For the most of your visitors are 404 error reports disturbing and maybe a reason to leave your website. For yourself as the website owner, a 404 error report should help you to resolve problems. A “404 – not found” is a sign for a broken link and might harm your website. The best solution would be if there is no 404 error or a broken link.
Why should you care about 404 errors?
As already mentioned before, if a visitor has followed a link to your website and the particular webpage ends into a 404 error, the visitor might leave your website and will never come back. But there is more…
- Incoming broken links
Just imagine your websites has got a link from an important website and this link will end into page that doesn’t exists. Because the link is broken, the link doesn’t help your website ranking in Google.
- Outgoing broken links
If your site has broken links, a search-engine like Google might penalize your site’s ranking because the GoogleBot can’t follow the links. This sounds crazy and there will nothing happen if your site gets only a view 404 error reports, but if your site has a lot of them the GoogleBot might think that these parts of your sits are abandoned and less valuable. It’s important to keep the number of broken link low!
How to detect incoming or internal broken links?
Your WordPress website has already a build-in function to provide 404 error reports, just enter a non-existing URL into the address bar and hit enter. If your WordPress theme is complete, you will see a 404 error page. If you customize this page with some links to important sections and a search form, a visitor might forgive you and will continue his visit from here. Without a notification it will happen again and again.
The best solution is to use the Redirection plugin from John Godley, because this WordPress plugin can be used to redirect invalid URLs as well. Using the plugin’s interface it’s possible to find broken links and you can turn these “404 error reports” into a clean redirect if needed. There is no need to edit the .htaccess for these redirects.
How to find outgoing broken links?
If your WordPress website provides a comment function, it’s a normal situation to get some outgoing broken links after a while. A comment poster might enter a wrong URL or some website address which becomes invalid after a while. In both cases you should check your website for these broken links. The Broken Link Checker plugin is the solution for this problem. The plugin is using a WordPress cronjob for a frequent check to find all broken links in your posts, pages, comments and most of the other content. The plugin provides a lot of options for the broken link detection behavior, an easy interface that helps your to fix these problems and of course it sends you a message if there are broken links on your website.
There is more you can do…
The Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) provides 404 error reports, too. The great think here is that Google provides also the information where the broken link was found. Fix these problems and contact the website owner if the broken link comes from some important website. Most webmasters are happy if you tell them about this broken link and in that case they will fix the link for your.
You can offer a small feedback form on your 404 error page, too. Use (hidden) form fields for all the technical information your site can offer (current URL, date/time HTTP Referrer, etc.) and hopefully the visitor will give you some feedback.