Last year the SEO team here at Silverbean carried out some investigation into some issues they were encountering with regards to a sudden drop in ranking, and in turn a significantly decreased level of traffic to a website they were working on. Read on to find out how 404 errors can negatively impact a websites ranking.

The Issue

The campaign was running for 2 months. It was very much in its infancy but showing early positive progress, until month three when it took a significant dip in the rankings which also resulted in a 22% drop in organic traffic. In month four the rankings stayed the same, as did the traffic, showing no signs of recovery.

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The Cause

After investigating all avenues thoroughly, in order to rule factors out, we found that the only issue which could be affecting the site were a number of 404 errors.  The site had been around for a number of years and these errors hadn’t appeared to have affected the site until this point. In Total there were 424, Not Found errors showing in Google Webmaster Tools.

Further investigation of these errors showed that many of the URLs causing the problem were old high level landing pages who’s address structure had been changed several months previous. Although these old URLs had been 301 redirected to their new equivalent addresses they were still linked from the main menu and therefore relied on the redirect  to take users navigating through the site to the correct page.

This set up, was clearly not ideal, but had been in place for some time and had never before caused an issue, until June.

The next step in trying to resolve this issue was to include the correct URLs within the main navigation. As a result of this, within a week the rankings and traffic started to recover and within the space of a month the majority of the rankings were higher than they were before the drop, with organic traffic reaching over 9000 visits in October, higher than before the drop and continuing to rise.

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Correct your Internal Links

There were a number of Google algorithm updates at the end of May / beginning of June and unfortunately it’s not clear whether this resulted in Google taking issue with the 404 errors at this point. What is clear, however, is that it’s vital to ensure that internal links are correct and don’t rely on redirects to take users to the correct pages.