Hi I’m Chris and I work in the Digital Marketing Department at Spindogs and I am here to teach you how you can manage 404 pages!
Firstly a quick explanation of what a 404 is...
Basically, web servers return a range of status codes when a page is requested and a 404 is returned when the server can’t find a page.
It's important that you keep an eye on these 404’s. Having a user click a broken link to a page on your site is not great, it gives a bad impression and you also have the Google Algorithm to contend with.
Broken links may give your site a ranking debuff for a variety of reasons especially if the broken pages also had other third party links pointing to them. Google likes to emphasize Expertise, Authority and Trust, so be aware that broken links may give the impressions of a site that is not being maintained.
So, how do you find your 404 pages?
The simplest way is to make sure you have registered your site with Google Search Console. This is an extremely useful free service provided by Google that has lots of really useful information.
Once your site is registered and Google has analysed its content you can check the Coverage tab menu and then look at the Excluded subsection. You will see a variety of crawl errors and warnings here.
On this occasion you should look for the Not Found (404) list, you can export this as a CSV or excel sheet for you to work through.
How redirects are achieved depends on the type of webserver and CMS (content management system) you are using but if we presume its WordPress you can either edit the ht-access file (which should really be left to experienced users only) or you can use a plug-in, which while convenient is not great for large volumes of redirects.
Math Rank and Yoast both have ways to do this but other plugins do exist.
So, should you redirect all pages?
Well, that depends! You should try and avoid redirecting to the home page if possible, doing so may create something called a soft 404, and basically Google will presume the page is still a 404 even though it's returning a live page (a 200 code). It does that because it thinks the new content is thin or not really applicable. Try and redirect to the closest contextually equivalent page you can.
If you have an eCommerce site selling products, then you should ask yourself if that product is going to come back into stock or not. If the answer is yes, it will be returning into stock then you should leave the 404 page in place, do not redirect it. But, you should probably think about creating an interesting and engaging 404 page that maybe has links to your best sellers or closest categories of products.
Basically, try and maximize the conversion potential of the page that gets returned, even if its a missing page.
So, there you have it! I hope my 404 error page top tips were useful! If I or Spindogs can help with any of your digital marketing needs, please don't hesitate to get in touch below.