Even when you follow the best practices of running a website for your business, you may sometimes get a notice from Google Search Console. If that notice says your site has a lot of 404 errors, it can be cause for alarm. You want visitors to your website to see what you have to offer, not 404 error pages.
How 404 Errors Hurt Your Website
People typically come across a real 404 page on your website from a couple different sources:
- External links like blogs or news sites that are linking to your site
- Typos that are shared on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media
They can be caused by you in the normal course of working on your website. If you migrate from a Drupal website to WordPress, the link structure is going to change. If your new web hosting provider includes a free website, your page structure may be different than what you had before. These are all going to result in people coming to your “404 not found” page.
Typically these are predictable and, with some planning, can be prevented. You should setup a 301 redirect from the old link to the new content that most closely resembles that link. Don’t 301 to your home page or something completely different. The Googlebot will call foul and lower your SEO credibility for that link. There are times where you’ve deleted a page and you don’t want it to show up anymore. You can work on removing them from Google search by following these steps.
404 Links That Are Crawl Errors or Can’t Be Found
The other types of 404 errors that may show up on your site are the kind you can’t find. They might not be obvious errors and you don’t know why Google is crawling them. If they look like spam (i.e., http://www.LTnow.com/cANAadIan-pHarMAcy/), it could be a sign that your site is hacked. If that is the case, the 404 errors are the least of your problems and you have to address the hack before you address the 404 errors.
A tool like Screaming Frog can help you find real 404s on your site and what pages are incorrectly linked. It is a great tool to find strange things on your website that are unexpected. This is a best practice in regular website maintenance. With it, you will be able to respond quickly to broken pages, downtime, or hacks.
Helping Google to Rank Your Site
Google Search Console is an indispensable tool to work on your site’s SEO health and maintenance. Sign into your site’s page and you can see lists of 404 errors and where they come from on your site. You might see a button in there that says, “Mark as fixed.” Pressing that button won’t alert Google to leave that broken link alone, however. That button is there for your convenience only. You can click it and the broken link won’t show up on your list until Google comes across it again.
The real way to fix it is to really fix it, by editing the link or putting in a 301 redirect. Once Google crawls it and sees that it is no longer a broken link, they won’t mark it as an error anymore. You can “fetch as Google” and submit your sitemap to Google after you have cleaned up your links. However, submitting the same things every day won’t improve your SEO either.
A Healthy Site Brings in More Traffic
When visitors come to your website from a search page, they give you 2-3 seconds to give them what they want. If someone lands on a 404 page, they typically hit the back button and move along to another site. Your site should have a helpful 404 page. Include a search box or suggestions for other links of interest. There are many sites online with clever 404 pages. It’s a bummer to follow a broken link, but at least they’ll get a chuckle out of what they found.
Just like unhappy customers remember the time they went to the coffee shop to find it closed, visitors remember if your page didn’t work well for them if they have a chance to visit it again. For the overall health of your site, and for the SEO benefit of having plenty of working links and content, keep track of your 404 errors. If you have questions or get into a bind, drop us an email. We’d be happy to make your website become the best salesperson for your company.