You’ve had your website redesigned and you’re looking good. But when you go out to Google and click on a link, it gives you a 404. But you know for sure that page is there. What could have happened and will this effect my ranking?
Why did you get a 404?
There are several reasons why you could have gotten a 404 error on your website:
- Your pages got renamed in the redesign: This can happen. As a general rule, it shouldn’t change, unless you are optimizing the page for better search. If you’ve spent time optimizing your pages, this can include the slug or URL. If your pages and posts were not imported in and maybe manually entered, there could have been a typo or someone simply copy and pasted the content and just renamed the URL.
- Page was removed: During your content clean-up, you could have decided to delete the page.
Is this a problem for Google and SEO?
It’s not a deal breaker. Google is well aware that pages break, get moved or deleted. However, it is important to your customers and can be very important if you’ve done some optimization on those pages and they are not displaying. Here are some things to note:
- If you sell products, for example, and decide to rename your pages, a customer may have it bookmarked for future reference or ordering. You want them to be able to get back to it, therefore a redirect should be put in place.
- If you’ve spent some time optimizing your pages so that they rank better, a 404 can be a huge problem. Double checking everything when a site is moved will be key.
How do I go about fixing these issues?
Here are some ways to avoid any issues with your site pages.
- Avoid changing your URL: When possible, avoid changing your URL or slug. IF you decide to change the URL for a particular page and the content is still valid, set up a redirect to the new page.
- Do a sanity check with Screaming Frog: There are various tools out there but you can download Screaming Frog for free and do a check on your website. The free version only searches 500 pages but it will let you know if you have broken links anywhere on your site. You can then decide if you want to redirect those links to another page or let them die.
- Use a redirection tool or set-up redirects in your htaccess: If you are using a CMS like WordPress, there are many URL redirection tools out there. You can simply install one of those and easily put your redirects there. If you have a hardcoded site, you can set-up redirects in your htaccess file on your server.
- Redirect old pages to relevant ones: There may be times where you delete pages for whatever reason. For example, let’s say you had a page on apples and you deleted it. Be sure to redirect that page to let’s say, fruit. You want to redirect pages to what’s relevant to the removed content. Avoid just redirecting everything to the homepage where ever possible.
Take your 404 pages a step further
While errors can happen, you can get creative with your 404 pages. I’ve seen people put silly notices up and I’ve seen informational ones as well. It’s up to you based on your business and maybe even your sense of humor. Use this as your opportunity to point people in the right direction. For the most part, all CMS tools have a generic 404 page that shows it has been reached in error. But you can edit those to be more informative.
Here is an example of our basic 404. What it does is it apologizes for the missing information but it also gives them an idea of where they might go to see other content. Us this misdirection to your advantage to get them to the right place.