The tricky second album. The hotly anticipated sequel. Terms that have never been applied to articles about technical SEO. Until now. Mostly because I wrote them in, rather than any glowing reviews and hungry demands for more from the technical SEO press.
Is technical SEO sexy? Depends on who you ask. Is it necessary? You better believe it. This time, we’re looking at something every website owner is probably familiar with: The dreaded 404 error…
What is a 404 error?
A 404 error means that a page on your site is inaccessible. The most common reasons this can occur are:
● The page has been deleted
● The page has moved to a new URL, without a redirect being put in place
● The URL being used in the link is wrong
● The URL was not entered properly by the user
As well as being a hard stop for any users navigating your site, which is a huge red flag for user experience, 404 errors also prevent search engine crawlers from reading your landing page, which can lead to swift drops in organic rank and lower traffic levels.
How to identify 404s
There are several ways to identify 404s. Our team of SEO specialists tend to identify 404 errors through regular technical site crawls, as we are able to identify a number of different issues in one crawl.
However, if you don’t have access to an SEO specialist, or you just want to check your site yourself, the best bet is probably to use Google Search Console.
If you log into Google Search Console and find the “Index” section, you’ll see a heading marked “Pages”, scroll down to the “Why pages aren’t indexed” section and click “Not found (404)”. This will give you a list of every URL on your site that results in a 404 error.
How do you fix 404s?
Fixing 404 errors is possibly the most satisfying type of technical SEO you can do, as you can see the difference it makes, but it can be a little tricky too.
Let’s assume you’ve exported a list of 404 errors for your site from Google Search Console, so you’re now working with an Excel spreadsheet. Have you spotted the tricky bit? While you now have a list of 404 issues on your site, you don’t know exactly where the links are that cause the issues.
While the purist among us would say that the best way to fix 404 errors is to find every single one within your site and adjust each page to reflect the best option for user experience, sometimes that isn’t possible. In which case, your best bet is probably to either set up 301 redirects to make sure users and search engines don’t hit any dead ends.
If you’re working with a WordPress site, this can be as easy as installing the Redirection plugin and setting up redirects for each broken link. Alternatively, if you want to avoid redirects completely, you could use a plugin link Better Search & Replace to find each broken link and replace it with the correct link. This approach is less likely to result in future redirect chains and loops but can be a bit fiddly to set up.
Either way, you’ll start to see the 404 errors disappear from your site in no time and your journey to becoming an expert in technical SEO takes another step forward.
Need some help?
Fixing 404s is pretty simple when you get the hang of it, but it can be incredibly time-consuming to explore manually. If you’re not overly confident with finding and fixing technical issues on your site or are worried about doing more harm than good, why not let our SEO team do the heavy lifting for you?
We routinely perform technical SEO audits for clients, and can work with your developers to make changes, or even make changes ourselves, so you can focus on what you do best. To speak to a member of our team about SEO support, get in touch with us today.