Written by Melanie Phung, New Media Director, PBS Interactive
Inbound links are the currency of the web. Not doing anything about inbound links that point to broken pages, then, is like flushing valuable assets down the toilet.
Find and Fix Your 404s
Sometimes your site's error pages are due to broken links on your site, maybe as a result of a hiccup in your CMS or because you moved or deleted pages. Find where the links occur on your site and fix them. But also make sure you redirect the URL that generates the 404 and create a "permanent redirect" to the correct place.
Other times, the 404 error is caused because external sites are linking to you with the wrong URL. Maybe they accidentally put an extra space in the URL, misspelled something or just plain mucked something up.
If it's a high-value site, you may want to contact them and let them know about the bad links (and mention any other content they might also be interested in). This is an opportunity to build a relationship with the owner of the site and to ensure (if they fix the link) that you're getting the full value of that link in the eyes of the search engines. But regardless of whether you have the time to reach out to the linking site, make sure to redirect the mistyped URL to the correct location on your site if you can.
A 301 redirect (an HTTP status message that tells browsers and spiders that a page has permanently moved to a new location) will pass the value of the link to the right page. Cleaning up broken links is an easy way to recapture traffic and link value that would otherwise be lost.
How to do it: Check your server logs for errors generated by a referring link and/or go to your Google Webmaster Tools account to identify Page Not Found errors that can be redirected. Create a 301 redirect table mapping 404s to whatever the closest existing page is. Fix the sources of the bad links to point directly to the correct location, when possible.
For Google Webmaster Tools:
1. Log into https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ and select your site. (If you don't already have a Google WMT account, they are free to create and we highly recommend you create and utilize it. Use the link above to get started)
2. In left nav, expand "Diagnostics"
3. Click on "Crawl errors"
4. Select "Not Found"
5. Download the files
6. Fix broken links, where possible
7. Create 301 redirects pointing to closest matching existing page
Don't miss the others in our series about leveraging easy link opportunities:
1. Maximize Internal Links
2. Make Full Use of Related Links in your COVE portal
3. Promote Embeddable Videos
4. Fix Your 404s
5. Leverage Brand Mentions