404 Not Found Errors: Do They Hurt Your Site?

404 Not Found Errors: Do They Hurt Your Site?

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404 not found error pages404 Not Found errors happen to everyone – even to Google.

However, that does not mean you are less traumatized when you find the sneaky buggers on your Google Webmaster Tools crawl errors page.

Let’s take a look at what 404 not found errors are, what they are not, and how serious of a problem they pose to your site.

What Is a 404 Error?

A 404 Not Found Error is what your readers see when they try to reach a non-existent page on your site.

404 errors happen when someone clicks on a broken link or type a URL incorrectly.

How Do You Know You Have 404 Errors?

Google Webmaster Tools will tell you if you have any 404 Not Found errors in your Site Dashboard under Crawl => Crawl Errors:

404 not found error in google webmaster tools

As you can see, I have over 400 not found errors on my site and my heart is not jumping out of my chest.

Why?

Do 404 Errors Affect Search Engine Rankings?

404 errors are a normal part of the web.

They are expected. They are preferred over other errors. They are dealt with.

As I mentioned above, Google blogs have them too.

And they DO NOT affect on how your other content-filled pages perform in the search engine rankings.

From Do 404s Hurt My Site at Google Webmasters Central blog:

Q: Do the 404 errors reported in Webmaster Tools affect my site’s ranking?

A: 404s are a perfectly normal part of the web; the Internet is always changing, new content is born, old content dies, and when it dies it (ideally) returns a 404 HTTP response code.

Search engines are aware of this; we have 404 errors on our own sites, as you can see above, and we find them all over the web. In fact, we actually prefer that, when you get rid of a page on your site, you make sure that it returns a proper 404 or 410 response code (rather than a “soft 404”).

…The fact that some URLs on your site no longer exist / return 404s does not affect how your site’s other URLs (the ones that return 200 (Successful)) perform in our search results.

When Should You Care About 404s?

The only time I would be concerned about a 404 error is when it somehow replaced a post that had good content.

Then you definitely need to look into it to see what’s causing the 404 Not Found error and where your post went.

There are two main ways to take care of your 404 Not Found errors:

  • Use a redirection plugin to redirect your website traffic to the intended page;
  • Create a useful 404 page that gives your readers options as to where to proceed from there.

Both are explained in more detail below.

Redirection of Your 404 Errors

When you see someone linking to a post of yours, but for instance, they misspelled the URL, instead of returning a 404 error page, you can redirect that traffic to the intended page with a 301 redirection.

The easiest way to do it is with a free plugin like Redirection.

404 error redirection plugin

It’s very easy to set up and operate and will take care of any redirection tasks with ease.

For instance, I decided to redirect my ToolBox page from http://www.trafficgenerationcafe.com/best-internet-marketing-tools/ to http://www.trafficgenerationcafe.com/internet-marketing-tools/.

I simply added the old URL as Source URL, then the new one to Target URL, clicked Add Redirection and I was all set.

404 new redirection

Now all the traffic and links that used to go to the ole page will be automatically redirected to the new Internet Marketing Tools page.

How to Create a Useful 404 Not Found Page

A standard 404 not found error page, although varies, doesn’t usually provide much useful content to your readers, thus making many of them simply bounce back to where they came from.

It’s possible to customize it to your liking AND add a bunch of useful content to it, like more suggested posts to read, but it does require some technical expertise to do that.

Here are some suggestions as to what kind of information to add to your custom 404 not found page:

  • First of all, don’t forget to tell your visitor clearly that they page they are looking for can’t be found.
  • Try to match the look and the feel of your 404 error page with the rest of the website.
  • Definitely, add a link to your home page, as well as some other useful posts, like your most popular posts.
  • You can also embed an enhanced search box on your custom page to help your visitors find what they are looking for. Use the Enhance 404 widget to do that.

DIY Custom 404 Not Found Error Page

1. You can edit your native WordPress 404 Error page.

It’s not as difficult as it sounds; take a look at +Ian Lurie‘s How To: Create a Great 404 Page Not Found Error Page at Portent.com.

