Do 404 Errors Hurt My Site or Rankings in Search Engines?
dsIDXpress is our IDX WordPress plugin and as many clients can attest, it’s a great tool that assists you in gaining higher rankings in search engines. However, we’ve often been asked the question: “Why are so many of dsIDXpress pages returning 404 errors and can this be resolved?”
Which brings us to today’s post… We thought we’d give you the scoop on how 404 errors work because really, 404 errors are actually a very normal part of the internet.
First, let’s talk about dsIDXpress and why they return 404 errrors…
dsIDXpress is meant to display listings that are on the real estate market and available for purchase. It is not meant to show listings that have been sold or taken off the market. Most MLS’ actually do not even allow us to show listings that are sold -OR- if they do allow us to show sold listing data it is only for a preset amount of time.
So what happens to dsIDXpress when listings are sold or go off the market?
They return 404 errors.
So, what is a 404 error?
A 404 error is a standard error used across the web to indicate that a page no longer exists. As with dsIDXpress listing pages, when a listing goes off the market, that particular listing page NO LONGER EXISTS.
Ok, but why are 404 errors used?
Because dsIDXpress pages are actual pages of content we have to tell search engines (and visitors to your site) that the page no longer exists. For example, let’s say “Listing X” just sold yesterday and was marked in the MLS that it was sold. Let’s also say that this same listing was indexed in Google in your own site previously (before it was sold). Now let’s say “Buyer Y” Googled a phrase that produced a link to this sold listing. When they click that link to a page that no longer exists they will receive a 404 error. This tells “Buyer Y” that the page no longer exists. What it also does though, is tell Google that the page no longer exists but not because the link was clicked… Let me explain that next…
Once your website is indexed in Google and other search engines, those search engines will come back to your site regularly to check for new pages of content and other changes to your site (read our post on Google XML Sitemaps). One of those other changes they look for are 404 errors. When search engines find a 404 error for a page it tells them that this page is no longer in existence and should be removed from their search engine index. And thus, they remove that page from their index.
Why is this important?
Well, let’s imagine 404 errors did not exist and search engines didn’t use them to remove pages from their index that no longer exist. You then go to your favorite search engine to search for the latest and greatest book about weight loss, you click on a result and nothing… You click on another URL…again, nothing.
If search engines did not use 404 errors to remove pages that no longer exist, guess what you would often find instead of what you were looking for? NOTHING!! How frustrating would that be if search engines didn’t remove pages from their index that no longer existed!
And that’s why 404 pages exist and why 404 pages are returned for dsIDXpress on listing pages that are no longer on the market.
But that begs the question… Do 404 errors hurt my site or rankings in search engines?
Again, 404 errors are a perfectly natural part of the web. 404 errors do not count against you in search engines at all. They help keep the web and search engines clean and help people find valid, rather than invalid, pages on your website. New content is born and old content dies every day on the web. Search engines are aware of this and actually prefer that when you get rid of a page on your site, you return a proper 404 response.
So there you have it. That’s the scoop on 404 error pages. In a future post, we’ll show you some of the best 404 error pages so that you can get some ideas on how you might customize your own 404 error page like this one from Miamism:
As always, the comments are yours :-)