Fix That 404 Error

404 error

Like a lot of entrepreneurs, I occasionally google my business name, just to see what's showing up out there in the interwebs.

Well, in the past few months, I've been seeing a link that looks like a Tangerine Web Works profile page on findablackgirl.com.  Apparently, it's a directory of businesses owned by women of color that I was added to; by whom, I don't know. I suppose I'll never know because the site URL is in perpetual 404 status:

"WHOOPS! WE ARE TIDYING UP A BIT, DON'T WORRY THOUGH, WE'LL BE LIVE AGAIN IN A FEW HOURS.”

“A few hours?" It's been a few months. I was unable to find any contact information for this directory or the webmaster or the person who owns the website.

I suppose it’s a good idea to have such a directory and I appreciate being included, but a dead link defeats the purpose. Obviously, people have clicked on the link enough for it to show up on the list of search results. Irritating...

What's the 411 on 404?

A dead link, or 404 error, basically tells you that a webpage URL does not exist. For instance, say you run a promotional campaign and your website says "Click here for a free cookie!"  Users expect to be taken to a page with access to a cookie. But, you deleted that page months ago and never updated the link. It's dead. Instead of a cookie, the customer gets a 404-Page Not Found error. They immediately back out of your website, angry and disappointed. They will tell their friends about the "false advertising" and "click bait" on your website. Bad, bad, bad.

For any business website, dead or broken links make you look unprofessional and sketchy.  It's frustrating for a user when they are searching for legitimate information on your business and waste time clicking on a link to nowhere. Also, excessive 404 errors can negatively affect your search ranking. Search engine bots may eventually drop you to back pages or ignore you altogether.

Website Management is Important

Just like your business, your website needs to be managed. To keep it running smoothly, it's important to have a solid website maintenance plan in place. This includes consistently adding fresh content, deleting outdated pages, updating links, etc.

There are many small business owners out there who get buy without website management. You may be one of them. Trying to keep costs down, you either attempt to take on the task yourself, delegate it to a member of your staff, or do nothing.  If you do nothing, dead links will continue to show up in searches. It could involve something as simple as a typo in the link, but if it's affecting important pages on your site, action is needed.

If you have removed a page from your website, it's wise to take the next step and remove all existing links to that page. Ditto, if you've taken down an entire website and built a new one somewhere else.  Also, if there are external parter sites linking to your pages, notify them of changes, if possible.

To check your website pages for bad links, go to www.deadlinkchecker.com and enter your website URL.  It's free and will check every link on your entire site.

Search and Destroy

Once you're aware of the dead links, you can remove or replace them. If you have a WordPress site, there are several plugins that will automate the process with a find/replace function.  If you have a small site, you can manually edit page-by-page.

When you have cleaned-up your website content, it's time to update the search engines and eliminate the pesky 404 errors.

  1. Remove URL's from Google searches by following the instructions here.
  2. Remove the page(s) from your sitemap and resubmit to Google here.
  3. If pages have been removed from the site, but are still showing up in searches, follow the steps here.
  4. If you have access to your server files, you can a) modify your robots.txt file to "disallow" certain pages, b) add a "noindex" tag to the page header, or c) create a 301 redirect in the .htaccess file.

Again, with WordPress, there are several SEO plugins that can simplify the server file modifications.   If you don't want any pages of your site to show up in any searches, check the "Discourage search engines from indexing this site" box on the Reading tab in the WordPress dashboard.

Keeping your site clean, updated, and correctly indexed will improve your search ranking and make it easier for potential customers to connect with you.  While 404 errors are an inevitable fact of internet life, when it comes to your website, you have complete control.

If you need assistance, feel free to contact me for website management, site clean-up, or Google webmaster services. I'll be glad to help.

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