404 Errors – Fixing the Sources
A brief re-cap on 404 errors, these are where a user or a bot heads to your site following links and comes up with an error page. This error page won’t directly affect your SEO. In fact, google stresses this when you look at information about the Not Found errors in your Search Console. BUT…. as I talked about because having these 404 error pages can cause high bounce rates as people don’t find what they are looking for and you don’t have routes in place for them to that part can affect SEO. I’ve covered so far in this series – how to find where your Users are coming from to get the 404 Errors, and where the bots are finding you errors and today I’m going to be talking about fixing the errors.
Reducing Bounce Rate - 404 Errors
- Finding where your users are coming from to the 404 Page
- Discovering the Bots paths to 404 pages
- Fixing the 404 Errors – This Post
- Custom 404 Pages for your Site – coming next week
4 Ways to fix your errors
There are 4 ways to fix 404 errors and a lot of that is to do with where the error is coming from and what caused it.
If we take data from my site and look at it in more detail. I have 4 different causes of the errors and each can be tackled differently and your sites will be similar.
- Mistyped links in my own posts
- Links that have been miscopied or edited by other bloggers
- My own deletion of posts, pages, categories and tags without sorting out what will happen to them first
Links on your own Site
Yes, this does happen – and I’ve noticed an increase recently as I don’t know about you but my link box in the post editor is misbehaving! These are easy to fix, you can find the source either that a user has come from or that the bots have found and edit it.
In the image above from Google Search Console you can see in purple one of the links on my own site that I need to fix – click on the box with arrow at the end of the link and it will open the post, then go in and change it.
Work through those errors remember search console has the errors in priority order based on what Google sees as a priority so work down first fixing your own link errors.
Links on Other Blogs and Websites
If the page exists but the link is mistyped or an extra “/” has been added to it by mistake this can be sending traffic to your site straight to the 404 page. It’s really easy to fix and all you need to do is drop the blogger an email or message on social media.
99% of other bloggers will be happy that you have noticed the problem and giving them all the information that they need to fix it especially as broken links on their sites can affect their SEO as well.
When you send across saying that you have found a broken link to your site on their’s include the FULL POST URL, where the link is on the page and what the link should be. Make it as easy as possible for them to fix it quickly.
You’ve Deleted or Removed the Post/Page/Category or Tag
This is where the majority of my 404’s from the bots come from. It’s a pain and happened when I did a big clear out of my site and reorganisation of everything. I removed old linkies, consolidated 3 categories into 1 to make navigation easier. Merged the 4 different ways of saying play dough I had on my site into just 1.
BUT… through that all I just did it and didn’t think of the consequences.
Every time you delete something there is still a memory of it on your site – whether it’s in the sitemap or someone linked to it years ago it’s still there and if the bots can follow it they will.
As you can see from the data I have for not found’s I have a lot that is Tuesday Tots – that was a linky that I used to run weekly and if I hadn’t done a featured post as well as host the linky when I stopped I removed it without a second thought!
What I had forgotten is that others had linked through to that post saying they had linked up and now that link was broken – it went to a 404 error page.
I’d missed out a crucial step. Putting in a redirect to a page of relevance.
So if you are like me and have lots of these pages that are due to deleting then it’s time to put together a plan and start fixing them.
Plan of action
To fix the 404 errors from your deleting of posts/pages/categories or tags you need to work methodically. Now some pages you will find that there is no alternative than to leave because they really didn’t fit your site and next week when we customise the 404 page you can start to direct people to where you want them to go. BUT… the majority you can probably fix with a little bit of planning and work.
- Identify or create another page that you can direct people to from that link. For example, all those Tuesday Tots pages I created a page that talks about what Tuesday Tots was and then directs them to relevant Toddler and Preschool Activities because that was the focus of Tuesday Tots each week.
- Open notepad or other text editor and start to write your redirects down.
You have 2 choices – you can put in a plugin to take care of your redirects – YOAST Premium Plugin is the one that I would recommend if you go down this route because it is updated regularly, it works and you are likely using YOAST as it is!
I don’t use it – I prefer to run as few plugins as possible on my site and adding the redirects to a htaccess file is really easy and works much smoother than another plugin for it to go through.
Carry on reading for how to set up a redirect in your htaccess file or skip ahead to the GHOST 404’s
Writing a Redirect
This always seems to terrify people but it is really easy to do. You need access to your server – whether this is through a Cpanel or FTP you can ask your host and then it’s a case of downloading a file editing it on your own computer (after you make a back-up) and uploading it to replace the existing one.
So here’s what I do on my machine I have a copy of my htaccess file. I downloaded it once and now any changes I make to it I always make on that copy. It’s offline I can add them check them and no changes are made to my site.
When I go in to make the changes I first download a copy of the htaccess file that is on the server. It appears as .htacces(1) in my downloads folder. That’s my backup. If anything goes wrong I have that there that I can put back in place and if it worked no problem I just delete it.
So how do you write the redirect. The redirect has 3 parts. The first part tells you what type of redirect you want to do – a 301 is a permanent redirect and if the page is deleted that is what you should go for. The second part is the path of the URL of the old post (e.g. the URL missing the domain part). The last part the full URL of the place you want it to go to. E.g.
Redirect 301 /toddler-art-exploration-mondiain http://rainydaymum.co.uk/toddler-art-exploration-mondrian
All of the redirects go above #Begin WordPress in the file and if you have other #Begin they go there as well.
Write each one out and add to the notepad file and then upload it.
If it doesn’t work and you can check straight away then use your backup and overwrite the new file with the old
Avoid redirecting to the homepage. If that is the solution then do nothing – remember next week we will be customising the 404 page and there you can provide help for those users.
Now we’ve covered errors that are easy to identify – you have the mistyped links on your own site (internal) and other’s (external) as well as where you have deleted pages but there is a further set of errors that are ghosts. Ok so they aren’t really ghosts but they are coming from ad agencies, or ghost referrals, spam etc… and these really don’t affect your site at all.
Above you can see one of the ghosts from my google analytics. It’s from the ad’s that I display on my site. But look at the bounce rate 0%, the average time on page and the fact that it is only 1 pageview means that although it’s only small it’s actually helping to reduce the overall bounce rate of my site by a tiny faction but every little helps.
These 404-page sources we just keep….
Customise your 404 Page