Are you a website owner who has run an SEO test and been flagged with 404 errors? You don’t know what it means, but it is certainly not good. You don’t know how to fix it and want it to go away. The odd thing is those pages don’t seem broken when you view them on your browser. It is very baffling, and you are unsure what to do.
In this topic, I discuss broken links, error 404, the causes of such errors, and how to fix them. As a website owner having web pages that display such errors hurts your business and brand reputation. When customers click on your link and are redirected to error page 404, you can be sure that they will get frustrated and leave your website as they believe your web page is no longer there. It will lead to lower conversions, and there is a possibility of losing potential customers. It is in your best interest to get to the bottom of this and fix it before it does you any serious harm.
First, you must understand what is a Broken Link?
Links that are broken occur when a user cannot find or access a web page for various reasons, and servers display an error message. For example, customers click on a link on your website and are redirected to an error page like 404.
Error 404 is particular, and it means that a user cannot find a specific webpage on the server. According to Neil Patel, there are two types of 404 error pages, the soft type, and the hard type. The hard 404 error page is when a customer is browsing your website and come across a hard 404 request regarding a web page, casting doubts on its existence.
The soft 404 error page is more subtle and usually identified by Google bots. When web pages display a not found error to users but return a 200 OK status to search engines, Google sees that these 200 ok status pages have all the characteristics of 404 error pages. It then slaps the soft 404 error and notifies the website owner on the Google search console.
The reasons behind error 404
There are many reasons behind getting the error 404 page. But the most common cause is removing pages from your website without redirecting the URL to the new location. Sometimes, 404 happens because you might have relaunched or transferred your domain without redirecting your old URLs to the new site.
If you mistype a URL or misspell the link to your website, it shows the error 404 page. So, make sure you design the links with easy and correct spellings to minimize the probability of this error. I underwent the same thing when I mistyped a URL leading to traffic dropping to my webpage.
The Impact of this error on SEO
Continually running into error 404 pages on your website makes for a terrible user experience. It hampers your business and sends the customers to your competitors’ websites leading to lower conversions. It is statistically proven that even one 404 error page could cost you a customer.
If that is not enough, then please note that it directly impacts your ranking for the worse. Having an error 404 page lowers your order on a search result page. Though Google will not penalize you for having these pages, the more broken links your site has, the more difficult it is for Google or any other search engine to crawl your site and display them on the search results page.
Google penalizes website owners with high bounce rates if users leave your site after landing on a 404 page after clicking on the link. Google considers bounce rates as a ranking factor.
How does Google see the broken link?
Google keeps a record of all soft 404 error pages on its search console. You can use the Google search console anytime to check if you have any broken links. Sign in to your Google search console account. If you have many websites click on the site you want to monitor, you click crawl, and then click on fetch. This process is not immediate and can take up to a week for Google to crawl your site. I realize this is a game of patience, but it does pay off ultimately.
After this process is completed to get the results to click crawl and then click on crawl errors. The crawl error page comes into view, and under URL errors, you can find the broken links that Google discovered while crawling your website. Google search engine finds it very difficult to crawl your website if you have many 404 pages dropping your ranking on the search result page. Google is especially adept in finding soft 404 pages and keeping a record of them on their search console.
Solutions on fixing it
Redirecting the customers or visitors to your site is often the right solution. You can direct your website server to route the visitors from the error page to the working page on your website. It prevents people from reaching the error page in the first place. But the critical part here is you want to instruct your website server to redirect visitors to the relevant page. For example, if people reach the error page with the URL ‘specials’ instead of ‘special’, then make sure they are redirected to the ‘special’ page only. It would be confusing if they got redirected to the contacts page. I have seen this happen to many people, and it creates a very negative user experience.
Restoring the original page also does the trick. If there is still a lot of demand for the original page, you have deleted and then redirected page isn’t suitable, restore the original page. After editing them, I used this trick, restored some of my original web pages, and watched the ranking soar.
A simple correction of the link will also suffice in clearing the 404 error page. All you need to do is simply edit the link to point in the right direction and traffic is guided to the correct web pages. Of course, you won’t be able to fix links on websites that aren’t in your control.
Error 404 is a very commonly occurring error. It has many ramifications on your business and broken links need to be dealt with on priority. If you have many of these pages, especially on your products web page, contact, and services web page, they need to be fixed first. Error 404 can also be used to your advantage. Suppose you have low-quality web pages that are hampering the overall quality of your website, and you have deleted these pages. In that case, you can ignore the 404 pages as they are, and they will eventually fall out of the search index and stop getting traffic altogether. It is a trick I learned, and I use it with a lot of care as I don’t want to hurt my other web pages.
In the end, being diligent and regularly checking your website for broken links is a crucial exercise. In the same way, you need to check your website for spam links, you also need to audit your link profile for broken links and redirect them accordingly. You need to be extra careful, especially when you make changes to your web pages and delete or replace them. Broken links hamper your conversions and your credibility in the internet community. Competition is very fierce online, and you might end up losing potential customers to your competitors just because of a few broken links. I have seen people lose out to their competition just because they were too lazy to fix their broken links or do the due diligence of any kind.