4 minute read

A 404 not found error occurs when a web page cannot be found on the server, indicating that the page has either been deleted or moved, and the URL has not been modified accordingly. A 404 error is not just frustrating for users, but it also has the potential to negatively impact SEO. Whether your aim is to prevent 404 errors from occurring or to fix errors already showing up on your site, our guide will help.

Why Do 404 Errors Occur?

A web server will usually generate a 404 not found error when a user misspells a URL or tries to click on a broken or dead link. These errors may also occur when pages have been moved or removed, the page has expired, or the page was blocked for a specific reason.

How Do 404 Errors Hurt SEO?

If a user encounters a 404 not found error, they’re likely to hit the back button and return to the search engine, which is known as “pogo sticking.” This hurts SEO by signaling to Google that your content isn’t adding value for a particular keyword query — then they respond by driving your rankings down.

According to Search Engine Journal, 404 errors have varying degrees of importance when it comes to their impact on SEO.

  • Live Site Errors. Errors encountered on a live site when the page has been removed, but the link to it has not, are bad for SEO but even worse for user experience.
  • Outdated Links. Many website operators fail to check their external links regularly and therefore a functioning link could easily become a dead one. Errors caused by old links — from external sites or bookmarked links — hurt SEO more because they are often the result of a quality link from another site. When the link leads to a page that no longer exists, your rank is subsequently pulled down.
  • Systemic 404 Errors. If you notice an increasing number of 404s in site reports, there’s a chance that there is a systematic error somewhere in your code, perhaps in your XML sitemap.
  • Misspelled URL. Anyone can stumble across a 404 error on even the most reputable site by misspelling a URL or clicking a link that doesn’t exist. While these errors occur commonly, they may also lead to pogo sticking, especially if the 404 error doesn’t leave room for users to effectively navigate to another part of the site with a customized, branded 404 page or if it doesn’t provide a search bar to help them find what they’re looking for.

What’s a Soft 404?

A soft 404 error is a URL that returns a page telling the user that the page does not exist and includes a 200-level (success) code. In some cases, the soft 404 might be a page with little or no content. A soft 404 is often used in place of a 404 (not found) or a 301 (moved) code to signal to search engines that there’s a real page at that URL. In turn, the page may continue to be listed in search results, and search engines will continue crawling the non-existent URL instead of crawling your real pages. Soft 404 errors are considered bad practice and eventually get tagged by Google.

How To Prevent and Fix 404 Errors

There are a variety of online tools available to help you check for 404 not found errors, such as Google Search Console. If you’re able to figure out what caused the 404 error, you should work to manually fix the broken link or set up redirect pages to point users in the right direction and remedy damage to your SEO power. However, checking, fixing and preventing future 404 errors from occurring can be time-consuming work.

From proper redirection during website migrations to improving your URL structure for SEO, it’s important to be strategic. To protect your links, your brand and your users, use a URL redirection service like EasyRedir. We can capture any and all URLs, ensuring redirects are properly set up so no traffic is lost, and your reputation and link equity is preserved. Learn more about how it works.

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