404 Error Pages & SEO
So you hit the “404 Error – Page Not Found” page.
You’ve just clicked on a search-engine result, a link on a website or typed in the address yourself. What went wrong? What does the 404 Error page mean?
There are a number of different ways that web masters can accidentally cause these pages; so lets take a look at a few and address how you can use them to your advantage.
Web masters often overlook the search-engine optimisation potential benefits of fixing a website’s 404 Error pages. Developing stronger and more helpful 404 Error pages will assist your website in attaining betters search-engine rankings, while contributing to a better overall user experience.
SO WHAT DOES A 404 ERROR MEAN?
Essentially the error code communicates when a page that a user is looking for cannot be found on the website’s server. This error occurs when users follow a dead or broken link, and is one of the most recognisable errors that users encounter online. The 404 Error pages are a normal and common part of any website; they are expected, and definitely preferred over other errors. The 404 Error communicates with both users and search-engine crawlers that a specific page cannot be found. A 404 Error often occurs when a web master changes a page’s address, and forgets to redirect the old links to the new address. This is a similar problem as when web masters move or remove pages on their website that are already indexed by search-engines.
CAN I CHECK FOR 404 ERROR PAGES ON MY SITE?
There are several different methods to check for broken links on your website. Google Webmaster Tools provides a free and relatively straightfoward service that will evaluate your website’s crawl errors, internal links, external links and a variety of other helpful diagnostic data. To use Webmaster Tools simply create or login to your account and navigate to the ‘Crawl Errors’ section (located under ‘Diagnostics’). From this page, you are able to view the type of errors your website has, the date they occurred and the page’s address where it occurred. Included in this data is a priority ranking which essentially determines which page error should be addressed first.
CAN I LIMIT THE DAMAGE OF 404 ERROR PAGES?
There are a number of different strategies that can be taken to limit the damage of 404 Error pages and better the overall user-experience. The first step is to create a user-friendly 404 Error page. This page should explain what has happened, and why. It is best practice to include a search box within this page to allow the user to continue searching for the page they were looking for. Language on the page should be friendly, inviting and consistent with the content on the rest of the website.The page should be as simple as possible, a basic page that enables and encourages the user to continue browsing through the website.
So what is a customised 404 Error page so important for search-engine optimisation? Well, the pages ensure that more pages of your website are indexed. Take the opportunity to point the users (and crawlers) to popular or recent content on your website. Custom 404 Error pages are an excellent ‘failsafe’ mechanism for your website’s search-engine optimisation. It avoids the ‘dead-end’ that often sees search-engine crawlers and users jump ship. Customised 404 Error pages allow for the effective redirection and retention of your website’s traffic. It is a strategy that encourages good search-engine optmisation practices and an overall more enjoyable user experience.
What 404 Error page strategy do you utilise? Do you find redirects to the home page or popular content to be more beneficial for your website traffic? Let us know in the comment section below!