404 pages are a common sight in today’s world of countless website updates and digital changes. When a web browser communicates with a specific server but cannot find the requested information, 404 pages will appear as the standard error response code in Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)
So what do error messages like 404 Not Found or File Not Found do to search engine optimization (SEO)? Here’s a few things you need to know about 404 pages and their effect on SEO.
Why Do You Need 404 Pages?
It’s not all bad news with 404 pages. Although you may not like the look of them, 404 pages play an important role in your overall site navigation. If a specific part of your site is no longer available or undergoing maintenance, then a 404 page lets users know while keeping them on your site and letting them navigate elsewhere.
Instead of directing users to random pages, 404 pages can help you keep user on-site and direct them to useful content. The more organized your website, the better your chances of keeping users on-site and having quality SEO.
How Do 404 Pages Affect SEO?
There’s a misconception that 404s can hurt your site rankings. In reality, if your entire site doesn’t consist of 404 pages, a few 404 Page Not Found messages are useful and expected when browsing the web. Instead of just taking a user back to the home page, a 404 message confirms the page they were looking for is no longer available. This provides greater understanding and context for the user
Soft 404 Pages Vs. Broken Internal Links
When looking at 404 pages and how they affect SEO, it’s important to understand the difference between soft pages and broken internal links, which are more detrimental to rankings.
Soft 404 pages appear with a 200 status code on a nonexistent page. Think of it this way: soft 404 pages are like ordering off the lunch menu and the waiter delivering an empty plate instead of telling you they are out of that item. The main SEO concern with soft 404 pages is that search engines may keep crawling and indexing pages that don’t exist instead of crawling the quality pages you do have.
Broken internal links are another concern. These broken links happen when a page is deleted but the remaining links or menu go back to this page. Incorrect links will come up with an error message and make it harder for Google to crawl your website.
What Are the Best 404 Pages For SEO?
To ensure your site is more visible to Google and usable to prospective customers, create a personalized 404.
Instead of an automated, impersonal error message, a custom page lets you connect with web visitors while sure they can find what they need. You’ve probably encountered these pages when you see something like, “Sorry for this inconvenience but this page has been moved or removed. Here are some pages that are like the one you are looking for.” This is your chance to include a consistent error message, a prominent logo, and links to more resources. Without a custom and unique call to action, users will typically leave your site when they see a regular 404. By including a navigation menu and relevant links to similar pages, you can funnel traffic to your main pages
Every website has a different design, and some small businesses just have a few pages while others have dozens and even hundreds of web pages to keep track of. Depending on the size and scope of your website, it may be impossible to constantly monitor for old and outdated pages.
While it’s best to 301 redirect the removed page to a new page, , a few 404 pages won’t hurt your SEO or your user experience. When you do make web updates, consider customized messages to improve the user experience and help funnel them back through the rest of your website.
Final Considerations on 404 Pages and SEO
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about 404 pages. Typos are a great example – if someone types in the wrong web address, they won’t link back to your site. These are innocent mistakes that won’t have a huge impact on your SEO. Consistently monitor your site using Googles Search Console tools watching out for outdated pages or missing pages or links on your website. A few issues here and there aren’t anything major to worry about with SEO.