There’s nothing more frustrating to a user who is trying to find a page on your website and up pops the lovely and usually creative 404 error page. As creative and funny as your 404 error page may be, there is nothing more disheartening to the user than attempting to find the information they need and be faced with a wall. There are two real issues at hand with a 404 error page, first being the risk of losing a potential clients, second being the loss in SEO value to your website. I will go over both of these issues in length and tell you why it is important to maintain the health of your website and the ways which you can do this.
What is a 404 Error?
A 404 page is an error page that results when a page does not exist. For example, if you were to create a page and the page were to be removed from your website, and the URL was to be requested again a 404 error page would result. Another way 404 errors can arise is the changing of pages, for example on a basic html site if you changed the services page from services.html to Services.html the old page would result in a 404 error unless both pages were kept. The only way these errors are shown is if the previous URL’s have been indexed.
Risk 1: Potential Loss of Clients
If you want more site traffic on your website, you should always be providing great service. Referrals and recommendations are the main contributing factors to a strong conversion. Have you ever tried out a new restaurant and what you intended to order they are out of? It lists the item on their menu, but whenever you order it, the waiter informs you they can not fulfill that request. This is essentially a 404 error in the restaurant. You know it exists because the menu shows you it does, just as Google knows it exists because they have crawled it and seen it. But when you order it, the request is not filled. Luckily in a restaurant the waiter is able to notify the staff that you are out of the ingredients to produce a certain menu item, and it is quickly brought to the staffs attention. Even better, the waiter is able to suggest other items or compensate a potential client for a meal.
In the website world, you do not have a waiter that quickly informs you when you are not providing a request. You don’t have the opportunity to reach out to the potential client and offer them a page they could request instead. With the inability to interact and maintain clients, it makes it even more important to monitor and have “waiters” that monitor the health of your website. This is why hiring an SEO service is fundamental to keeping the marketing of your website running smoothly to avoid losing potential clients.
Risk 2: Loss in SEO Value of Your Website
As always Google’s goal is to produce the most valuable websites for any given search query. The websites are determined based on a complex algorithm which dictates the strength, usability and how relative a website is. When Google crawls your webpages and finds broken internal links which lead to 404 errors as a result the SEO value is decreased in the usability metric.
Why is SEO value decreased?
For one the usability is less, because the internal links don’t lead anywhere. Second, the indexed page content has been lost which also decreases the SEO value because your page does not hold the same amount of information as it once did. Even if you have a page that has been renamed, the page authority begins to accumulate from the starting point. If Google crawls your website many times and it continues to run into the same errors, your page can be penalized.
If you are interested in finding how many 404 errors your website we are offering a free SEO analysis.
How to Identify 404 Errors on Your Website
There are many ways to identify 404 errors, but I am going to go over the 2 that are most frequently used.
1. Crawl Reports
A crawl report is a diagnostic report which goes through your website similar to a Google bot and produces all the broken links or indexed pages that result in a 404 error. Crawl reports also produce other SEO information which may hurt the productivity of your website. If you are interested in a free crawl report fill out this simple form >> Here
2. Google Webmasters
Google webmasters tools will identify the health of your website. If you go to http://www.google.com/webmasters/
Sign in –> Health –> Crawl Errors
Google will only show crawl errors as they are found by Google. With a crawl report you are able to have the advantage of identifying crawl errors before they get to Google and you are penalized with a devalued SEO score. Another disadvantage to Google webmasters over a crawl report is the need to fix each error manually. This is not a disadvantage if you only have a few 404 errors, but when you are handling thousands it can quickly become a cumbersome task.
Fixing a 404 Error
There are many methods to fix 404 errors, again I will go over my personal recommended methods.
1. Hire an SEO service
If you are one of those business owners that wants to handle everything on your own, guaranteed you can be doing better things with your time like looking forward to where your business will take its next steps to continue to grow and keep up with the times. Handling your 404 errors is a constant process of monitoring and checking the health of your website. Trying to handle 404 errors on your own can result in internal errors and an unintentional de-indexing of a webpage.
2. Create 301 redirects
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect which can be performed through your .htaccess file. A permanent redirect is saying to Google, “this is what the URL used to be, but now when it is requested I would like you to produce this new URL”.
This is done through your .htaccess file with the lines of : old URL/ New URL
3. Remove pages from Index
If the requested page is resulting in a 404 error, you can completely remove the page from being indexed and followed. This can easily be done through many CMS.
If you have any questions regarding your 404 errors please feel free to comment, fill out the contact form below or call us at 303.473.4400. If you are interested in quality white hat SEO services see what Customer Paradigm has to offer >> here.