Improve Your SEO Ranking By Fixing 404 Errors

This is only one seo tip out of many search engine optimization tips I have been providing over the years. All of my search engine optimization tips are meant to be specific, they should not take too much time to implement, and are meant to be directly to the point. In fact, this search engine optimization tip is pretty simple: check your 404 error pages on your website.

SEO Tip: Check your website server log files for 404 errors. Google Analytics is not enough. In fact, you will not find 404 errors by looking at Google Analytics, or even in Google Webmaster Tools.

What is a 404 Error?
A 404 error is an error that your web server creates that indicates a file not found or a page not found on your website. Whenever someone visits a web page that does not exist on your site, your internet site should tell them that the page (the file) that they are requesting is not found.

Why Checking your 404 Errors is Important
There are several rationalities why checking the 404 errors are important. You could be missing out on traffic to your website: and link credit . Another web site could be linking to a web page on your site but when they made the link to you they mistyped something: and the link to your site goes to a web page that does not exist. If you were to fix the link (by redirecting the visitors from that not found page to the correct URL using a 301 Permanent Redirect), you could get the visitors and the credit for the link.

You could have redesigned your website at one point and you may have missed a page on your internet site that still had some traffic and visitors (and links from another website). If you check your 404 errors there is a good chance that you would see this traffic. As previously mentioned, you are going to need to redirect that 404 error (actually, you redirect the URL of the page) to another page on your internet site that DOES exist.

You also could have purchased a domain name that was owned by someone else previously: and there may be traffic and links pointing to old pages on the site: if you redirect those pages (or put content up on those old URLs) then again there is a good chance that you can redirect the traffic over to the other part of your internet site.

Your web host may be monetizing your 404 error pages without you knowing it. In fact, some web hosting providers actually are taking advantage of the fact that you are not using a custom 404 error page on your site. When someone goes to a web page that does not exist on your web site, they are served up a page full of ads: and your web host is making money for every click that goes through that error page, on your own site!

What is a Custom 404 Error page?
A custom 404 error page is simply that: a customized version of the 404 error. When someone gets the 404 error on your website, your internet site shows a web page that looks like your current website: and ideally would tell your visitors that they did not get to a correct page, or a page that is valid. Possibly they then could be offered a way to search your website or even go to another page via the navigation in your web site.

The bottom line
What s the bottom line? You need to go to your internet site and enter an invalid page/URL address. Something like: A page that you KNOW does not exist. Then, see what happens. You should not see a page full of ads. You should see an error message, a 404 error. Check your web server headers to make sure your site is serving up a correct 404 error. You can do that by entering the page (or a page that does not exist) using an HTML Viewer or using a server header check tool. You should see a true 404 error, not a 200 OK message or something else. And it should not redirect to your home page.

Many web analytics packages will NOT give you the 404 errors. In fact, Google Analytics, since it relies on JavaScript, will not show you the 404 errors on your site: you must use something that analyzes your internet site log files. By checking your 404 errors, you could see a lot of traffic and a way to redirect that traffic to the live pages on your site. And if there are links to those 404 errors you can fix the errors and help your search engine optimization.


By Bill Hartzer

Bill Hartzer currently is the President of, a Strategic Online Marketing Consultancy that includes services such as search engine optimization, social media marketing, and online reputation management. Bill Hartzer formerly managed the Search Engine Marketing division of Vizion Interactive and MarketNet, leading interactive marketing and website design firms in the Dallas, Texas area.

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