404 – Page Not Found errors will hurt your website’s Google search rankings. This is usually an overlooked but easily corrected issue.
A client recently contacted me about an alarming increase in 404 errors on their main site. On investigation I found the cause to be an outdated .htaccess file (a configuration file for use on web servers running the Apache Web Server). Among other things, this file can contain directives for the webserver to redirect requests for deleted pages to new, relevant pages, rather than simply present the viewer with the 404 – Page Not Found error page.
The fix in this case was simple: I switched to the correct .htaccess file (still stored on the server with a different name) and double-checked the 404 list from google to add directives for any pages without a corresponding directive already in the .htaccess file (there were a few). The graph to the left (courtesy of Google Analytics) shows the effect this simple change had, without making any changes to the site content.