Do 404 errors pull down SEO strategies on websites?


Imagine you sitting in a restaurant craving to grab on something to eat and find nobody to attend you. Wouldn’t you go crazy on the restaurant staff? Well, it is the same with 404 errors. You have a visitor to your website looking for information and when they find it giving them a ride, it leaves them agitated. This is 404 errors in a gist.

To elaborate, it is not the error which actually harms your website performance, but the consequences which will hit hard on your traffic. Google as such does not demerit your website for a 404 error page. However, it does notice when a page in your website fails to deliver the user experience it is supposed to.

Why do 404 errors surface on pages?

There are broadly three major reasons behind the 404 error:

  • A change in the link structure or the link when you refurbish your website.
  • There is a change in the content or when you delete/move the content to a different location.
  • If there is an incorrect URL linked which is misspelled or which does not exist.

Deal your 404 errors with style!

Be the first to identify 404 errors on your website before your visitors do. You could do this by constantly monitoring your website using tools. Furthermore, you can create an alert to check for 404 errors.

The Google webmaster tool or the Google search console can do this effectively for you. It can give you a detailed report of all the 404 error pages on your website. By clicking on “crawl”->“crawl errors” ->”not found” option you will get the list of URLs which was not identified during search engine crawl. It also gives complete details about the history of 404 pages on the website.

404 errors and duplicate content:

The Google website crawl error report provides in-depth information about the URLs Google was not able to crawl predominantly due to site errors and URL errors. The DNS errors which are reflected within the site errors of the crawling report occur when the server does not respond to non-existing hostnames with an appropriate HTTP error code such as 404. This is yet another aspect which needs to be attended.

Fixing DNS errors:

Consider a website samplewebsite.com which has a wildcard DNS setup for responding to its subdomain URLs, like m.samplewebsite.com and n.samplewebsite.com. This works fine when users are provided individual accounts for its domain like http://username.samplewebsite.com. In other cases, these URLs are considered as duplicated URLs. Eventually, the content are showcased as duplicate too with different hostnames which also impact Googlebot’s crawling process.

Building reports for 404 errors to check the traffic:

You could obtain this report about the existence of 404 errors in your website either through the Google analytics solution gallery by modifying appropriate settings. Alternatively, you may follow this path: Customization->custom reports->+new custom report–>Add Dimension–>Add Metrics

As a result of the above action you will have a list of links.Here is how you work around them:  

  • If the error is owing to a misspelled URL, it is recommended to correct it. Subsequently use a permanent 301 redirection to inform and direct your visitor to a relevant content. This strategy will pass on the link juice effectively.
  • The webmaster tool can also be used to de-index pages which are not required.
  • In case of a typical WordPress website, integrating the yoast plugin with Google search console could resolve the 404 error.
  • To avoid 404 error causing a negative impact on your website performance, group such URL’s and use them in robots.txt to prevent crawling of these web pages.
  • When your website has too many 404 errors, it impacts the overall quality quotient in turn affecting the ranking on SERP. Also, it results in potential traffic getting diverted to other websites thereby increasing the bounce rate. To overcome this you could provide an interesting piece of content on the redirected page. Ideally this will reroute the visitors ensuring their prolonged interest to continue browsing your website.  

For the wrap up –

Firstly, it is not wise to overlook 404 errors. Secondly leverage the webmaster tools and 301 redirect to your advantage and continue to engage your traffic. Finally, “Content is the king indeed!” so, even if the visitor is redirected just be sure to make him stay with quality content.

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