Want to improve your SEO traffic? Fix your 404s

I pretty much exclusively work on very large sites when I do consulting. I am 100% of the “fewer clients, more focus and money” school of thought when it comes to consulting, thus I keep my consulting light to run Credo.

Over the last four to five years, I have worked almost exclusively on these huge sites. Both of my clients right now have 1M+ pages on them, and I’ve done SEO for sites with nine figures of pages in the index.

Nine figures is a ton of pages.

Along the way, I’ve learned a ton of course. I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with great development teams who get things done.

So, I have been able to get a lot of large, scaleable fixes done on sites. And as those have been done, some have worked very well and others haven’t done anything.

The one that has always worked well?

Fixing the 404 errors onsite.

Now, it’s not just enough to fix the 404s themselves. You must also trace back the root of the issue and fix that.

I have two examples to show you.

Site 1: large marketplace with 826k indexed pages

I have been working with this site for about a year and a half now. I’ve been through 3 different points of contact, multiple developers and designers, and the company reorganizing itself from a business perspective.

When I started working with them, they had just had an audit done. I audited the audit (meta, I know) and helped the team prioritize work, then I work with them closely as work gets done to test it and monitor as it rolls out.

A few months ago, we decided to tackle the 404s onsite again because they had ticked back up after we tackled them over a year ago. They’ve done this:

And today I looked in AHREFS and saw this, which reflects their analytics:

It’s a 40% increase for them since the first week of February. And they’ve gone from +13% year on year in February to +50% year on year last week.


Site 2: content site with 450k indexed URLs

This second site is a client I have had since the beginning of 2017. They are a content site and the authority in their niche, and a very well known brand.

Similar to site 1, we’ve done a ton but check out their AHREFS chart:

Guess what happened in February?

That’s right.

We fixed over 50,000 URLs that 404d that had links pointing to them. WUT.

Then guess what happened in late June or so?

A bug was shipped that introduced a lot of 404s. D’OH!

But if you look at just this past week, it’s starting to tick up again.


Because we are tackling site errors again.

Check it out. First we’ve decimated server errors:

404s have ticked way back up, but we released a fix for 80% of these last night:

If you look at the far left there, you can see that right at the end of June 404s were ticking up. They came up from ~5,000 left in February.

Now we are getting at the heart of them, have implemented the logic to automatically redirect errors based on the type of page they are, and the site is going to grow again.

What’s the lesson?

Fix your sites, folks. Don’t get into the inane SEO echo chamber redirection of “but how do you KNOW that it was the errors?”

Ignore those people and go get the redirects in. If you have to, pull the backlinks for the pages 404ing and put a number to how much those links would cost to buy if you did such things (I value each domain at $300). That’ll often get the product/developer teams to work on them because you’ve put monetary value against them.

Good luck.


4 thoughts on “Want to improve your SEO traffic? Fix your 404s

  1. Hey Sam, on sites of this size it’s always via htaccess. Lots of rules in there, and we have CRON jobs running throughout the day to find new errors and automagically redirect them.

  2. Hey John,

    Great post. I’m a firm believer in monitoring GSC & logfiles for errors. I’ve got a few of them to address myself.

    Do you have a go-to resource for htaccess rules?

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