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I have many quite old, varied, trusted 404 links pointing to our site.

Is it OK for SEO to use these as inbound links for a new domain? I would make them into 301 redirects.

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    Google only rewards for pages that are indexed therefore pages that return 404 will not be rewarded. Furthermore 301 redirects should only ever be used for relevant pages... redirects that redirect to a non-relative page can be considered negative SEO. – Simon Hayter Nov 17 '16 at 14:08
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    Does the page that you will redirect to contain the same/similar information to the original page before it was removed? – MrWhite Nov 17 '16 at 14:55
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My answer is 'yes'. It is OK. I've done it myself.

You may even find Google still has the old 404 as a search entry in its database. I've known Google resurrect entries I thought were long gone - 'ancient' in web-land. If the old SERPs entries pop out when you replace them with a 301, then you may find you have both the old URL and the new in the SERPs for a time until Google completely digests there's now a 301 in place. I've observed this happen regularly.

As pointed out - if you want any SEO value out of the old link, then don't stray too far off the original content. Think: 'transition' when creating the new content. That way, you may well benefit from any SEO 'value' the old page had.

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  • Additional: See Timothy Frews answer for additional useful information if you have a product sales focussed site. When the original unedited question was asked, it appeared to not involve a site of this nature (I could be wrong, the question was not explicit about this). – GLCoder Nov 19 '16 at 12:47
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That is really tricky.

  1. Because a 404 status code would be returned before the 404 page is produced.
  2. A 404 says a link is no longer available or temporarily unavailable.
  3. A 301 tells it the page you are looking has moved here, which it has not.
  4. A 301 redirect forces a user elsewhere, possibly not relevant and you will most likely have higher drop off rates, and poor user experience.
  5. Link juice carries weight through 200s and 301s.

404's in general are not bad at all. It's honest to say the least.

Now, I do not suggest having a lot of 404s or 301s but if you want to use them as intended, then a 301 is not the real way to go (as user I would think 301 was not useful or honest if you will.

I would think a catchy 404 page with some good links or call to actions well give the user a good starting choice and in turn keep them there, which leads to better experience and SEO.

I know if I am looking for shoes and then redirected to a main page of clothes, I am not happy at that point and will leave.

Keep in mind search engines want to show results that users tend to benefit from and if they don't like the method neither will the search engines.

Hope that helps.

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    He is asking if he can use a 301 redirect instead of showing a 404 page. Implementing that shouldn't be tricky. – Stephen Ostermiller Nov 17 '16 at 14:13
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    Hello again. :) Ok it is real late but I do not think that implementing is the tricky part rather, is the 301 the better choice as opposed to keep them pointing to a 404 and giving the user the choice and not forcing the site owner chose. But personally, I have always been against outdated pages redirecting and like going with a good 404 page. – norcal johnny Nov 17 '16 at 14:21
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From an SEO and sales conversion point of view id suggest eliminating 404's with 301s

Using the example provided by the above answer, if you want shoes and reach a 404 they'll likely click back and hit a different google page equaling lost potential* sale.

However if you're redirecting them to other products and banner the page with "we didn't have what you were looking for, but you may be interested in..." then there is a greater chance of sale as they may see something they do like, even if it doesn't relate to their original query.

That would be okay to me, however even better fix for the 404's would be (if possible) populate the content and resolve 404s by actually providing (again, if possible) what that page should..

Hope this helps

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