You Can Use 404s to Boost Your SEO. Here’s How.

You Can Use 404s to Boost Your SEO. Here’s How.

According to Google, A 404 page is what a user sees when they try to reach a non-existent page on your site (because they’ve clicked on a broken link, the page has been deleted or they’ve mistyped a URL). 404s happen when people—your potential site visitors— type in the wrong URL. It’s not if but when your visitors will encounter them. In fact, some huge websites can acquire up to 10 new broken links every day. Just look at the number of broken links found on some of the world’s top websites: If it happens to behemoths like Cisco and Apple, you can bet it’s going to happen to you. You need to create a customized, branded 404 page. Although these 404 pages are cute, they won’t do anything for your SEO. Use 404s for good What you want to do is not only stop 404s from hurting your SEO but use them to boost your SEO. Create a custom 404 page with a branded design, like the ones from MailChimp and Hootsuite, and add several internal links to it. Then include these on your 404 page.

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The dreaded 404 error page.

We’ve all encountered it at some point.

And in my opinion, there’s no bigger buzzkill than getting hit with a 404 error when browsing a site.

You’re right in the middle of exploring interesting content, and all of a sudden, you’re thrown a curveball.

If you’re not sure what a 404 page is, let’s look at a formal definition.

According to Google,

A 404 page is what a user sees when they try to reach a non-existent page on your site (because they’ve clicked on a broken link, the page has been deleted or they’ve mistyped a URL).

Here’s what an ugly, generic 404 looks like:

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Not too flattering, huh?

But you can pretty them up, like I did on Quick Sprout:

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You’ve seen 404s. You’ve cursed 404s. And your site might even have 404s.

The problem with 404s

What’s the big deal with 404s?

Are they really that bad?

First off, let me make something clear.

Every site will get some 404s, and it’s okay! 404s happen when people—your potential site visitors— type in the wrong URL.

For example, if I type in “businessinsider.com” in my browser and continue typing gibberish, I’ll get a 404.

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It’s not Business Insider’s fault I got a 404. It’s my fault.

You’ll never be able to eliminate 404s completely.

But there are some 404s that are within your control and which you do need to pay attention to.

Here’s why.

If a user encounters a web server issue such as a 404 page, they’re highly likely to hit the back button and return to the search engine.

When your visitors do this en mass, it creates a phenomenon called “pogo sticking,” which looks like this:

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This is a problem because it tells Google that your content isn’t adding value for a particular keyword query.

If this happens enough, you’re likely to see a drop in rankings.

Not cool.

The inevitability of 404s

As I mentioned above, 404s are going to happen. It’s not if but when your visitors will encounter them.

Many 404s won’t be your fault. But some will be your fault, and it’s hard to control them. Even if you’re an amazing SEO or webmaster, some will slip through the cracks.

And the bigger your site is, the more 404s you’ll have.

One of the leading causes of 404s is broken links.

Websites change. Links point nowhere. And 404s happen.

In fact, some huge websites can acquire up to 10 new broken links every day.

Just look at the number of broken links found on some of the world’s top websites:

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If it happens to behemoths like Cisco and Apple, you can bet it’s going to happen to you.

And as I mentioned earlier, broken links are just one reason behind 404s. Other times, it’s simply due to a visitor mistyping a URL.

The bottom line is that 404s are inevitable, and you need an effective way to deal with them.

What’s the solution?

It’s actually pretty simple.

You need to create a customized, branded 404 page.

Here’s a good a example of one from MailChimp:

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Here’s another from Hootsuite:

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Think about it.

Would you rather get hit with an ugly, generic 404 or one that’s well-designed and cleverly branded?

I’d bet most people would opt for the latter.

But that’s just part of it.

Although these 404 pages are cute, they won’t do anything for your SEO.

Use 404s for good

What you want to do is not only stop 404s from hurting your SEO but use them to boost your SEO.

But doesn’t that seem a little counterintuitive? How in the world can 404s be beneficial to SEO?

Here’s what you do.

Create a custom 404 page with a branded design, like the ones from MailChimp and Hootsuite, and add several internal links to it.

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