HTTP Error 404 and SEO: What You Need to Know

You’ve seen it in your own personal web browsing, the HTTP error 404. you click on a promising link but are disappointed to encounter an error screen.

If this frustrates you, how do you think your users feel when they encounter it on your website?

It certainly affects their experience, and what’s worse, it may affect your web ranking.

Fortunately, some knowledge about how an HTTP error 404 affects your SEO efforts could help you solve this issue. Here’s an overview of 404s and what you should do about them.

HTTP 404 Errors?

You might be wondering what is a 404 error? When you click on a link or type in a URL and see an HTTP error 404, it means the page cannot be found. This usually indicates that either the content has been deleted or the link was typed in incorrectly.

This can make for a bad experience for those visiting your site. If a user encounters a lot of broken links, they can easily get impatient and start searching elsewhere.

With an attention span of just over eight seconds, you can’t count on users to do any digging–they’ll go somewhere else for the info they need.

How does this affect my SEO efforts?

Google’s support staff has said that HTTP error 404 generally doesn’t affect your site’s ranking. Many websites have them, as information is being removed from the internet all the time.

However, when ranking your site, search engines like Google are increasingly taking user experience into account. If your users keep losing interest and going to other sites because they keep reaching 404s, then this will definitely affect your SEO.

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How do I know which links are yielding an HTTP error 404?

You can monitor the errors that your users experience with an SEO plugin, like this one for WordPress. Once you see the list of URLs that have yielded HTTP errors, you can decide what to do about each of them.

When should you redirect?

For each HTTP error 404, you need to decide whether it should be redirected to an actual page using a 301 redirect, or left alone.

Think about what the page does: is it an often-visited part of your site? Do important external sites link to it? Is it an intuitive or commonly misspelled URL that just doesn’t work?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should probably redirect the page, or notify the webmaster at the external site that the link is dead.

When should you keep a 404 page up as is?

It may seem logical to simply redirect all of your 404s to the home page to preserve link juice or the power your site has from external and internal links. Link juice does not apply to 404 pages, but if you redirect the page it counts toward link juice and can boost your SEO.

However, remember that being user-friendly should be an essential part of your SEO strategy. Redirecting to your home page can keep links alive, but this can also confuse and frustrate visitors who have searched for something different.

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If a 404 page no longer exists and is no longer applicable, the best solution is the easiest one. You can leave the 404 as is and it will gradually fall out of Google’s search index. That way, users will not see the link at all when they do a search.

One more thing: If your user reaches a dead end, there is something you can do to prevent them from clicking off the site. Customize your 404 pages so that they contain links to other, similar sources, a search bar, and a link back to the homepage.

Now that you know how 404 pages affect your SEO, you can get started on your own clever designs for 404 pages. Let us know what you come up with in the comments, and don’t forget to check out our SEO Booster Pro plugin to optimize your WordPress site’s SEO.

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