Everyone has seen them, and it is likely that nearly every webmaster has experienced the dreaded 404-Error page. These pages often result from moving to a new URL without making sure any redirection is specified for the old URL (which stays in the SERPs).
If your domain has too many 404 Errors floating around in the search engines a few things may happen:
- Your site’s reputation may be hurt.
- Your site’s rankings may suffer.
- Your site may be penalized.
- Your site may be banned from the index.
As you see, a 404-Error page is truly a sick-and-twisted killer of SEO campaigns. It is likely that this SEO Serial Killer has compiled an SEO Campaign death toll in the 1,000,000s. Therefore, they must be stopped!!!
However, before I send you on your mission to assassinate any and all of your domain’s 404-Errors, you must first understand your enemy…
Your Enemy: The 404-Error Defined!
The 404 or Not Found error message is an HTTP standard response code indicating that the client was able to communicate with the server but either the server could not find what was requested, or it was configured not to fulfill the request and did not reveal the reason why.
404-Errors should not be confused with “server not found” or similar errors, in which a connection to the destination server could not be made at all.
Your Mission: Remove 404 Pages from Google’s Index.
Your mission is to kill all 404-Error pages to your site. Despite how ominous of a task this might seem, removing a 404-Error page is actually very easy.
Step #1: Set Up In Google Webmaster Tools
To start the process, make sure you’re site is being tracked in Google Webmaster Tools so that it can report back any potential site quality issues (such as the 404 pages we’re hunting). Tracking can be established via the use of a META Tag that is given to each site in the Webmaster account.
For instance, mine looks like this:
Step #2: Finding Your 404-Error Pages
Once you’ve entered your site in Google Webmaster and verified, you will be able to see a high-level overview of your site’s diagnostics via the admin panel.
From there, you will be able to see your ‘Not Found’ link details. If you click the ‘details’ link, you will see a comprehensive list of your site’s current 404-Error pages. Hint: Copy and paste all the URLs into a Word Doc for quick access.
Step #3: Killing Your 404-Error Pages
Now that you’ve found your site’s current 404-Error pages, it’s time to kill them. To do this, we need to submit them for removal from Google’s Index. To do that click ‘Tool’ and then use the ‘Remove URL’ Tool.
Click ‘New Removal Request’ and you will then be given 4 options:
- Individual URLs: web pages, images, or other files.
- A directory and all subdirectories on your site.
- Your entire site Remove your site from appearing in Google search results.
- Cached copy of a Google search result
For our purposes, select the first option. From here, you will be able to submit a URL for removal.
Copy and paste in the relative URL path of your 404-Error page and click ‘Add’. Repeat this process until all of your 404-Error pages have been added to your list of URLs to remove. Once you’ve completed you list, be sure to hit ‘Submit Removal Request’.
Hint: You can remove a maximum of 100 page per request, and requests usually take 3-5 days to process. Be sure to monitor the progress as this tool can be buggy.
Step #4: Consider Other Options
If you still have access on your server to the old URLs that may be causing 404 errors, it would be a sound strategy to put a 301-Redirect in place.
That way, whenever a user finds the page in the SERPs, they will automatically be redirected to a working page. It’s up to you which page to redirect them to. With time, the new URL will replace the old one in the SERPs.
In addition, it is also a good idea to create custom 404 pages. This will make sure a user doesn’t feel lost when he or she finds a 404-Error page, it may promote interactivity with the site even though a user has every right to simply leave, and it may give them a way out via links back to relevant pages on your site.
Hope this helps…