404 and how to fix basic SEO problems

Basic SEO Steps for a Clean Website

Broken Links and How to Sort them

Basically, a broken link on your website creates a 404 error which is something you need to fix. Broken Links cause a poor user experience and have a negative effect on SEO.

“Whoops” the page you tried to access has been moved or deleted

Example of a broken link on the BBC website

Seen a page like this before? I bet you have!

Whether you do it, or someone does it for you, it’s important to solve and for the DIY’ers among you, this guide will help you identify and rectify the problem.

Regularly checking for broken links

You should regularly check for 404 problems on your website, so let’s crack on and explain the basics.

Maintaining good link integrity on your website is key to keeping in the good books of both Google and your customers.

How to check for broken links

One of the most annoying things that can happen to your visitors is when they find a broken/missing page, so it’s important to:

  1. Identify when a 404 page occurs
  2. Fix the broken link by redirecting it a.s.a.p

Search engine spiders don’t like such errors either and it can negatively affect your SEO performance.

The best way to identify broken links is to run an audit on your website and we recommend Screaming Frog SEO Spider.

Screen Shot from Screaming Frog Audit

The screenshot below shows an audit performed on WEBS4SEO and oops, one error was found. It looks like a link to a Yahoo Business Listing page has changed. It was OK before, so something has changed and this audit has picked up the 404, which I now need to fix.

Do this:

  1. Install Screaming Frog SEO Spider
  2. Enter your website URL
  3. Launch the Frog by clicking ‘Start’
  4. Wait a few minutes and review the data

As shown in my audit example below, the Frog found a broken link and it told me which link was broken and on which page of my site the problem is. Now, I can fix it.

Check for broken links with Screaming Frog

How to fix broken links on your website

Whether you have used Screaming Frog or another audit tool to identify the problem, now it’s time to fix the issue.

Many of our customers run WordPress and Joomla sites. If you have a manually coded site, the principle is the same.

Identify the page which contains the broken link and fix it

In the example above, Screaming Frog tells me that 1 broken link occurs and it’s on the Introduction to Link Building page of this website.

The page itself isn’t the problem but inside the page identifies is a link to http://listings.local.yahoo.com/ which is broken.

To fix it, I simply need to edit the Link Building page, locate the broken link and either change it or remove it.

How to fix an incoming link to a page which no longer exists?

In the case above, the ‘outbound link’ was easily fixable, as it was within a page I manage, but what happens if the link is on another site and pointing to a page on my site, which has changed?

This calls for a 301 redirect. In simple terms, we need to tell the server to send ‘incoming link’ to another page on our website. This solves the broken link.

This can be done in various ways, depending on the type of website you are running.

WordPress Redirection Plugin

For WordPress, we like the basic Redirection tool which includes a 404 monitor and re-direct facility. It’s FREE and simple to use.

This plugin monitors broken 404 as they occur and it allows you to quickly and easily, fix them. If you spot a broken link, simply click on it, enter the new URL, and update.

Tip: I advise you to test the broken link to make sure it’s working properly.

Joomla Redirection Plugin

For Joomla, Qlue 404 is quite good and does much the same thing as redirection for WordPress.

.htaccess Redirection

There is a manual redirection process that involves uploading a file to the public folder of your website e.g where the index file is. Uploading a .htaccess file allows you to instruct the server to perform a function. This is a technical function, beyond the remit of this post, but basically, play around with the following example.

RewriteEngine On
        RewriteBase /
        RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !yourwebsite.co.uk/old_page.html$ [NC]
        RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://www.yourwebsite.co.uk/new_page.html/$1 [L,R=301]

*Before uploading a new .htaccess, check to make sure one does not already exist. You can add your code to existing file.

Whatever tool you use, the objective is to monitor the pages which enter 404 stage and re-direct them to the new page.

If there is no new page and you have deleted it, redirect the page to your homepage to solve the Error 404 being displayed.

Using Search Engine Tools to help you find 404’s

Search Engines provide tools to help website owners manage problems and they report on any broken links they find, whilst spidering your website. You can (and should) benefit from this by logging into their Webmaster Tools facility.

The following links, provide you with access to Bing, Google and Yandex webmaster tools within which, they tell you which 404s they encountered:

  1. Bing Webmaster Tools under Reports & Data → Crawl Information
  2. Google Search Console under Crawl → Crawl Errors
  3. Yandex Webmaster under Indexing → Excluded Pages → HTTP Status: Not Found (404)

Remember, the Search Engine spider might find links a normal user may not ever come across. It’s in your interest to make sure anything that is broken, is fixed.

Check for image / embed errors

Remember, the search engine tools will not always pick up on everything. They are well worth checking, but additional errors can occur which are not picked up such as broken images and embeds.

Screaming Frog is very good at finding broken images as well as 404 and other server errors identified on your site.

How often should I check for 404 errors?

It depends on how frequently you are working on your site, but it would be good practice to re-check once a month, or more frequently for larger/busier websites.

Need help?

Phone us on 0800 756 9975 if you need any help or would like us to run a FREE Website Audit for you.

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