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So you’re looking for information about how to make your small kitchen seem more spacious. You find a really informational page on a local kitchen design company’s website. You see a link to their “about us” page, and you want to learn more about this company, so you click on the link. But it doesn’t go to any page—instead, you get an error that says “page not found.” Frustrated, you go back to Google and search for another company.
We’ve all come across them at some point while surfing the internet—404, or “not found” errors. If your website has broken links like that, think about the scenario mentioned above. You could be losing a potential client to one of your competitors!
A 404 error occurs when Googlebot (Google’s tool for crawling pages on the web) tries to visit a website page that doesn’t exist—because:
- It was deleted or renamed without a proper redirect from the old URL to a new page
- There’s a typo in the link to that page
Are 404 Errors Bad for SEO?
According to Google, “generally, 404 errors don’t impact your site’s ranking in Google, and you can safely ignore them.” So from a technical SEO standpoint, 404 errors aren’t horrible.
But a website with a bunch of 404 errors doesn’t provide a good user experience, which seems to be significantly more important in content marketing and SEO today than it was a couple years ago.
I think that a website that has a lot of 404 errors will ultimately suffer—Google and other search engines don’t tend to rank pages that provide a poor user experience. Sujan Patel puts it well in an article on Search Engine Journal: “While SEO best practices may come and go over time, making a commitment to serve your user first will never go out of style!” (The article is worth a read.)
404 Best Practices
Although Google says you can safely ignore 404s, in some cases, there are better solutions.
- Sometimes it’s better to look at each error and see what’s happening. If that page receives important links to it from external sources or gets a lot of traffic from qualified visitors, you probably want to fix the error.
- It’s easy to fix 404 errors with a simple typo in the URL—Google explains sometimes it’s clear that someone intended to link to your page and made a typo and that for “a misspelling of a legitimate URL you could 301 redirect the misspelled URL to the correct URL and capture the intended traffic from that link.”
- Contacting the webmaster of a site with an incorrect link and asking for the link to be updated or removed is always an option too—though it’s not guaranteed you’ll get an answer.
- From a usability standpoint, it may be better to use a 410 status code rather than redirecting to a more generic page (like the homepage) in some cases. More on 410s in another post!
404 Errors in Webmaster Tools
Many webmasters and SEOs complain that Google Webmaster Tools constantly shows old 404 errors when the pages aren’t linked to anymore or 404ed. According to Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller, Google’s memory is big and it will often keep trying 404ed URLs again and again—and that having 404s “isn’t something that you really need to worry about, it’s absolutely fine and even expected that a website returns 404 for URLs that don’t exist.”
404 errors don’t negatively impact your SEO and content marketing efforts in terms of ranking (at least not in the short term)—but if there are so many that your website is being abandoned by frustrated users, you may not continue ranking so well.
Code and site structure is an important part of SEO and if you need help cleaning up your website, you’re in good hands with our team here at Blue Corona!
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About The Author: Alanna is the Quality Assurance Manager in Blue Corona's Maryland office. When she's not triple-checking websites and content for errors and consistency, you can find her at the gym with her twin sister or urban exploring with her husband.
View more blogs by Alanna Hernandez