2. You can use a custom 404 error plugin.

Even though I don’t recommend using unnecessary plugins on your blog, if the tutorial above scares you, there are always WordPress 404 Not Found plugins to the rescue.

I’ve never used them, so I can’t vouch for their functionality, but here are your options:

Funny 404 Not Found Error Pages

Need inspiration for your new 404 error page? I haz it.

Shares and embeds are much appreciated! (just hover over the presentation to get the embed code)

[/wpsharely]

I am getting questions about the plugin I am using to lock the content. It’s WP Sharely – I love it, most of my readers don’t mind it, and those who do… oh, well.

404 Error Marketing Takeaway

Some 404 not found errors are definitely worth fixing; others can be easily ignored without a problem.

How much work and energy you’d like to put into it is entirely up to you.

 

traffic generation cafe 404 not found error

 

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42 Comments (click here to leave a comment)

  1. Larry Humphreys

    Forgive me if this has already been mentioned, but I thought you might be interested to know about a way you can use 404s to help find missing children. Rather than me go on at length explaining how to apply this the Notfound.org (http://notfound.org) does this very well, complete with examples of how it works.

    For WordPress users there is a plugin available to make it even easier to apply. This can be found here: http://wordpress.org/plugins/notfoundorg-404-page/

  2. I must admit that I am totally ignoring 404 topics because I think it is technically hard for me to understand but I am very glad you laid it out in Layman’s term. Great!

    • Ana Hoffman

      It’s certainly important enough and not that difficult, Lisa; I’d give it a shot.

      THanks for coming by!

  3. thanks about all the information regarding the 404 errors.
    Previously I thought that it is highly undesirable to have a 404 error associated with our website.
    Now, I know that they are quite common all over the internet.

  4. Great and well tailored information as usual Ana!! Glad to know that Google is not going to penalize me for 404s. i made some checks few weeks ago to clean up my blog.

  5. This was the issue that created trouble for me, it began when i migrated from blogger to wordpress without proper redirection plugin i lost all my traffic :[ but recovering with constant pace

  6. Vikram Pandit

    Nice post Ana! I had a 404 error for my site a while back, somehow it got fixed! But after how much time does Google get to know that the error has been fixed??

    • Ana Hoffman

      Usually, 404 errors don’t get fixed on their own, Vikram; it might’ve been a different type error you saw.

      Google keeps crawling each site regularly, constantly discovering new 404 errors or finding the fixed pages.

  7. Thanks again for these awesome and helpful posts, Ana. I was wondering what the plugin you use for locking the content until it’s tweeted etc. is? I am sure you must have done a write up about it before, but I’ve been out of the loop for a while.

    Cheers,
    Jonathan

  8. Nice info Ana. I was so confused about the content locker but I think it’s a good idea. Not sure if you answered the question of how it has changed your bounce rate or share rate. That would definitely be a great post to read.

    As for 404s, I think it is a missed opportunity for a lot of bloggers. Most don’t know what they are, or that with some simple tweaks you can change the 404 page. I put up a kind of funny picture (related to my name if you can imagine) along with a list of my 10 most recent posts. Adding a search bar is a great idea as well if you have one on your site elsewhere.

    I also use Webmaster tools to see if there are any inbound links that are pointing to a site that no longer exists. It’s a mistake to lose out on that Link juice if you don’t have to.

    • Ana Hoffman

      If there’s a difference in bounce rate because of the content locker, Johnny, it’s negligible.

      I liked your 404 – great way to send some traffic to your recent posts.

      Good point about incoming links. I usually redirect them to my home page or a relevant post if I can.

  9. Sorry if my comment is totally OT, but I have not read the article in its entirety because I didn’t click the “share” button to unlock the content.

