Do 404s hurt your Google organic rankings? The answer from Google: no, they do not! Let’s dive into this week’s #marketingminute
What are 404s? A 404 is a page that is not found on your website. The 404 comes from a code that says the server can’t find the page you requested.
Every website has hundreds if not thousands of 404s. They can be as simple as an accidental misspelling (ex: punchmark.com/brian would be a 404 page) or be from an older page that has been deleted (ex: a designer discontinues a line and the products are removed from the website).
The good news is that since 2014 Google has recognized that ecommerce websites often have thousands of products (and web pages) coming and going, and have recommended 404’ing old product pages for the majority of situations.
How do I find 404s on my website? The first place to look for 404s on your website is in Google Search Console. GSC includes a list of all indexed pages on your website. Note that even Google says to not expect ALL pages on your website to be indexed in Google.
Many popular website and SEO tools such as Ahrefs, SEMrush, or Screaming Frog, will create a list of all the 404s that their crawler bots see, and will often suggest that these 404s need to be fixed or updated.
When to Use a 404 vs a 301? 301s are for better customer experience and assistance with SEO. 301 redirects do offer SEO value in terms of sharing the link attribution, plus overall provide a better customer experience.
A website will never be able to find all the 404s and redirect them as 301s, nor should they. They can be endless for an ecommerce website.
If no one searches for a misspelled page or an older discontinued piece of jewelry on your website, a 404 will never be served.
Here’s what you should do regarding 404s:
If you had a very popular product that is now no longer offered by the Designer, and the product page still receives traffic, 301 redirect the page to a more relevant product or category page. A 301 is better for customers, Google, and your sales.
If you had a “not” popular product that is now no longer offered by the Designer, AND the product page never received traffic, it is ok to 404 the product page, or 301 redirect to a more relevant product or category page.
Every other 404 can be served by going to the default “product not found” 404 page, and we’d recommend at least twice a year reviewing your links to see if there are any opportunities to provide a better experience for your website visitors.
Have questions about 404s, product links, or other updates in the world of digital marketing? Please don’t hesitate to reach out to your Account Manager or send me a DM!
Google Search Console Help, Index Coverage Report - https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/7440203?hl=en
Google Search Center, 2014 video, What Should Sites with Old Products Do? Matt Cutts - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tz7Eexwp_A&t=119s
Google Search Center, 2018 video, What To Do with Old 404 Errors? John Mueller https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbjYkpdjorA