404 errors aren’t inherently bad, but 404 errors that are left unchecked or unmanaged can have negative impacts on user experience, authority, crawlability of your site and, yes, even overall SEO performance.
When evaluating the impact of 404s on your website, it’s important to think about their implications.
404 Errors Can be Frustrating for Users
Users landing on pages that return a 404 error can be frustrated as they won’t know why certain content was removed, especially since 404 pages tend to be vague on explanations. They can also lose interest in exploring a website if there are no immediate navigation paths to content similar to what was removed.
While a small handful of 404 errors isn’t the end of the world, large numbers of 404 errors or 404 errors linked to from high-visibility areas of the site can create significant user experience issues.
404 Errors Are a Dead End for Search Engines
Previously live pages that return a 404 status code represent a missed opportunity to redirect search engines to a new page to use in lieu of the old one. Moreover, after a short period of time, if the URL of the broken page doesn’t get redirected, it will drop from search results and lose all rankings it has previously had.
404 Errors Waste Crawl Budget
Search engines crawl only fractions of a website at a time. While small sites usually get crawled wholly daily, this may not be the case with large websites. A large number of broken pages would effectively waste crawl budget that would be better spent on crawling more important pages.
404 Errors Don’t Pass On Internal or External Link Authority
Having a broken URL with backlinks is a missed opportunity to also redirect backlink authority to a specific, high-value page on your site. instead of your 404 page. The same goes for internal link flow that is likely disrupted when the page behind an internal link gets removed.
404 Errors Show Lack of Upkeep
A large number of 404 errors negatively affects the trust of both users and search engines as it indicates that the website owners don’t keep up with content that is changing or website issues (pages “breaking”).
We strongly recommend monitoring any URL changes or page removals and implementing 301 redirects to the closest equivalent live pages on the site. To err on the side of caution, we also recommend having a customized 404 page on your website.
Contact Fire&Spark for a free consultation on best practices for removing or editing content on your website.