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I own a domain name, and will use this mainly to have an email address (different than a generic gmail or yahoo).

I do not want to have a "real" website behind the domain, but a "404 not found" error looks very unprofessional, and might make the people I contact doubt whether my email address is legit.
Some alternatives I thought about:

  • Just an empty index.html file, so screen is white, but without the 404 error
  • A simple text "no website available"

So my question is whether there are any standards or best practices to handle such situations?

  • I'm not sure there is a best practice for this. If it were my own personal site, I would probably put something like this into the index.html: Full Name<br>Profession. The next step up would be to basically make a business card web page, with contact info and social media links. – Maximillian Laumeister Dec 14 '18 at 18:00
  • I would avoid a blank page, because the user will wonder if the website just didn't load properly. Some small piece of context about the domain's purpose, like a full name or a business name would be best imo. – Maximillian Laumeister Dec 14 '18 at 18:03
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    But why do you want a website at all? If no A/AAAA records on apex (not needed for correct email working, as MX records take care of it) nor on www, then no attempt to connect to port 80 or 443 of a "website" will succeed, and no maintenance whatsoever. – Patrick Mevzek Dec 14 '18 at 18:35
  • @PatrickMevzek That's a very valid suggestion, but given the context I tend to believe the asker is looking to get away from their domain throwing any errors to a client who visits it, even an unresolved domain/DNS error. There are plenty of static hosts that are also free and effectively no maintenance whatsoever, once you get them running. – Maximillian Laumeister Dec 15 '18 at 5:53
  • @MaximillianLaumeister Thanks for the suggestions. And yes, I had thought about just adding my name and a very brief profile, but I actually was wondering about an even more minimalist option. Currently I have put *** NO WEBSITE AVAILABLE *** , but that looks a bit temporary. Maybe "Domain only in use for email" would be better ? – Peter K. Dec 15 '18 at 18:23
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You have a couple options, each with its own implication / visibility.

  1. As you mentioned, have a blank or simple logo html file. Note you can have this return either a 200, or as a customized 404 page, so the visitor sees the blank or simple logo page, but to the search engine it is viewed as a 404.

  2. If you do want this to leave a bread crumb to you professionally, you could do a 301 redirect to something like a linkedin page. However tread carefully as 301s are permanent. If there is a chance you want to expand this presence, it would be better to add links to your professional web presence along with that simple logo or text. You could make this a 404, or put in a restrictive robots.txt and a noindex meta tag if you want to keep it out of search engines (and leave it only for the curious).

  3. As commented, you could just leave out the DNS A record so there is no website on the domain. However I would argue that this gives the same "unprofessional" experience to all but the most seasoned visitors, and is effectively as bad or worse than a 404.

My recommendation is to put some very simple content on the page (as with the first comment), like a logo or a statement or purpose, and some links off to your related professional web presence. Add a restrictive robots.txt also if you want to keep it from being indexed. This gives you room to maneuver in the future, makes it feel intentional and not broken, and gives you an opportunity to broadcast more of your expertise / experience to the curious person.

  • Good answer but a couple of technicalities. (1) A 302 temporary redirect would make much more sense than a 301 in this case, in case the asker ever wants to host a real website there, and (2) robots.txt files don't prevent indexing, only crawling. To prevent indexing one should leave the robots.txt file alone and use a noindex HTML meta tag or HTTP header. A 200 with noindex is arguably just as invisible to search engines as a 404, so I don't see any reason to use a 404. – Maximillian Laumeister Dec 15 '18 at 5:48
  • What do you mean with a 301 redirect is permanent? Wouldn't I do that with the .htaccess file? Or redirect from my web/domain management admin console ? But both I could change again whenever I want ? – Peter K. Dec 15 '18 at 18:26
  • @PeterK. 301 redirects are "permanent redirects", and so are cached permanently in the user's web browser. So if you use a 301, it's true that you can always stop serving it later, but you will never be able to actually fully remove the redirect unless all your visitors clear their browser caches. This is why 302 is recommended for a redirect that you know you may change in the future. – Maximillian Laumeister Dec 15 '18 at 18:41
  • @MaximillianLaumeister good point on the noindex, I will add that to my answer. The 302 would work as you say, but for some reason it feels inappropriate on the root page of a domain. That might just be my own superstition, though. – Nikolaj Baer Dec 15 '18 at 19:31
  • @NikolajBaer I've had a 302 on one of my domains (maxl.us) for several years and it works great. There's no law against it, at least I'm not in jail yet. All a 302 communicates is "this redirect is not permanent and these resources are not equivalent, expect the target to change in the future". – Maximillian Laumeister Dec 15 '18 at 19:54

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