How 404 Error Impact SEO? How To Handle 404 Pages and Redirects
What is 404 Error?
Without going into technical details of 404 errors, I would like to explain this in simple words for the beginners. HTTP 404 errors occur when the server can’t find the page on your website which is requested by the user. Actually, there is nothing wrong with the server or on the website when it happens, this error occurs just because the user requested a page that doesn’t exist. When a user clicks on a broken link, where the page has been deleted attached to that link, the server will give the HTTP 404 not found message to the user. This is the result of what user has tried to access on your website. It could also occur when a user typed a wrong URL.
So there is nothing to worry about 404 Page not found error, as there is nothing wrong with your website or with your server. It’s just a message to the user accessing your website.
How 404 Affect SEO and Website’s Ranking?
It is crystal clear that 404 Page not found has no effect on SEO and ranking of the website. Google also mentioned the same that 404 will not negatively affect your search engine rankings, so there is nothing to worry about if you are getting 404 error pages.
But, wait a minute, you shouldn’t ignore this error message as a whole. Though it is true that it doesn’t affect the rankings, but it has a negative effect on user experience. What will happen if you visit a website from a search engine or click on a reference link from Wikipedia or any other authority forum and you landed on a page which shows you a message:
The requested URL /landing-page.html was not found on this server.
Additionally, a 404 Not Found error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.
Will you try to change the URL from the address bar and open the main website or will you go back to Google and check for some other useful link? Obviously, 99% users will go back to Google and search for some other link from where they can get the content or information they were looking for. So with 404 error, you can lose your visitors and as a result, you lose your customers & money.
How to Handle 404 Pages for SEO and Users
Many bloggers and developer would recommend you to redirect all your 404 pages to the home page of your website and for this purpose, they can provide you excellent tutorials as well. But if you ask me, redirecting all the 404 pages to the home page is nonsense. You can redirect different 404 pages to different other relevant pages very easily which will have good conversions for you.
For example, if you have recently deleted an old page and added another post which has the latest information which is authentic and has citations as well, then you should not redirect the deleted page to your homepage, but you should redirect that 404 page to the newly created post. If you redirect the user to homepage he might not be able to find the content which he was looking for at your home page as well and he will not bother to search your blog or website. But if you redirect the user to another relevant page then he will surely get some help from your page and might share that on his social media profiles after purchasing your services.
If you have a broken link on some forum or another website, ask the webmaster to correct that link so that user should land on the correct page and shouldn’t find 404 error message. Also, check your internal links as well if you have some broken links, edit those links as well and create links with the correct URLs. Where you have to redirect the URL, you can use Redirection WordPress plugin which can be easily used to redirect from one URL to another.
When Should You Redirect All 404 Pages to Homepage?
If you have thousands of 404 pages then it would be very difficult to redirect all the pages to relevant pages. But in this case, you should check all your 404 pages and should filter out those pages for which you have an alternate page. You should redirect those filtered pages to relevant pages and after that when you don’t have any other relevant posts, you should then redirect all those 404 pages to home page very easily using All 404 Redirect to Homepage WordPress plugin. You can easily install this plugin from your WordPress admin panel and then navigate to Settings > All 404 Redirect to Homepage. From here you can set all your remaining 404 pages to your home page as shown in the picture below.
In this way, all your pages will be redirected to the homepage, but it has a disadvantage. In future, if you have any broken links or deleted pages, it would be difficult for you to find those pages and you will not be able to redirect these pages to relevant pages as you will not be aware of those pages.