Don’t Let 404 Errors Ruin Your Website

Written by Nick Stamoulis

When clicking through a website to find what you are looking for, there is nothing more frustrating than finding what you think is the perfect link that will lead you to the answer to your question or the product that you want to buy and then landing on a 404 Error page. This interrupts your thought process, confuses you about where to go next, and results in having a negative brand experience. Unfortunately it happens too often because website owners either don’t know that they exist or aren’t quite sure how to remedy the situation.

If you operate a website and want to keep it engaging and relevant over the long term it’s obvious that you will need to make changes here and there. Sometimes a page of content just isn’t necessary anymore or you’ve created a new product or service to replace the old one. The mistake that many website owners make is to just delete the old page.

This is a big mistake for a few reasons. The first is because depending on how long that URL existed, there could be inbound links to that page. These inbound links are what establish search engine trust over time. The search engine spiders crawl the web from link to link and if they land on your page and it shows up as a 404 Error, it gives the impression that your site isn’t offering a good user experience. The search engines want to send users to good sites, not sites filled with 404s. Inbound links to 404 Error pages are no longer considered as a “good link” to a site in the eyes of the search engines.

The second reason is because there is a good chance that you may be linking to that page somewhere on your site. If you operate a large site you could have thousands or millions of internal links going from one page to another. It’s easy to lose track of every page that links to a page that you’re thinking of removing.

If you haven’t taken the time to consider 404 Errors on your page, the first step is to see if you have any. Check Google Webmaster Tools, SEO Moz, and Link Tiger to find broken links and pages that result in a 404 Error. The reason to check more than one tool is that they may come back with different information. Tools are great, but sometimes aren’t 100% accurate.

To avoid 404 Errors in the first place, always implement 301 redirects when you decide to remove a page from your website. The 301 redirect helps from a search engine standpoint and a user standpoint. A 301 will send a visitor to a different page so that they don’t see a 404 Error page and the search engine crawl won’t be interrupted and stopped at an Error Page. It helps ensure that that “link trust” isn’t lost. It’s important to select a page that is the most related to the page that is being removed. If the scope of the business has changed so much that there isn’t a related page, directing to the homepage is the best alternative.

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