Happy 404 Day!
For those of you not in the know, a 404 is an HTTP status error that shows up when a piece of content no longer exists. This can happen when you remove a page from your site—for instance if you delete a blog post or event listing—but you don’t redirect that page to a different one. Just because the page is gone, doesn’t mean that links to it are, too! If a user tries to access that page through an external link or, say, a bookmark in their favorites, it can lead to a frustrating user experience.
Are 404s bad for SEO? Yes and no. Eventually, the search engines will figure out that the page is gone, and remove it from the index. But, like I said, there could still be existing links pointing to that page, and unless you redirect them, you’re not providing the optimal user experience, which can eventually have a negative effect on your page authority. Not to mention you’re creating a posse of annoyed users who may or may not be willing to give your site a second chance.
So, what do you do about that pesky 404? You can start by seeing if you have any in the first place by running your site through a tool like Screaming Frog. Take note of which pages are throwing a 404, or save it in a spreadsheet.
Next, check to see if there are inbound links pointing to these pages with a tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer. You can add a filter that will only show external links to the page in question to narrow it down a bit for you.
Next, you can proceed one of two ways: the hard way, or the easy way.
If you want to go the hard way, you can try and contact the webmasters of the sites where you have inbound links pointing at your missing page and get them to point that link at a similar, existing page. This can be frustrating, time-consuming and possibly even ineffective, so I recommend doing it the easy way.
Ask a developer to 301 redirects the 404 pages to a new page. (Note: A 301 redirect is a permanent redirection from the non-existing page to the replacement. Your dev team will understand.)_This can be a similar piece of content, or even your website’s homepage, blog listing, or product listing—whatever happens to make sense. Use your best judgment: If you think that the content you’re redirecting to would satisfy the user’s initial query, it’s probably a good page to choose!
It’s a good idea to make it a habit to check into the HTTP status of your website’s pages. If you don’t have time or you’re still not quite sure what to do about 404’s (or any of the myriad other HTTP status codes), why not give Flying Cork a call to do a general SEO wellness checkup? We’re happy to help, not just on 404 Day, but every day.