As part of a series of blog posts to help web designers use SEO best practices, this one focuses on the how and why of using a WordPress plugin called 404 to Start.
Plugin: 404 to Start
Source: WordPress Plugin repository
What the 404 to Start plugin does is redirect 404 errors to either the home page or a page of your choice.
So rather than visitors or the Google bot seeing an error page, instead they are redirected to the home page. This makes both for a better user experience and helps your SEO effort.
The reason why it’s beneficial for SEO, is that it doesn’t let backlinks go to waste. Say you have some powerful backlinks to your site, however, these are to a page that no longer exists on your site and you’re unable to get the source of these links change to point to somewhere else on your site. Without some form of redirect, they result in a 404 error.
If the site providing the link monitors if the links on their site are still working, then when your site shows a 404, chances are they will delete the link. On the other hand, when you put a redirect in place, it’s less likely they will delete the link, and you’ll still receive it’s benefit.
Installation and Configuration
It is very easy to install and configure the 404 to Start plugin.
- Within WordPress, from the Plugins page click Add New.
- Type 404 to Start in the Search Plugins field and hit Enter.
- Locate the plugin (it should be located in the top left of the search results) and click the Install Now button.
- Activate the plugin.
If you’re wanting to remove the plugin in the future, it is straightforward, just Deactivate and the Delete from the Plugins screen.
To configure the plugin, navigate to its settings page at Settings > 404 to Start.
The settings are really straightforward, and you set them once and you’re done.
My preference for the settings are:
- Select 301 – Permanently moved
- Leave the Email alert unticked
- Set the Target URL to the URL of the home page
By choosing a 301 (permanent) rather than a 302 (temporary) redirect, it is telling the source, primarily Google in our case, that the new destination is the Target URL aka the home page.
I leave the email alert off, because I don’t need to know each time a visitor or bot is redirected (especially when you multiply this out across all your sites).
This is a simple redirect plugin, with just one destination, which is I why I set it to the home page. An alternative is you could send it to the businesses contact or about page, or potentially a sales landing page.
If you’re looking for a solution to handle more complex redirection scenarios, then check out the Redirection plugin. This is also a useful plugin for SEO, mainly though it is a must have for when you’re rebuilding a client’s website and the URL’s are changing.
To sum up, the 404 to Start plugin is a great catchall for links you don’t know about linking to pages that don’t exist any more on your site. So instead of the links being wasted, or giving a poor user experience, instead send them to a useful place on your site such as the home page.