 11:39
    
I agree, but 301ing known issues does get them out of the report quicker. In both cases Google will not include the suspect url in search results. –  Tiggerito Mar 26 '13 at 14:16
    
301ing for the sake of keeping reports clean is bad SEO, Google does not like 301 abuse and trying to retain weight on pages that no longer exist without a relevant equal page can result in punishment by Google (Normally if you have sites linking to this page that doesn't exist which would result in users being directed to a page they didn't want). Your better of with a 404, or a simple 410 Gone. –  bybe Mar 26 '13 at 14:25

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