Error 404 is sometimes inevitable in a website, sometimes it doesn’t occur from our own mistakes. So many times people have asked me if error 404 can affect a site’s search engine ranking. I have tried to answer that question personally, but for the purpose of explaining to my regular readers I have decided to write a post about it.
What causes Error 404
There is no perfect way to say Yes and No, Error 404 will not affect your site’s ranking but can hurt your site user experience. It is sometimes impossible to eliminate all error 404’s from our website. This is so because some of the URLs giving error 404 may not be actual pages on our website, it could be constructed URLs from feeds, social shares scripts, directory submissions, comment pages etc. Most times error 404 is as a result of parsing error in the syntax of such addresses.
Error 404 could also be as a result of edited URLs in our websites, maybe you decide to edit a post URL and if such URL have been shared before the edit, any visitor coming from the old link will definitely meet an error 404 page except such URL have been redirected to the new edited URL. I normally use a WordPress plugin called “Redirection” to redirect such URLs to the newly edited URL to avoid error 404 on my blog – Netmediablog.
How does Error 404 affect a Site?
I will always advice webmasters/bloggers to carry out “routine maintenance on their blogs” from time to time to discover if such errors exist on their sites and correct it. Fixing error 404 on your site will save you a lot of trouble from Google and other search engines. When error 404 occurs on a post page, all backlinks to that page is lost because such pages do not exist on your site anymore. This can hurt your overall PR/ranking and worst of it is that you may lose your site visitors when they arrive at such error page.
Google Webmaster Tools is a great resource to finding such errors and eliminating them from your site, Google always suggest that a website/blog should be user friendly and as such should be free from any of such errors. If you are not making good use of the Google Webmaster Tools today, you better do.
How to fix error 404:
There are different ways one can fix error 404 and I intend to discuss as much as possible methods of doing this. Now read this section carefully and don’t hesitate to apply the knowledge in it to eliminate error 404 from your site. There are several plugins you can use to do this, they include the following;
True Google 404: True Google 404 is an awesome plugin to suggest related posts to the visitor when he arrives an error 404 page. This plugin suggests the best possible posts matching the error page. For example if you check this link http://netmediablog.com/10-routine-maintenance-checklists ,you will notice it’s an error 404 page, but look closely to the suggested links on the page, you will notice the option at #1 is the post with the correct link. So simply install the True Google 404 plugin on your site if you are a WordPress user and customize it to your need. Remember to limit the search to your domain alone.
Redirection: Redirection is another WordPress I use to redirect error 404 URLs to the actual correct URL. When I find error 404 pages on Google Webmaster tools, I quickly rush to my dashboard and redirect such URL to the correct URL so when visitors visit the old URL they will automatically be redirected to the new one and the best part of it is that I won’t have to lose my rank for such page since all the link juice from the links pointing to the old URL will still be redirected to the new one.
You can also create custom/funny error 404 page that gives the visitor an option to search within your site for the post they were looking for, you can add a Google search box on such page and limit the search to your site alone. Or you can create a 404 page on the old URL notifying the visitors that the post has been moved and also provide the new URL within that page so they can continue to the new page. You can also use Robot.txt to prevent search engines from crawling error 404 pages on your site.
While I may not favor this method compared to the previous two above, you can still lose your PR/ranking for your page using this later method since the visitor will have to arrive at an error page first before navigating to the new URL, I prefer automatically redirecting such visitor to the new page without him even noticing a change in the URL.
As much as I can’t say there is a part of the search engine algorithm that says that a site with error 404 should not rank, I can also tell you that error 404 on your site will definitely create a frustrating user experience for your visitors.
According to Matt Cutts advice, you can allow Google to de-index an error 404 page by leaving it on your site, Google will simply ignore such page when next it re-crawls your site.