404 errors and how it affects your SEO

404 errors and how it affects your SEO[ 5 min read ]

As we’re sure you know by now, SEO is not a one hit wonder. It does take some work to get your site to climb the ladder in terms of Google ranking.

A lot of people think that there are tonnes of hours to be spent on tweaking, and yes, in some respects there are. But one of the simplest things you can do, which could make a difference, is to check your site regularly for 404 errors and broken links.

What is a 404 error anyway?

Basically, this is a somewhat unfriendly way of telling you that whatever you were looking for on the web, cannot be found. In CMS systems such as WordPress, you can ‘pretty up’ the 404 pages to make it a bit more friendly, but put simply, it’s missing content or an incorrect link.

That’s it. It’s not so bad once you know what it’s all about, but it can be bad if you don’t fix it. Especially if you are getting a lot of them.

How does this happen?

The easiest explanation for this to happen is that you have linked out to some content, out in the big wide world of the web, and it no longer exists or you’ve got the link wrong.

It could be that you linked out to another company, and they’re no longer in business, or it could be that you’ve linked out to a page which has been deleted or even an image. Either way the content can’t be found by the browser.

If we’re really honest, it could also be a case of fat finger syndrome too, where you’ve mistyped the link. It does happen!

Why is this so bad?

Think about it this way, would you want to get all excited about a product or service which you’ve been searching for. Only to find that there is no information about it? That’s basically the stance that Google takes too.

Whilst the dreaded 404 error is inevitable these days. It’s certainly not desirable. This is is because one of the many different ranking factors for a website is links, be they backlinks or external links.

What do I do to check if I have any?

If you’re doing some serious regular SEO work on your site, then the chances are that you may have something which can help you with this. There are various bits of software which can check out your links for you. Some of these are free, others are paid for. You can also get plugins for WordPress too. In terms of what you use, it’s really down to preference.

You could also make use of the Google Search Console, as this will tell you when a page has failed a crawl attempt. You should have submitted your site to Google anyway so this is a bit of a no-brainer. You’ll usually also find out when there is an issue before your users do!

The other quick and dirty thing you can do is to go to your sitemap (if you have one) and check the links from there. This would, of course, be a bit of a long winded thing to do if you have a massive site!

What do I do to fix a 404 error?

If it’s just a case of someone’s bad typign typing (see what we did there?) then you just need to correct the link and all should be fine. However, if this is some article etc. that you’ve linked out too, then you need to think about how you want to proceed. Of course, it’s better (in terms of ranking) for that link to be there. However, it also needs to be relevant. There is no point in linking to some content just for the sake of it. If the content has just moved somewhere else, then you could just amend the link. But if the content is no longer available, then it may be wiser to think about doing something else.

For example, if this is your site, and you no longer sell a particular product, then it may be better to put a redirect* in place. This would then direct the user to another page which has something similar that they could buy. This keeps the user on your site but also gives them a better user experience. After all, this is what counts in the end.
*Good news! There are WordPress plugins to help you with redirections.

How do I avoid them?

This is a good question! These days it’s getting hard to avoid content being no longer where the owner originally left it. For example, if you have a website revamp.

We’d argue that for SEO purposes, the general content should stay the same i.e. pages, links etc. So that you don’t drop in the rankings. But that may just not be an issue to some site owners. Links out to other websites, in general, are probably a whole other blog post. But if you ensure that you’re linking out to a reputable source, then that is the best you can do. If you’re linking to your own content, then really you should be checking that it’s there and amending anything as needed!

We hope you enjoyed this quick blog on how 404 errors can affect your SEO. It’s something which is easy to keep an eye on. But if you are looking for some more in-depth help with SEO why not get in touch? We’d love to talk to you about how we can help.

Suzi Smart Bear

I'm Suzi - the owner of The Smart Bear.

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