We have all experienced them when browsing or searching, but do 404 – “four-oh-four” in geek speak – affect SEO? It all depends on the 404 message returned, but most of these categories do not directly influence SEO. One thing all 404’s share in common however, is their ability to frustrate and permanently turn away what may have been genuine interest from your visitor. Moreover, they can hurt your link equity over time. One type of 404 page error will affect your search rankings and traffic.

What leads to a 404 message? This is simply the response code returned by the server when it cannot locate a matching Uniform Resource Informer (URI). It is the server’s way of informing a browser that it could not find the content. Assuming your website means something for your business, you should schedule time to do regular maintenance on it.

External 404s – These occur when a visitor attempts to link to a broken page on your site. Often, the content has been removed by the owner for good reason, but sometimes a third party may be linking improperly.

Outgoing 404s – These arise when a link from your site to another site breaks with a resultant 404 page error message. Often times old links seem to evaporate, so this occurrence is quite common.

Internal 404s – According to some of the experts, removing known internal 404 page errors has a positive effect on rankings. The converse is true if they remain undetected.

Phantom 404s – Some proxy servers are known to generate a 404 page error when the remote host is absent. In reality, a 500-range code should result when errors such as hostname resolution failures, or refused TCP connections prevent the proxy server from addressing the request.

There are web tools around that crawl websites and throw up unwanted 404 status codes. These tools can prove useful in detecting links that exist on a particular web page. If you are serious about website maintenance, you might want to find 404s before search engines encounter them.

In that case, populating your site with a tool such as SEMrush or MOZ should provide useful insights. Designed to behave just like search engine spiders, these tools will help in the detection process.

Identifying 404 page errors is one thing, but it is also a good idea to fix them if we want our search rankings to remain onside with Google and other search engines. Once you know what caused the error, the solution is waiting out there for you. Naturally, the easiest option is to contact your webmaster and have them find and fix the problems.

Creating redirects makes sense because those search engines will continue to hit affected URLs until the fixes are in place. Fixing 404s will ensure a top quality site for your visitors and will please hard-working search engines too.

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