We know that links pointing to pages that do not exist, that the 404 or some soft 404, are links that are not counted by Google – this is nothing new. But Google’s John Mueller explained how sometimes you can redirect old 404 pages and that link can jump to the new page, even if that link has been 404 for years?
To be clear, a link that points to a 404ed page does not count. If this page is 404ed for about a year and then you add a redirect, I highly doubt Google will start counting that link again. But John Mueller said that in some cases, if the links to the two-year-old 404ed page are super strong, Google might count it again after redirecting it. Or maybe he was nice to the person asking the question?
John said “I would say for a while you can always go back and add a redirect for those individual links that you see like that. I don’t know if after two years it would make a big difference unless there really aren’t strong links going to your site and getting lost like that.”
This question and answer were raised at the 19:43 mark in last Friday’s hangout video:
Here is the transcript:
SEO: Another issue is broken links on our website where our website has about 40,000 pages and double links. So we have about 20,000 broken links caused by a migration gone wrong from one platform to another. Since then, we have started to notice a decrease in organic traffic. We used to rank for, say, 20,000, 25,000 a day in organic traffic, now we only get 2,000 to 3,000 or 4,000 at most. So do you think it’s a great measure for SEO ranking to remove those broken links and 404 pages?
John Mueller: When did you perform this migration? It is longer ago?
SEO: Yes, it happened in 2020, about two years ago now.
John Mueller: I guess for the most part it doesn’t matter anymore. So that’s something I would be careful with any migration because. Essentially, the main thing you want to catch is the situation where someone creates an external link to your website and that link to your website essentially goes nowhere. So if you see someone creating an external link to a page that is now a 404 page because you forgot to redirect it, that link is somehow lost. And if you see this happening on a larger scale, those links are things you’ll lose that can also show up in search results over time.
I would say for a while you can always go back and add a redirect for those individual links you see like that. I don’t know if after two years it would make much difference unless there are really strong links going to your site and getting lost like that.
Glenn Gabe summed it up nicely in this series of tweets:
More: you can also estimate this by looking at the server logs. If you see a lot of search engine crawlers heading to specific 404s, it’s sometimes a sign that they think there’s going to be something useful there, but they get lost. Determine what could be redirected https://t.co/fGr9HUoTCx pic.twitter.com/5MBZ0APikS
—Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) March 22, 2022
The video then explains what you can look for to see if Google is still trying to access those 404s, hence your log files.
I just doubt that a link to a 404 page that has been like this for two years is really salvageable but maybe I’m wrong?
Discussion forum on Twitter.