Often, web developers while building a new website to replace an older one, or while building a brand new site altogether, they forget to edit links that point to pages on the website which are not there anymore, which in machine terms, means 404 “not found”. That’s a problem.
404 errors are not very good and you can look at this from two sides :
- when a user is lead there, they fall into a page that says “oups” or something like that, this is not very nice for the user, no matter how “smart” you’ve made your 404 page ( providing options or even trying to find the best next one to redirect to ).
- Search engines that fall on that 404 page, not right away but in time, will think that the original page which pointed there does not really have anything interesting to say, so they will “choose” to remove that page from the index or more subtly, not propose that page in the SERP ( Search Engine Results Page ), in order to keep the User Experience high. Remember, there are always other websites that might “talk” about what you are saying too, so if these work, why not propose these, looking at it from the search engine’s perspective.
So what can you do?
The real question to start with is what should have been done, although it might late, there are things that you can do now in order to remedy something that should have been done jus when the website went live or during its development.
Inspect your internal and external links
First, go through all of your website’s content and inspect all links. There will be links that point to your own pages, internal urls, there will also be links that will point to outside links, external urls. You might want to inspect both to make sure none link to a not-found page, therefore a 404 page.
Leverage Google Search Console
Google Search Console has very important tools for your website, one of which is the 404 error list and monitor. Open up Google Search Console and navigate to “Coverage” :
Then click on “Excluded” as seen above and then scroll down and navigate to “Not Found 404” :
Now, you will be presented with a graph and a list of your URLs that are marked as 404 on your site :
This list will be your guide to create what is called 301 redirects.
Construct your 301 redirect map
For each of these URLs you will need to create what is called a 301 redirect rule. Based on your setup and hosting environment, this can be done in various ways, here is an article about 301 redirects that will help you from MOZ.com
Do all of that, and say goodbye to 404 errors on your site! Don’t forget to regularly check Google Search Console again and keep in mind that GSC takes 3-4 days or so to update data on its dashboard.