Understanding and Fixing 404 Errors: An Important SEO Strategy

Understanding and Fixing 404 Errors: An Important SEO Strategy

404-errors


There are many ways you can optimise a website to rank better on Google and other search engines, including on-page optimisation, technical fixes, content expansion and backlinks. 

When writing blogs, most people only focus on content expansion, consistently writing blogs, thinking if they continue to feed the beast that is Google, this is SEO and will make all the difference in their rankings. Don’t get us wrong, fresh, quality content on your website is good, but if your website is full of technical errors, Google will penalise you and potentially counterbalance all the good work you are doing in terms of optimising your site and publishing new content.

One common issue that can significantly impact your website’s performance and user experience is the dreaded ‘404 error’. Understanding what a 404 error is, why it occurs, and how to rectify it is crucial for optimising your site’s SEO and ensuring a smooth user experience. 

In this article, we delve into the intricacies of 404 errors and provide actionable steps to address them effectively. Keep reading to find out more. 

What is a 404 Error?

A 404 error is an HTTP status code indicating that the server could not find the requested webpage. When users attempt to access a page that does not exist or has been moved without proper redirection, they encounter a 404 error page. 

This can be a frustrating experience for users and a red flag for search engines, but we’re here to help, get in touch with us today if you require web assistance

Common Causes of 404 Errors

  1. Broken Links: Links pointing to pages that no longer exist. This can happen when content is deleted or URLs are changed without updating the links.
  2. Misspelled URLs: Incorrectly typed URLs by users or in links. Even a small typo can lead to a 404 error.
  3. Deleted Pages: Pages that have been removed without proper redirection. If you delete a page, it’s essential to set up a redirect to guide users to a relevant page.
  4. Moved Pages: Pages moved to a new URL without setting up redirects. When restructuring your website, always implement redirects for moved content.
  5. Incorrect Domain Names: Using an incorrect domain name or subdomain can lead to 404 errors if the domain does not exist or is mistyped.

Why are 404 Errors Important?

404 errors can negatively impact user experience and SEO rankings. They can cause frustration for users, leading to higher bounce rates and lower engagement. 

For search engines, 404 errors signal that a website is poorly maintained, which can hurt your search rankings. Addressing 404 errors promptly helps to maintain your website’s integrity and improve overall SEO performance.

Steps to Rectify 404 Errors

1. Identify 404 Errors

The first step in rectifying 404 errors is to identify them. There are several tools and methods you can use:

  • Google Search Console: Use the ‘Coverage’ report to find 404 errors on your site. This tool provides detailed insights into pages that return 404 errors and other issues affecting your site’s indexing.
  • Website Analytics: Tools like Google Analytics can show pages with high exit rates, potentially due to 404 errors. Analysing your site’s analytics can help pinpoint problematic pages.
  • Crawler Tools: Tools like Screaming Frog SEO Spider can crawl your site and report 404 errors. These tools simulate how search engines crawl your site and can uncover hidden 404 errors.

Once you have identified the 404 errors, the next step is to fix broken links:

  • Internal Links: Ensure all internal links are correct and lead to existing pages. Regularly auditing your internal links can prevent 404 errors from broken links.
  • External Links: If you link to external sites, periodically check to ensure those links are still valid. Use tools that monitor the status of external links and update or remove any broken links.

3. Implement Redirects

Redirects are essential for managing 404 errors:

  • 301 Redirects: Use 301 redirects to permanently redirect users and search engines from the old URL to the new one. This helps retain SEO value and guides users to the correct page.
  • Redirect Plugins: If using a CMS like WordPress, plugins such as Redirection can simplify the process. These plugins allow you to easily manage redirects without technical knowledge.

4. Update or Recreate Content

If pages have been deleted or moved, consider updating or recreating the content:

  • Recreate Missing Pages: If the content was deleted by mistake, consider recreating it. Ensure the new page is search-engine optimised. 
  • Update Links: If the content has been moved, update the links on your site to point to the new URL. This prevents future 404 errors and maintains link equity.

5. Create a Custom 404 Page

A custom 404 page can enhance user experience even when an error occurs:

  • User-Friendly Message: Inform users that the page they are looking for cannot be found. Use a friendly and helpful tone.
  • Navigation Links: Provide links to popular pages, such as the homepage, blog, or contact page. This helps users find relevant content and reduces frustration.
  • Search Bar: Include a search bar to help users find what they are looking for. This can quickly guide users to the correct content.
  • Visuals: Consider adding a friendly image or graphic to make the page more engaging. Visuals can soften the impact of encountering a 404 error.

6. Monitor Regularly

Regular monitoring is crucial for maintaining a healthy website:

  • Regular Audits: Perform regular website audits to catch 404 errors early. Scheduled audits can identify issues before they affect user experience.
  • Set Up Alerts: Use tools like Google Analytics to set up alerts for spikes in 404 errors. Alerts can notify you of sudden increases in 404 errors, allowing for prompt action.

Example of a Custom 404 Page

Title: Oops! Page Not Found

Message: We’re sorry, but the page you’re looking for doesn’t exist. It might have been moved or deleted.

Navigation Links:

  • Home
  • Blog
  • Contact Us
  • Site Map

Search Bar: [Insert Search Bar]

Visuals: Consider adding a friendly image or graphic to make the page more engaging.

Conclusion

By understanding and addressing 404 errors promptly, you can enhance user experience and maintain the integrity of your website’s SEO. 

Regular website audits, proactive management of redirects, and user-friendly custom 404 pages are essential components of an effective SEO strategy

Remember, a well-maintained website not only ranks higher in search engines but also provides a seamless experience for your users.

For further assistance with your website’s SEO and to ensure it remains error-free, consider partnering with experienced professionals who can provide comprehensive audit services and ongoing support.

At The Creative Collective, we are committed to helping you achieve SEO success. Contact us today to learn more about our SEO services and how we can help optimise your website.