If you have links that no longer send users to real pages, it could have an impact on your SEO rankings.
Managing your 404 errors and redirecting links that point to non-existent pages is a simple process that will help you avoid losing rankings due to dead links.
What is a 404 page?
The 404 page is what users see when trying to access a URL that does not exist on your server. If another website links to a page on your website and you delete this page, users will receive a 404 error whenever they click on the link.
Are 404 errors bad for SEO?
Google’s official stance on 404 errors is straightforward and simple, explaining that they are a normal part of the Internet but generally undesirable for SEO:
“404s are a perfectly normal part of 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 response code”.
When a link directs users to a page that returns a 404 error, Google recognises that the page is no longer available and removes it from their search index. It also drops all of the PageRank from links pointing to the page, rendering the links worthless. Because of this, it’s important that you redirect important links that return 404 errors.
How to fix your 404 errors
Fixing your website’s 404 errors is a great way to improve usability. The easiest and most effective way to fix 404 errors is to use a 301 redirect. 301 is a code that tells the browser/Google that your content has moved from one URL to a new one. 301 redirects keep PageRank flowing to your site.
Optimising your 404 error pages
One of the most overlooked SEO techniques is optimising your 404 error pages. Accepting the fact that you may have a 404 error page out there somewhere and doing something positive about it is the best solution for this problem. Design your 404 page to be user friendly.
Provide some options for the user like a link to the home page, a link to the contact page, a link to a specific product or category. This way your potential customers are kept happy, and when a Google spider is crawling the site, they will continue crawling and indexing the site, instead of being stopped dead by a 404 error.