    I have to disagree with most of the commenters… Personally, I really HATE the content locker thingy that forces me to “like” something even before I read it. This is Ana’s blog, so obviously she may do as she pleases, but I for one I have not shared any of her content that had the “like” thingy in place.
    And anyway… is it even worth the hassle? If I like something I will share it, if I don’t, I won’t. I don’t like being pushed…

    This article is a few days old and got something like 250 shares… I would hardly could that as a HUGE traffic boost (forgot to compare it to older articles). And the traffic that is generated is probably useless because people has to re-share the article in order to read it. I wonder what the bouce rate of this page is.

    Am I in a minority of one?

    Sorry for the rant :)

    Andrea

    • Ana Hoffman

      Not at all, Andrea; you are certainly entitled to your opinion.

      Everything I provide at Traffic Generation Café is free. I barely make any money off the hours of work I put into writing free content educating others how to build stronger businesses.

      In my opinion, asking to share my post every once in a while (after you’ve read some of it and know what type of content you are about to share) is not a big deal. If some of my readers think that the small social gesture I ask for in return is too much to ask and would rather dig for solid marketing information on other blogs, that’s fine by me.

  10. Hi Ana,
    Nice sharing. Here You described well about 404 Error. From marketing point of view, it is a major issue. Because of 404 Error pages, site might get lack of traffic and less page rank from SEO. Informative article and thanks for sharing.

    • I don’t think 404 errors are going to cause you to lose traffic per se… it’s just that when traffic arrives on your site it might be more inclined to click away if you’re not delivering what people want.

      Mary from Affilorama

  11. Dhiraj Das

    Really nice article! unlock the locked content strategy is simply great from marketing point of view and converting your failures to success in some way.

    404, I simply redirected all of them to homepage

  12. One of the interesting ways you can uses 404s is to try and get pages that aren’t indexed seems by having links to non indexed pages.

    That’s something Neil Patel does.

  13. Most 404 errors on my site come from images, especially thumbnails.
    Thanks for the link on how to edit them, I also hate using a plugin when not necessary.
    Lol loving your slide share!
    Great post as usual Ann.

  14. Ana, I like the idea of using Social Locker plugin & I would like to know if it increases bounce rate?

    I created a custom 404 page for my blog that displays recent posts, archives etc. Also I redirected most of the 404 pages to relevant categories and it works well.

    • Ana Hoffman

      I haven’t noticed my bounce rate is any different on the posts I have the social locker on, Bharath.

      I definitely think it’s useful to include navigation links in a 404 page; reminds me I need to add more to mine.

  15. All these facts were basically known to me. The most interesting part of this whole article was – Social Content locker, that even forced me to share. I Like this process, very much and will try to implement in my articles also. Thanks for showing me the door. Keep it up

  16. Fantastic post, Ana. And I must say that the “this content is locked” box is an ingenious way to get more shares! What is that, a WP plugin?

    Over 400 404 errors?? I’m sure I can beat that, lol. To be quite honest, I have no idea how many not found errors my blog has (I’m sure it’s much more than 400) and I haven’t really cared.

    My WP security plugin shows me that I get A LOT of not found errors on a daily basis. Mostly from old blog posts I took down from wayyy back in the day.

    I have no idea how to use GWMT. I should really make some time to sit down and tinker with it. This is the third post I’ve read this week already that’s made mention of it and my curiosity is ever growing.

    Great slideshare prezo, BTW. I’ll have to make me a funny error page soon, too. :)

    • Ana Hoffman

      Good to see you at Traffic Generation Café, Ti.

      I used to worry too much about 404′s until I did research for this post.

      And I am thinking of writing a post on how to use GWT without going all technical about it – truth is I wouldn’t know how to go all technical even if I wanted to. lol

  17. Great information as always Ana!! Good to know that Google is not going to spank me for any 404s. I cleaned up a few that were images to help my load times, but have not had a chance for any real ones yet (being only in the game 4 months). Shall be giving this post the rounds to inform the masses!! have a great week, ashley

    • Ana Hoffman

      I clean them up every once in a while, but it’s too much work for very little return for the most part. lol