How do 404 errors hurt your SEO?

What is a 404 error?

404 errors occur when there are broken links on your site. What is a visitor supposed to see when he clicks on a link wanting to visit a webpage? The user is supposed to see the webpage. But, sometimes, when the visitor clicks on the links, they get a 404-page error message from the server instead of reaching the page.

Broken links cause 404 errors. Broken links lead users to pages that don’t exist any longer. In a nutshell, when a user tries to reach a specific webpage, the server shows an error message instead of taking the user to the page he’s looking for. It is called a 404 error.

A server might display 404 errors in many ways –

  • 404 page not found
  • oops! something went wrong
  • sorry, the page that you requested was not found
  • HHTP 404 not found
  • page you were looking for doesnt exist
  • the page isnt available
  • invalid URL …….. and many more
A page showing a 404 error

How bad are 404 errors for SEO?

404 errors provide a bad user experience. That undoubtedly leaves a bad impression on your website. Just think as a user! How would you feel if you get an error message while browsing? What would you do if a link would take you to a non-existing page? Wouldnt you switch to some other website? That’s how 404s impact user experience.
Broken links causing 404 errors might hamper google ranking. How? The answer is quite simple. The more traffic your website gets the more are the chances of ranking. Broken internal links reduce traffic.

How do 404 errors affect traffic?

Broken links on your website that lead your visitor to a page that doesn’t exist are harmful to your SEO. Your page appears less in search results if the link is inappropriate. Google also considers that the page is not available. The user switches to another website without wasting any time. It drives traffic to another website lagging your website behind. It hampers the reputation and degrades the value of your site. All your efforts go in vain when users cant visit your webpage.

How does Google consider a page with 404 errors?

Search engines and Google count your webpage as a less valuable one because of the broken links. Servers send an error message when someone clicks on the broken links of your site. 404 error message usually means that your page doesn’t exist. So Google doesn’t enlist your website. Thus your webpage appears less or hardly appears in the search results.

However, incoming and outgoing 404 errors have different effects on your SEO. Incoming 404s are the links on other sites pointing to your website. Such backlinks lead users to your website. But they get an error message instead when the page is no more available on your website. It’s because maybe you have deleted the page or moved it to a different domain or changed the URL.

Whatever the reason is, the link value of your website decreases. Besides, it also affects others websites linked to yours. Moreover, you cannot fix them if you want since you have no control over others websites. 301 redirect is required to fix such issues. You can find out incoming 404s using cognitiveSEO’s Site Explorer.

Outgoing 404s are links that lead to the relevant pages on the same website or other websites. When the 404s are on your website, then that’s an issue. You have to find and fix them. You can avoid such troubles if you check the links regularly. If you don’t, it will be harmful to your ranking. Outgoing 404s hampers the traffic of your website. The user gets disappointed and moves to other sites. Google considers your page invaluable.

You have understood by now why 404 errors hurt your SEO. Now, let’s know more about 404 errors and broken links!

What causes 404 errors?

404 errors or broken links are the results of-

  • moving a page or the whole website to a different domain
  • mispelling the URL
  • not redirecting the URL to the new  domain name
  • non-existance of a page on your website
  • linking to the 404s
  • deleting a page with backlinks without redirecting it
  • malfunctioning server in some cases

How will you avoid 404 errors?

  • Regular monitoring might help avoid 404s. Check time to time if the links are appropriate.
  • Don’t use too long URLs. Try to keep the link address simple.
  • Don’t forget to redirect the webpage if you are moving it somewhere else.
  • Don’t create link with deleted pages.

How will you fix 404 errors?

The following steps might help you fix 404 errors-

  1. Try reloading or refreshing the page. Press F5 to retry or simply click on the reload button. Sometimes issues aren’t real. That is error message might appear because of server issues. This method might work in that case.
  2. Check for spelling or grammatical mistakes in the URL. Retype the URL in the address bar.
  3. If the website is yours, then check for broken links on your site and fix them. How will you fix it?
    • At first check if the webpage was deleted or removed. If deleted, you can either restore it or redirect it to any other relevant content on your site.
    • If you find any incoming 404s, let the owner of the page know that you have deleted or removed the page.
    • If you see that the 404s are incoming, then follow the first step.
    • If you dont want to restore the page, simply delete the broken link to resisist outgoing 404s.

How will you find out broken links on your website?

Here are some tools you can use to find dead links-

However, there is a broken link method for link building. It is a great SEO strategy. How?

Suppose the 404s are on others websites. If you by chance insert a dead link on your page pointing to websites that belong to somebody else, you can quickly monitor the dead link before the owner does. You can provide a link to your website relevant to the broken link to the owner. That owner can’t refuse if you send him a link to an essential page on your website.

In this way, the owner will delete the dead link and use your link as an outbound link. It will be beneficial for that owner, as well as you. The link value of your website will increase. Thus, it will appear more in search results and bring more traffic to your website.

Check out the article What is the broken pages link-building technique? How to do it?  for more.

404s are considered normal for any website. But you should do whatever you can to avoid errors like that. If you already have pages like that on your site, take measures to fix the broken links. Otherwise, we have already discussed how it might hurt your SEO efforts. Hope that the article helped you understand that and you got everything you wanted to know about 404s.