How To Handle And Fix Your 404s – BuzzStarter Best Practices Guide – Part 1
Nowadays, the clients we get here at Buzz Starter are mostly successful sites that used to do well with their evergreen words or what most people know as the main taxonomy, or main keywords for the other “most people” bucket. A good number of these clients still continue to suffer since the Panda update, roughly 3 years ago and have been having a difficult time implementing changes to their site, mostly because the lack of in-house expertise of implementing the latest SEO best practices. The indecision has cost their business greatly when it comes to monetization of their traffic, especially for sites who’s bread and butter rely on Google Adsense or selling display adspace.
404 Thoughts & Rule of Thumb
When it comes to the list of things we normally fix for these clients and bring them up to best practices, one from the list is how to handle and fix their 404s. Every SEO company out there has and idea on how to do this, in our side of the fence, we do as well. In retrospect, 404s are normal and they are common, especially when running a huge website. Worrying on how search engines, such as Google or Yahoo will ding you for having too many of these is a waste of mental energy. If you are having a lot of these, simply think about how you are going to fix it.
One of the most heard off suggestions from my counterparts is that you have to redirect your 404 all the time so that you don’t waste any sort of “link juice” which I think is highly debatable. The jury is out on that one and I think that you do not necessarily have to redirect all 404s.
404s GONE WILD!
Now there are cases, actually I am currently working on one, where the site has 5,600 pages but the site is getting 8,000 404s and around 15,000 503s (503 is something I will discuss on a different article). See the discrepancy on that example? Content wise, the ratio of unique pages to 404s isn’t proportional, giving a reverse Pareto Principle. When this happens, this is where an SEO solution geared towards a technical one will make more sense. With the advent of Google Hummingbird as well as if you have Google Webmaster tools, fixing the above example is paramount. Having webmaster tools running on your site in someway handicaps all of us. Most webmasters and SEO professionals out there will argue with me on this but, I honestly think that since Panda, Google uses parts and pieces of your webmaster data to further refine their search algorithm. Not necessarily to ding your performance and act like big brother but more of perfect search for the user in using that data, by combining the technical components of SEO as well as user experience.
When high occurrences of 404s happen to your site similar to the example I mentioned, it is something that needs to be fixed and addressed. For me when I see something like that, I worry more about the user experience and flow. Think about that for second. Why? Because that is what search engine bots do, is look at the flow from the point of the user. Providing a good user experience is key in addressing 404s.
Now on the topic of redirecting 404s, I believe that not all of it should be redirected. If you have to do a redirect make sure that it points to either a main category page on your site or a page at the top of that structure (a parent page). I do not think that redirecting everything to the home page will lift you up with search engines anyway, but pointing the the right experience will.BuzzStarter, Optimization Floor, Search Engine Optimization
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