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I'm fixing some minor things on the 404 page for all my websites. My punctiliousness makes me unable to sleep well unless I get an answer to this question. :)

Does a 404 page need a meta description tag? If yes filled with what, "page not found"?

I would say no, if Google really cares more about contents and user frienly site rather than about what is on the page (moreover the 404 page snippet should never show up in Google cause server is sending real 404 code).

But after reading all this stuff:

on how they suggest to fill up a 404 page (that I always thought should just be a simple 404 page) I started to feel worried about meta description too.

I'm just looking for some clue/suggestion I might not have thought about, or maybe just reassurance. :)

Thanks

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Do you think your 404 page is going to rank well or drive in traffic? I didn't think so, either. :) –  John Conde Nov 12 '10 at 19:53
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4 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The most important thing for your 404 pages is the header's status code: it must be 404 not found.

It's maybe stupid to say that, but in dynamics applications, with an URI like this http://my.webapp.invalid/index.php?id=4, when id=4 return nothing, many web developers returns a 404 message with a 200 OK status code...

An other thing: for example, if someone try http://my.webapp.invalid/index.php?id=toto whereas id only accept integer, it's not a 404, but a 400 Bad Request that you must return.

It's easy to handle this, for example, with the header function in PHP or the HttpWebResponse.StatusCode Property in .Net

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+1 really nice answer. –  Dave Nov 12 '10 at 22:04
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+1 interesting the 400 bad request thing. –  Marco Demaio Nov 12 '10 at 22:14
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No. Why worry about your PR for your 404 page. I would be more worried on making sure none of your links end up there in the first place.

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Meta information for a 404 page doesn't makes sense.

Return the proper 404 header is far way more important than any other technical measure.

From non-tech POV you should really consider returning useful information, instead of just an error message. Using the sitemap and internal search tools, providing some fruitful measures to your users makes much more sense (and make users happier, what makes your site better)

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From a search engine POV you can even have an empty 404 error page. But your server must serve the correct status code (404 or 410) to say that the page the client is asking for no longer exist.

From a user POV having a well crafted error page is important because you don't want to let the user go away just because he, for example, followed a broken links: you want to give the user options to find his way on your website giving him for instance:

  • a search box
  • a link to the site map
  • a list of page similar to the one he was looking for (Google itself can help you)
  • a simple form to contact the webmaster

Since usually the content of the meta description tag is not visible to the user, It's absolutely OK if you don't fill it up.

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