Most Websites Have 404 Errors Periodically.

Do They Hurt Your Business? 

A 404 error is a pretty standard website response: sorry, the page you’re looking for was not found. You may be wondering if 404 errors can hurt your business. From an SEO perspective, Google says a 404 error is an OK response and doesn’t penalize you for them. However, from a consumer perspective, it impacts the user experience and thus, I feel can impact your bottom line.

How do 404 errors impact a consumer?

Think about your own browsing habits. If you’re searching a website for something and you encounter a 404 error, what do you do? Do you try another search on that same website or do you go somewhere else because you ran into a dead-end? Many consumers will leave your site and go back to the Google (or another search engine) to try again. You have less than a minute to engage a website visitor. If they land on a 404 page in that timeframe, you’ve likely lost them.

Make it easy for your customers to find what they need on your website. Offer clear, easy to follow navigation and internal linking and hopefully, you can win them over.

How to identify 404 errors

If you’re in the DIY stage of website building and management, you may not know if you have any 404 errors or not. It’s OK. I’ll show you how to find out. Go to your Google Search Console account. Don’t have one? It’s free. Sign up for it here. You’re going to need the account in the future.

Your 404 errors will be listed several places in your account. Your dashboard will show any Crawl Errors Google has identified.

google webmaster tools 404 error report

Click on the Crawl Errors tab and it will open a page with more detailed information for both desktop and mobile. You’ll see any 404 or Soft 404 errors that Google has identified and when it was first identified. Google will show up to 1,000 pages with errors in this report.

google webmaster tools 404 report

How to fix 404 errors

If you’ve identified 404 errors in your Search Console report, you need to correct them. While Google doesn’t mind you having a crawl error and won’t let it impact your rankings…your customers may penalize you for it by going somewhere else. It’s important to review and correct these crawl errors on a regular basis.

If your website is built on WordPress, you can use a plug-in to manage redirects. A popular one is Redirection. It’s a free plug-in that allows you to quickly and easily redirect any URL on your website to another one. You can completely eliminate 404 errors using this process. To redirect a URL, go to your Tools section in WordPress.

wordpress tools image

Choose Redirection and this screen will load:

redirection image

Enter the URL you identified in your crawl error report as the Source URL. Choose a URL you want the visitor to land on instead and enter that on the Target URL line. Choose whether it’s a modified post or a redirect. It’s most likely a redirect. Click add redirect. Your problem is fixed. You’ll want to let Google know to you’ve fixed the issue too. Return to your Search Console account and select the row(s) of the URLs you updated and click, mark as fixed.

webmaster tools - fixed report

Where do I redirect the URLs?

In order to complete the redirection process, you have to decide where the visitor should land if they go to the old, broken URL. There are several options for how to handle this and it’s really up to you to decide what’s best for your website.

Option 1: Redirect all 404 errors to the homepage. This is by far the fastest and easiest way to clean up the broken links. However, this may not provide the best user experience because if they’ve already been to the homepage and now, they’re landing there again…. it may annoy them. They may not understand why they’re back at the homepage.

Option 2: Redirect all 404 errors to the most closely related URL on the website. For example, if the URL that’s broken is one for a product that’s out of stock and won’t come back but you have another very similar product, you could redirect to that product URL. If it’s something seasonal, you could redirect to a landing page that had information about the seasonal offerings. This approach is more manual because you do need to think about the user experience and understand their intent when visiting your website but it generally provides a better experience.

What’s Next?

It’s time to get to work. Check your Google Search Console account and see if you have any 404 errors on your website. Then determine where you’re going to redirect the pages and make the changes on your site.

If you’re not sure how to do this or want to talk to us about handling your website’s SEO, we’d love to chat. You can contact us here and we’ll be in touch.

 

 

 

 

 

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