Finding & Saving 404 Traffic

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We all work super hard getting traffic to our websites but quite often I see traffic being thrown away on broken pages that seemingly never get fixed so in this post i'll show you how I find traffic going to broken pages, how to automatically get alerted to it and what you should do to make the most out of these pages.

Find Broken Pages In Google Analytics

If your 404 page has the Analytics tracking code and a <title> tag such as "404 Page Not Found" (as many do) then we can easily spot broken pages that are receiving traffic.

Sign into your Analytics account and go to:

Content -> Site Content -> All Pages

And enter your 404 <title> tag into the filter box. Then click into the 404 page listing to reveal which pages have recieved traffic as shown below:

Google Analytics screen showing how much 404 traffic the site has recieved by title

Create Automatic Alerts For Broken Pages Receiving Traffic

We can also get alerted daily, weekly or monthly within Analytics to traffic that is landing on broken pages. Again, login to your account and go to:

Admin -> My Profile -> Custom Alerts

And create a new alert. Below is how I like to have the profile set up to alert me daily if any page receives more than 3 visits - quite often this is a good number as it won't alert to me a single mistyped URL but it will let me know if there is traffic being lost that I need to investigate and correct.

An overview in Google Analtics on how to set up daily email alerts for pages that fire the 404 page by title tag

This is particularly handy if you run AdWords or other paid traffic to your site and you need to know fairly quickly if a landing page has been broken.

Find Broken Pages In Webmaster Tools

The above methods, while highly effective, lack the ability to tell us which pages are broken that no longer receive traffic. Pages that potentially still hold value that we need to redirect to otherwise correct.

The most effective way at finding these dead pages is through Google Webmaster Tools. Once you have verified your site go to:

Crawl -> Crawl Errors

You'll see a list of URLs that Google has identified that are broken. You can click into each and see where these pages have been linked from, if they appear in your sitemap and more. You can then work your way through the list and implement a solution.

A list of broken pages in Google Webmaster Tools

You can also use tools such as Xenu Link Sleuth and Screaming Frog's Spider Tool to crawl your own website and find broken internal links and resources.

A list of broken pages in Screaming Frog's spider tool

Saving 404 Traffic

Many variables come into play when deciding which is the best route to deal with your broken pages. I'd strongly recommend checking out this redirect guide by Cyrus Shepard if you've never done any before.

Below is my suggestion for the best way to go about business:

1) Redirect to the new page - If a close match or an exact match exists for the old page then use a 301 redirect to direct the traffic to the new page. However this shouldn't be used as a catch all - if you find yourself redirecting lots of pages to the homepage then you should consider points two and three.

2) Relaunch the content if you can - If you're already receiving traffic for a former page of content or product that you can put back onto the website then you should. Perhaps give it a refresh and breath new life into your pages. Again remembering to redirect any relevant pages to the new URLs.

3) If it's a dead page then let it die - Not every page needs to be fixed. It's perfectly fine to throw a 404 page and let a page die by itself. After a while the search engines will stop showing it in the SERPs and you can get in touch with any site owners that link to your page and kindly ask them to repoint it somewhere else.

So long as your 404 page is helpful to users then you've done your job! Direct them to what they need and let them be on their way.

Don't Be Bitten By Simple Mistakes

Websites are continuously evolving and you're bound to lose the odd page here and there by mistake. So long as you keep an eye on your Analytics & Webmaster Tools then you'll be fine!