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If you’ve worked with multiple digital marketing agencies in the past, there just might be a big threat to your website’s SEO hiding in plain site. Links pointing to a page that no longer exists are called 404 errors. They often play a significant role in harming search engine rankings. Worse yet, they can occur even if the page actually still exists.

Find out what 404 errors are, what causes them, and how they’re fixed in this post.

What is a 404 Error?

You’ll see a 404 error when you try to load a page on a website that no longer exists (theoretically). To be clear, the website itself does still exist, but that specific page is missing. 

Here are a few reasons 404 errors occur:

  • clicking an outdated link on a website to a webpage on another website.
  • clicking a link on a website to another page on that same website that wasn’t updated. 
  • clicking a link in Google’s search results that has been removed since it was last indexed by Google

How 404 Errors Occur for Webpages that Still Exist

Technically, 404 errors really only occur if your website thinks a webpage no longer exists. The webpage may still be on your website under a different URL. Here’s how that works:

  1. You hire an agency to build your first website.
  2. You later use another agency to redesign your website.
  3. The new agency uses a different URL structure without redirecting old links. 

How URLs are Used to Organize Websites

You can think of your site’s URL structure” as a method of organizing its content. It’s kind of like organizing files on your computer or even in filing cabinet. You put files in folders and subfolders.  

However, the method you use for organizing files and folders may differ from another person’s method. So, the way you tell someone where to find one of your files might be different from where someone else would tell them to find a similar file in their system. 

Let’s pretend you outsourced your file management. You do so because you trust someone else’s expertise in properly organizing files and folders. They may be good at it, but they may still use a different system as another expert filer. If you eventually switched to someone else, they may have yet another method of organizing your files and folders. Thus, your documents might be in new folders and subfolders. 

It’s the same when you hire different agencies to design and redesign your website.  However, there’s one caveat: you’re not typically as focused on the URL (organizing) structure of your files and folders as you are on the website’s new design. Unfortunately, that agency probably isn’t as focused on the URL structure either. 

Websites use URL links to reference the location of specific files, folders, and subfolders. If you don’t tell them how to organize the files and folders on your website, they’ll use their own method – and it will probably be different from the previous agency. 

So, while the same service pages and blog posts may still exist on your site, they could be placed in different subfolders. If links from other websites are pointing to the page’s old URL, it will return a 404 error since the page’s new location is now being referenced with a newer URL.

How do 404 Errors Impact SEO?

Google has stated that 404 errors can harm search engine rankings. Multiple studies have confirmed it. There are a few reasons why. 

Devalued Backlinks 

Backlinks (links to your website from other websites) are one of the most significant ranking factors that search engines use. They serve as online votes for your website.

However, if an old backlink is pointing to a page that either no longer exists or has moved, it will return a 404 error. This means a page that was previously considered more relevant because of its backlinks is no longer being found, thus diminishing its relevance. This devalues the overall backlink profile of a website. 

Missing or Misplaced Information

URLs linking to a page that has been moved may confuse search engines, especially if they don’t crawl the right page. They may simply believe that the page no longer exists. This means some of your site’s most important pages might get overlooked. 

Diminished Experience

Google and other search engines want to deliver the best experiences to their users. If they don’t, they’ll lose the trust of their users. 

Websites that return a lot of 404 errors are diminishing their user experience. The problems previously mentioned frustrate visitors. Search engines work hard to avoid poor experiences for this reason. 

So, if websites either can’t find the relevant page on your website or believe it’s delivering a bad experience, they’ll rank websites with a better experience. 

How to Check Your Website’s 404 Errors 

404 errors are easy to miss. You need a tool to scan your website and find broken URLs. Google Search Console probably has the most common tool.

The good news is that Google Search Console is completely free. The bad news is that it can be complicated to set it up. Even worse, the setup process will depend on how your website is built. You’ll most likely need some technical knowledge. 

Adding a WordPress Site in Google Search Console

Here’s a quick guide to adding a WordPress website in Google Search Console. 

  1. Visit
  2. Enter your website’s full URL under “URL prefix.” By “full URL,” you would include “https://” in front of your website address. 
  3. On the next page that loads, look under “other verification methods” and choose “HTML tag.” 
  4. Copy the code that loads. 
  5. Go to the backend of your WordPress website.
  6. Install and activate the “HFCM” plugin. 
  7. Click “HFCM” in the left menu to open its interface. 
  8. Click “Add New Snippet” near the top.
  9. Name the snippet “Google Search Console.” Don’t change any settings. 
  10. Paste the code from Search Console in the “Snippet/Code” section found just under the settings. 
  11. Click “save” at the bottom.
  12. Return to Google Search Console and click “verify.”
  13. If you did everything correctly, you’ll see data and metrics for your website.
  14. Scroll down on the overview page until you see the “Indexing” section.
  15. Click “Full report” on the right. 
  16. Scroll below the graph to the “Why pages aren’t indexed” section.
  17. See if 404 errors are reported here.

This is just the process for websites built on the WordPress CMS platform. It will vary for other types of websites. 

Resolving 404 Errors

We fix 404 errors by redirecting the URLs that are causing them. The idea is to redirect problematic URLs to the new URLs of relevant pages. 

Unfortunately, the actual process of redirecting URLs varies. It depends on how your website was built. Most modern websites are built with a content management system (such as WordPress), while others are entirely hard coded. The process still varies greatly even among different CMS platforms. 



I'm equal parts tech nerd and adventurer. I absolutely love all things blockchain, metaverse, and digital marketing. When I'm not typing away on my keyboard, I can often be found exploring Chattanooga's hiking trails or climbing its world-class crags. Learn more about me on my LinkedIn profile.