e-commerce 404 Fix

Running a successful e-commerce store is all about staying on top of the important details. From writing stellar product descriptions to creating seamless store navigation, e-commerce stores are only as strong as their weakest link. When that weak link is excessive 404 pages, considerable traffic and revenue loss often ensue.

What’s more, because it’s unclear how much 404s actually factor into Google’s ranking algorithm, it’s impossible to determine the specific side effects of having a lot of 404 pages on your e-commerce store.

But does this mean your site’s 404 profile should be squeaky clean or can you pick and choose which 404s you solve. After all, what is an e-commerce store and platform without continual judgment calls?

Let’s discuss which 404s e-commerce stores should fix and ignore.

When (and Why) 404s on E-Commerce Sites Matter

The first thing to know about 404s is that not all are created equal. 404 errors can result from incorrectly embedded links, (e.g., there’s a typo in your blog post that hyperlinks to the category page). They can also occur when a third-party site is links to an old page on your site that no longer exists. In this scenario, you’re not only providing a poor user experience like in the first example, but you’re also losing the backlink equity. If you see your 404 pages increasing at a steady rate, this is usually a sign that of an issue in your sitemap or coding.

In other cases, a user can simply mis-enter your URL in the search bar (especially from their phone keyboard), or if they click an improperly formatted or incorrect link. There’s not much you can, or should, do about these issues. You’ll typically be able to pick them out of a list based on their excessive typos.

When your 404s stem from broken links or pages that no longer exist, you should fix them. According to 404errorpages.com, 77 percent of people who try to visit a webpage but receive a 404 code make no additional attempt to access the site again. Though Google states that “404s don’ts harm your site’s indexing or ranking,” we do know that many users will bounce off a page if they land on a 404 page, and high bounce rates are definitely correlated to a page’s search-engine ranking.

How to Fix 404 Errors for E-Commerce Stores

For an overview of your store’s 404 pages, go to Google Search Console and check out your crawl report under ‘Crawl’ > “Crawl Errors.” This report will list all your 404 pages, including the error details and which pages link to the 404 so you get rid all traces of the issue.

From here you can decide whether you should fix the 404 or not. For external links to pages that don’t exist, set-up a 301 redirect to a closely related page to retain the link equity. For broken internal links, simply change the hyperlink to the correct URL.

For more granular 404 info, such as how many broken images are contributing to your 404s, regularly crawling your site with a tool like Screaming Frog or Netpeak Spider makes staying on top of 404s more manageable.

Cover Your Bases with a Custom 404 Page

As discussed above, you can’t prevent 404 errors from occuring on your store. All you can do is keep valid links open for navigation, redirect missing pages to the page that most closely relates or create new content to update non-existent pages. Oh, and there’s one more thing you can do to retain more of your bounced traffic: create a custom 404 page! Many sites are configured to display a default 404 message (i.e. “Page Not Found”), but that’s not enough to compel most users to stay on your site.

A custom 404 page, as its name implies, can be crafted various ways. At minimum, it should clearly describe the problem. Treat the your 404 page copy more as a piece of marketing copy and less as technical instructions. Keep your 404 page branded with your logo, colors, and possibly an engaging image design that reinforces your copy.

The user has landed on an empty page, but their journey isn’t over yet. The goal is to make them see past the non-existent page they’re on and continue browsing your store. There are many ways this can be accomplished. Above all, you might want to include a few links to top-level pages as well as a search bar and FAQ link. You can also leverage social proof by displaying items that other customers liked if the user was attempting to visit a product page. Or if the 404 error is derived from a blog post, you can include links to your most popular articles. Then of course there’s always the broader strategy of including a map of all your category links. If you’re blanking on inspiration, look at this roundup of custom 404 page examples from ecommerce platform provider Shopify to see what resonates with you.

When it comes to deciding which 404s should you fix and ignore for e-commerce, put user experience at the top of your criteria. Then consider the effect your 404s (or how you handle them) impact Google’s ability to crawl and index your site. And when you’re unsure how to proceed, always take recommendations straight from the horse’s mouth.

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