The Silent SEO Killer- 404 Errors

Written by Brick Marketing

When you are redesigning your website you’ve got a lot on your plate—new content, new layout, new structure and internal linking system, new URLs, new images—you’re balancing webmasters, graphic designers, UX experts, your boss, your boss’s boss and more. It’s a lot of plates to keep spinning! In all the hubbub and excitement of launching a new website sometimes the little things slip through the cracks, but when it comes to preserving the SEO of your website sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference. For instance, forgetting to 301 redirect old URLs to the new pages results in 404 errors, which can completely harpoon your SEO program and organic search presence. Don’t think 404 errors can do all that much damage? Take a look at this:

404 Errors

When this company launched their new website in April 2013 they didn’t use (or assumed the new CMS would handle it and didn’t check) 301 redirects so over 3,000 404 errors were created! One of those now defunct pages used to be the number one landing page on their site. That 404 error turned into a loss of over 12,000 organic visitors year over year! When you multiple that by 3,000 404 errors and dead pages you can see how a site could lose so much traffic so quickly. Normally this kind of traffic loss is what you see when a website has been penalized or is caught in an algorithm update but this was clearly an internal mistake/oversight and it is costing this company dearly.

In addition to the lost organic traffic, this site has to have lost hundreds, if not thousands, of inbound links. Without a 301 redirect all those inbound links to dead pages are left pointing nowhere so the site doesn’t benefit from any link juice those links used to pass along. Unfortunately we don’t know how many inbound links the site had before the re-launch so we can’t compare apples to apples, but it’s safe to say they lost a big chunk. This site has a really impressive resource library which I’m sure was getting plenty of links and social shares and all of those were basically voided when those 404 errors weren’t corrected. 301 redirects should help salvage many of those lost inbound links but it’s also entirely possible that some other sites took down those links because they didn’t want to link out to a dead page.

When you create a new URL on your website it does get to piggyback on the authority of your domain but it also has to stand on its own two feet in the SERPs. The search engines rank individual pages, not websites as a whole, so a new URL has zero SEO value, search engine trust, or inbound links working in its favor. That’s why 301 redirects are so important—it preserves the integrity of your SEO and gives those new pages value.

To check if your website has any 404 errors the easiest thing to do is login to your Google Webmaster Tools account and look under the “Health” tab for crawl issues. If you’ve got any 404 errors fix them right away!

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