It has been established that Status Code 404s do appear frequently on internet pages without necessarily causing undue concern to either user or Search Engines. However the ambiguous nature of 404s is of concern to SEOs who believe that they can cause problems for the Search Engines if left unchecked for long periods. The possible causes could have an impact on SEO marketing results for specific pages negating the positive status achieved through hard work. It could well reflect Search Engine revised ratings in page rankings.
However by the same token 404s are a valuable indicator of possible problems on a site that should be addressed in one form or another in the long run. Users and rankings would certainly benefit from some guidance on what to do when they meet them on requested pages.
What precise problems can unchecked 404s cause with SEO?
- They can break crawl paths and negatively affect accessibility
- They can cause considerable problems if poor decisions made by Web Developers or SEO personnel redirect them to inappropriate pages
- A 404 header response will break the link equities across Internet pages so a Search Engine will have to handle the algorithm to deal with the problem.
On large sites that suffer recurring 404s the impact could be even greater, where substantial loss of link credits would warrant a bot herding approach from the SEO operators ( link based tactical methodology to improve your Website navigation system by controlling the flow of page rank to boost the prominence of your most important Web pages). If your Web site is not properly configured then that could be a root cause of continuing error messages – especially 404s. Alternatively, Web site developers can use the default approach to 404s to prevent the most common issues. It is not necessarily a single method of resolution but rather a varied approach best suited to the Site in question.
SEOs should really implement an infrastructure that is self maintaining and optimising. Prevention is always better than cure.
The package of possible resolutions advised by professional SEOs include:
- what might be considered a cynical approach – leave them alone and the smart Search Engines will take care of them – provided the site is configured properly.
- Utilise soft 404s
- 301 redirect all 404s to the home Page thus protecting link equity and allowing site visitors to arrive on the desired page should they visit the site from a 404.
- Redirecting 404s to the Site Map
- Redirect 404s to more relevant pages funnelling link equity.
One danger with using soft 404s is possibly raising the Search Engines suspicion and losing their trust. They expect to encounter 404s at some stage in your site pages – so authenticity could be an issue for them if try to eradicate them completely.
A considered collective solution to 404s may well be the best option. It does however require hard persistent work including automation or continual maintenance – a price worth paying in the long run. Greater SEO skills are really needed to implement a an effective strategy. Contact our SEO Dublin experts for fee tips and advice.