Error 404 – what is it and how do I fix it?
From time to time you’ll make changes to your website which might include deleting a page of content or changing the URL of a certain page. Likewise, when you build an entirely new site, the structure may be different which, in turn, will make the URL’s of your various content pages different. So, what happens when someone clicks on the old URL – they usually get an error code 404.
You may also have occasions where an external website is linking back to your site but sending their link to a page that no longer exists on your site. Again, visitors will experience that annoying Error 404.
What does Google think of Error 404?
When you build your new site or make amendments to your current site, new content gets indexed with Google. That means, Google keeps a massive list of all the pages and content on your site and serves up those pages to searchers on its platform. It doesn’t necessarily know you may have removed some content or changed the name of some content.
If your site has Error 404 pages on it, Google could deem your site to be unreliable; not maintained, inaccurate sitemap or even lazy SEO procedures.
It’s important to check your site reasonably regularly for errors in the indexing. You can do this using the free tools in Google Search Console.
Using Google Search Console to find errors on your site
If your site is not already connected to Google Search Console, you can do this by following these instructions.
Google Search Console (previously Google Webmaster Tools but rebranded in 2015) is a free Google tool that gives you insight into the performance of your site.
One of those insights is to view URL performance.
The steps to checking your site’s indexing errors
- Go to Google Search Console “Index Coverage Status Report”.
- Click on “Open Index Coverage Report”
- You may be asked to log into your Google account
- If you manage more than one website, you’ll have to select the website you want to index
- This report will show you the “Performance”, “Coverage” and “Enhancements” of your site.
- For our purposes, you’re interested in “Coverage”.
- It will show you pages with errors along with valid pages.
- Needless to say, the ideal situation is 0 pages with errors and all page valid
What should I do if I have 404 errors on my website
There could be a few reasons your site is delivering 404 errors. You may have removed a page from your site but Google still has it indexed. You may have changed the URL (slug) of the page. There may be a technical error on your site.
1. You’ve removed/deleted a page from your site
The example we’ll use here is when a staff member leaves. The day they leave, you delete their profile from your site. But the page is likely still indexed by Google. So when someone Google’s the staff member at your firm, they may get a result in Google’s search results but it’s an error 404.
In this situation, you can do a permanent redirection of that URL. Ask your web developer to permanently redirect the staff member’s page to another live page on your site; for example to your Home Page or to your Our People page. Now if people search for that staff member, any results will still take them to your site.
2. You changed the URL of a page on your site
Again, we’re going to use a staff member as an example. Let’s say a staff member, who is Molly Donnelly, is originally indexed with the URL www.smithandcolawyers.com.au/our-peope/molly-donnelly.
Molly gets married and chooses to change her name. She is now Molly Bishop. You hop into your website, change her profile page and update the URL to www.smithandcolawyers.com.au/our-people/molly-bishop.
Unfortunately, if people search Molly Donnelly and the original page is indexed by Google, the search results will show the first URL in our example and the visitor will get an error 404.
You need to get your developer to permanently redirect the first URL to the new URL; that is molly-donnelly to molly-bishop.
3. There are no apparent or obvious reasons for the error
Sometimes there is a technical problem within your site. It may not be immediately clear to you. You will need to engage your web developer or a third-party web consultant to analyse the site to find where the problem is. Naturally, this is the trickiest of any fixes.
For the most part, there is no good reason that your site should have error 404’s. If you monitor your site on a reasonably regular basis, any errors should be kept to a minimum and the task of fixing them less laborious.
It’s important to be aware that error 404’s can have a negative effect on your SEO, and therefore a negative impact on the number of visitors finding you online.
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