Handling errors and redirects is a very important part of SEO and how you’re going to keep your your web presence at the top of the search results.
When a web browser is trying to display a page that cannot be found, it creates a 404 error. That error is jarring for search results because people are most likely clicking a link in the search engine or on another site expecting to find a page that can no longer be found.
This happens most often when people launch a new website or they’re changing the content or the structure of their navigation on their existing pages.
The problem is that content is indexed by search engines. It’s the main reason that people are looking on your website. So if you don’t have anything in its place, then that tells the search engines that you no longer care about that content, the people or the keywords that got it placed in the search results and that you’ve moved on.
You should always keep track of what links are leading to your site and what pages are indexed in the search results to help avoid this problem. That can easily be done through the Google Search Console or through tools like SEMrush or Majestic. There’s quite a few tools out there that can tell you the links to your website.
The links to your website were created because they’re important to somebody. So when you take them away it, for whatever reason you have done so, it sends a signal to the search engines.
Most experienced marketers have an error handling mechanism for their sites. If you don’t, you should start with a custom 404 error page (contact your hosting provider if you don’t know how), and you should configure the the site to know what page your visitor is looking for that’s no longer there. If you took it away intentionally, you can provide alternate content and don’t just leave them in a lurch.
The other thing that you can do if you’ve launched a new website is create 301 redirects, which will identify where the old content has been moved. A 301 redirect is an automatic redirect to the new location. Over time, search engines figure out that new location and they update their results with the new link, but this is only done with a redirect. Then it won’t be a dead link for everybody else.
We’ve discussed previously that those dead links are opportunities for other people to steal your traffic. It’s also an opportunity if you find other people’s dead links. It’s an opportunity for you or them to go to The Wayback Machine and see what that content used to be. Literally people can steal it from you and throw up a webpage with your old content that you don’t care about anymore.
Once they have created a new page with your old content, they can submit that for consideration by search engines or people who previously linked to you. It’s actually a very common strategy and something that you yourself may want to look into if you haven’t been doing that. I don’t recommend stealing the content however, it can provide ideas for replacement content you can offer a site that has a dead link.