We are currently supporting an enterprise customer with the implementation of a new one WordPress website. They are a multi-location, multi-language company and have had some poor organic and local search results in recent years. When we were planning our new website, we encountered a few problems:
archive – They had multiple locations in the last decade with a detectable difference in the URL structure of their website. When we tested old page links, they were not found on the latest website. Backlinks – When we conducted a backlink audit with SemrushWe discovered that in the past there were many ranking pages that had a backlink but no longer existed. translation – A large portion of their audience is of Hispanic descent, but their website relied only on a translate button rather than embedding manually translated pages.
Their last location was owned by the SEO agency they worked for…in my opinion; A very shady practice where the business owner is held hostage. So in the future we would have to create and optimize a new website from scratch… a big investment for the customer.
A crucial part of the new strategy is to capitalize on the three issues mentioned above. We need to make sure we include redirects to all missing pages (404 errors), AND we can benefit from their multilingual search users by adding translated pages. In this article I will focus on that 404 error problem – because it hurts your search engine rankings.
Why 404 errors are bad for SEO rankings
To make it easier for clients and businesses to explain, I always tell them that search engines index a page and target it for specific keywords based on its content. However, they rank a page based on its popularity – typically translated through backlinks from other websites.
So imagine that you have a page on your website from years ago that ranks quite well and is linked from various sources. You then create a new site where this page disappears. The result is that when the search engines crawl the backlinks or a user clicks the link on another website, a 404 error occurs on your website.
Ouch. This is not good for the user experience and the experience of search engine users. As a result, the search engine ignores the authority conveyed by that backlink and removes you from the SERP for the relevant keywords or phrases that the search engine user used.
The good news is that backlinks on a reputable website do not expire! As we built new websites for clients and properly redirected old links to new content, we saw these pages return to the top of search engine results.
If you have an agency that focuses on your organic search traffic (and that should be EVERY website design agency) or an SEO consultant that has NOT done this work, I believe they are really negligent in their craft are. Search engines continue to be a top source of traffic for relevant prospects with the intent to purchase.
So when you redesign your website, make sure you properly audit and redirect your traffic to new pages. And if you don’t redesign your website, you should still monitor your 404 pages and redirect them properly!
NOTE: If you are not migrating to a new site, you can skip directly to step 5 in this process to easily monitor and redirect 404 pages.
Step 1: Pre-launch audit of the current site
I’m assuming you can’t download or backup your current website here. You don’t need to complete step 1 if you have this access.
Now I have all the assets and every page on their current website. This allows me to correctly map each resource to the new paths on the new site (if redirection is required).
Step 2: Plan the site hierarchy, slugs and pages before launching
The next step is to examine its actual content and figure out how we can simplify and expand one Content library This is well structured and organized on the new website. Most of the time I build the blank pages in a deployed WordPress instance to have a later completion checklist for my writers and designers to work on.
I can check the old power URLs and Assets to repopulate the draft pages to make it easier for me to make sure I have all the content I need and that the new site isn’t missing anything that was on the old site.
Step 3: Mapping old URLs to new URLs before launch
If we can simplify the URL structure and try to keep the page and post slugs short and straightforward, then let’s do that. Over the years, I’ve noticed that while redirects supposedly lose some authority, optimizing them does leads to more engagement, which is reflected in a better ranking. I’m not afraid of it anymore Redirect a high-ranking page to a new URL if it makes sense. This is easy to do in a spreadsheet!
Step 4: Start import redirects in advance
Using the table in step 3, I create a simple table of the existing URL (without domain) and the new URL (with domain). Before I start the new site, I import these redirects in the Rank Math SEO plugin. Rank mathematics is that best WordPress plugin for SEO, in my opinion. Side note: This process can (and should) be done even if you are Migrating the site to a new domain.
Step 5: Start and monitor 404s
If you’ve followed all the steps so far, you’ll have the new website, all redirects, all content and you’re ready to go. Your work isn’t done yet… You’ll need to monitor the new website using two different tools to identify any 404 pages:
Google Search Console – Once the new website is launched, you should submit the XML sitemap and check daily for the next few weeks to see if there are any issues with the new website. 404 monitor of the Rank Math SEO plugin – You should use this tool frequently, not just when starting a website. You have to activate it in the Rank Math Dashboard. However, be aware that not every visit to your website from a URL that doesn’t exist will harm you. Many malware bots scan your website looking for code vulnerabilities. I Sort this report in descending order based on the number of results and then monitor the pages that appear relevant. Often the page is added if it is a new topic or redirected to an existing page with similar content.
For example, we launched a website for a dentist with multiple locations. One of the pages we identified with backlinks that wasn’t covered was an article. Baby teeth 101. The article was not available on the existing website. The Wayback machine only had an excerpt. When we launched the new site, we added a detailed article, an infographic, and social graphics with redirects from the old URL to the new one.
When we launched the site, we noticed that redirect traffic was now going from these old URLs to the new site! The site also received good traffic and ranking. However, we weren’t done yet.
When we checked the 404 monitor, we found several URLs where Baby Teeth ended up 404 Pages. We have added the multiple exact redirect paths to the new page. Side note: We could use a regular expression to capture all URLs, but let’s be careful at first.
The screenshot above shows Rank Math Pro, which offers the ability to categorize your redirects… a very nice feature. We also chose Rank Math Pro because it supports multi-site schemes.
The page is the second most visited page on the new site within months of launch. And there was a 404 page there for several years whenever anyone arrived! It was a huge missed opportunity that we wouldn’t have discovered if we hadn’t paid careful attention to properly redirecting and monitoring old links on the web to their site.
Rank Math also has a detailed article on how to fix 404 errors that I encourage you to read.