It’s inevitable. Eventually, some how, for some reason, your pages are going to move or change names. You might reorganize your site structure. You might migrate to a new domain. Or you might just rename a blog name to something snappier for better SEO. Whatever the reason, any time you change a URL, the old link will break and present a 404: Page Not Found error.
Reasons 404 errors are a problem
- First and foremost, it can be disruptive to your users. Even if you update all of your navigation, they might have bookmarks. Errors appear when visitors click on old bookmarks or emailed links.
- There may be a plethora of links back to the page you just moved. You may or may not ever know about them. Anyone on the internet can link back to your site (and that’s a very good thing). It could be an old tweet or Facebook post someone will reference years from now.
- Google’s bots crawl and evaluate those links to see how valuable your site is. Every backlink is a vote in favor of your domain being high quality. However, they ignore and delete any link that leads to a 404.
- If your page has Pagerank mojo that’s gotten you onto Page 1 of Google a 404 will remove it from Google’s index. Restoring that prestige can be difficult and time consuming.
How to avoid problems with 404s
Luckily there is a way to avoid these calamities when you’ve moved content. It is a 301 Permanent Redirect. (Note: You don’t need to fully understand the different kinds of redirects. Just remember that ONLY a 301 will give you the benefits you seek.) A 301 redirect will redirect all of your users to their desired content at the new location instantly and seamlessly. Don’t worry if the bookmarked link is out-of-date. They arrive at the new location. They won’t even realize they’ve been forwarded. It will also redirect all of Google’s bots so they can continue to crawl and value your content. It signals to Google to update the address they’ve stored in their index. The new page is associated with the old. This carries almost all of your previous SEO link juice with it … almost.
The truth is, the worst thing you can possibly do for SEO is move content. Before you embark on reorganizations or migrations, ensure it’s for a good reason that truly benefits you or your users. If there’s not a really good reason to move content, DON’T. However, if you must, then a 301 redirect will be your best friend. Not sure how to implement 301 redirects or accidentally tarnished your SEO in a migration? Contact us for help!