‘404’ Errors will hurt your rankings

As an SEO consultant, I’m frequently asked, “What steps can I take to improve the ranking of my website on Google?” There are more than 200 “signals” that Google analyzes in its algorithm, and that number climbs constantly. The key to search engine optimization, or SEO, success is knowing which are the most important.

It’s tempting for many to only analyze their sites for what can be improved with regard to body copy, the TITLE tag and the DESCRIPTION meta-tag, for they are all important factors. But equally important is correcting site errors because every search engine will penalize your site if they are present. One such error is the dreaded 404 error, shorthand for “page not found.”

Search engines seek to return relevant results for the search query input by the user. They reward sites with relevant content and sites having no broken links. A broken link is referred to a 404 error because that’s the code returned to the browser by the site’s host anytime you click on a link for which a corresponding web page doesn’t exist.

When a search engine’s “spider” crawls your site, it follows every link in an effort to index every page of your site. If it encounters a 404 error, your site is penalized because after all, it’s frustrating for the person viewing your site to click a link looking for specific information only to discover the page is non-existent. Remember, Google, Bing, and Yahoo! all strive to reward sites that provide a pleasant user experience.

Most 404 errors occur because of site redesigns or major revisions… ask me how I know! After I updated on of my sites, I didn’t realize my new home page contained a link to an older page of my site. Unfortunately that page contained many, many links to other pages that had been deleted. Because of that one mistake, I had several hundred 404 errors!

An important task for you or your SEO consultant is to locate and eliminate every 404 error on your site. Your ranking will suffer if you don’t.

Written by SEO consultant Blake J. Discher

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