SEO Anti-patterns: 301 redirect all your 404s to your homepage

Sometimes I encounter new “SEO hacks” that people apply, that are actually anti-patterns. One of these new anti-patterns I noticed is the pattern of 301 redirecting all your 404 pages to your homepage. Let me explain why this is a lot like cleaning up your room by throwing everything into a drawer and what the better solution would be.

The premise of this SEO hack

The premise of this hack is that 404 errors are counted by Google, and that through some magic the number of errors on your site affects your site’s overall ability to rank. The solution, that really isn’t a solution, that people come up with is then to start 301 redirecting all error pages to their homepage. Let me quote some of the reasons people give for doing this:

to siphon Google Page Rank (TM) from missing pages to the homepage

If you care about your website, you should take steps to avoid 404 errors as it affects your SEO badly.

I have a website, every time I login to Google webmaster tools, I found many new discovered 404 error links, the problem is not in 404 errors itself, but when Google see them and count them for you!

Let’s be clear: we’ll be the first to tell you that you should keep an eye on your 404 errors and try to fix them where possible. Google indeed shows a graph of your 404 errors in Google Search Console and lowering the number of 404s on your site is often a good idea. That doesn’t mean that your site shouldn’t have any 404s.

Let me go back to my analogy of throwing everything into your drawer when your dad or mom told you to clean up your room. Everything, in this case, means not just the dirty clothes, or your toys, but also that half emptied milk carton, that half-finished sandwich, etc. You know what that makes your drawer when you clean up your room like that? A mess. And soon your whole room will start to stink because you cleaned up like that. This situation is no different.

I verified this with Google before I wrote this article, see John Mueller’s response:

As John explains: when you do this blanket redirect, all those URLs are treated as 404s. So none of them spread value. So the premises listed above are all wrong. On top of that, by 301 redirecting all your 404 pages, you throw away the opportunity to find real errors on your site and fix them.

Better solution to 404s

The better solution for this problem of having too many 404s is much more granular. You see, 404 redirects can exist for lots of reasons, and each of those reasons has their own “solution”. For instance:

  • Someone linked to an article and made a mistake in their URL. If you can redirect that wrong URL to the right article: do so.
  • You’ve deleted a page, you should think about that and act properly, we have an article on that.
  • Someone is trying whether your site can be hacked through a certain URL, that 404 is 100% the right thing to serve.
  • You have a lot of 404s on your site because you had a broken link in your template somewhere (all too common): fix that broken link. Then redirect all those 404s to the right page.
  • Someone is typing in random URLs on your site just to see if something exist: a 404 is right. Of course, then your 404 page could be helpful in guiding them to the right spot.

How common is this hack?

Unfortunately, all too common. I encountered at least 3 plugins with major user bases on WordPress.org that do this, and only this:

Together they account for 240,000+ sites that show this behavior and there are probably a lot more.

Stop 301 redirecting all your 404 pages

Now, don’t take this as though we’re telling you not to 301 redirect 404 errors. We’re telling you to do it granularly. There’s nothing wrong with having a few 404 errors on your site, and you should definitely keep an eye on them. The redirect manager in Yoast SEO Premium can make this really easy to do.

The post SEO Anti-patterns: 301 redirect all your 404s to your homepage appeared first on Yoast.

Ask Yoast: Meta descriptions and excerpts

When you’re running a large and busy website, it’s practical and time-saving if you can reuse some of your material. Both meta descriptions and excerpts use a brief passage to summarize the content of a web page. So, it could be handy to use the same text for both. But how do you do that? In this video, Joost explains the easiest way to reuse your text for both meta descriptions and excerpts, and whether Google approves of this reuse.

Renee Lodens sent us an email with the following question:

“Is there a way to bulk copy the Yoast SEO meta descriptions to the excerpt field? Also, is this considered duplicate content?”

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page! 

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Meta descriptions and excerpts

So, what to do if you want to save time and use the same passages for meta descriptions and excerpts?

“Well, let’s start with the first thing. It’s probably easier to do it the other way around. If you put the description that you want in the excerpt field, and then in the back end, in the Yoast SEO Titles & Meta section, you can use the excerpt short code for meta descriptions. We will automatically put your excerpt in your meta description. That’s easier. You can do it the other way around too, but then you’d have to code a bit.

Is this considered duplicate content? No, it’s not. Because they are different things used for different purposes. Your meta description will only show up in the metadata, which will not be shown on the page. And Google considers these two separate things.

So this might actually work well for you if you write really good short excerpts that fit well into your meta description.

Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from followers. Need some advice about SEO? Let us help you out! Send your question to ask@yoast.com.

Read on: ‘How to create the right meta descriptions’ »

Yoast SEO 5.0: Site-wide SEO with the text link counter

Our mission statement is SEO for Everyone. On many fronts, we’re making good on that promise. In 2016, Yoast SEO added revolutionary checks to content and readability analysis features. Much of that year was spent improving and enhancing the content part of the plugin. In 2017, we’re fixing the site structure problem, by adding, among other things, an internal linking tool and cornerstone content checks. Now, we’re taking the next step: Yoast SEO 5.0 features a brand new, and awesome, text link counter.

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Improving your structure one link at a time

SEOs can probably build solid site structures in their sleep, but for the rest of us, it’s hard work. We need every kind of help we can get. This process requires a lot of work. That’s why we’re starting to make Yoast SEO a tool that can not just help you with improving your content and different kinds of on-page optimizations but transcend that to a site-wide level.

Yoast SEO 5.0 kicks things off with the introduction of the text link counter. It’s the first tool that looks at your site from a site-wide SEO perspective. We all know how important – internal and external – links are. The web is based on links. We all form connections that lead us from one place to another. Links build a site structure. We, however, often encounter sites that hardly use links to form connections between different parts of the site. Without a well-thought-out linking structure, there will be no site structure. But how do I link correctly? Is there a way to check the links I have on my site and how do I know which articles link back? Well, now there is.

yoast seo 5.0 text link counter

New icons in Yoast SEO 5.0. The arrow pointing out is the number of internal links in an article. The arrow pointing in is the number of internal links to this article. The traffic light is the SEO score, while the feather represents the readability score.

 

text links counter

Hover over the icons to see more information.

Yoast SEO text link counter

The text link counter in Yoast SEO 5.0 analyzes every part of your site and presents all the internal links found on your WordPress site in two new columns. The first one – the icon with an arrow pointing out – shows the number of internal links an article has, while the second column – arrow pointing in – shows the number of internal links pointing to this post. By browsing the overview, you can easily see which posts and pages are linked. You can also discover which posts don’t have enough links or which links could be improved. You might even find pages that have just one or no links at all. This way, you can prioritize the posts and pages you need to fix to build up your site structure. Read Marieke’s post on why you should use the text link counter.

We’re making this tool available to every user of Yoast SEO because we think everyone can use a little help in building a solid site structure. The absence of a strong structure is one of the main reasons many sites fail to live up to expectations. Let us help you fix it. We want to improve your site from a holistic SEO perspective and lower the barriers to do so. Every part of your site has to be perfect to be the best possible result.

To keep track of your linking structure, we have to add a table to your database. If you are running into problems with this, you can get more information in this entry on our Knowledge Base.

Enhancement for Italian and French

New features are cool, but we’re also still focussing on expanding Yoast SEO’s language abilities. In the past releases, Yoast SEO received initial Italian support: transition word and sentence beginning assessments. In Yoast SEO 5.0, we can now calculate the Flesch Reading Ease score for Italian. This way, you can see exactly what the perceptive level of the text is. We’re continuously researching better ways of implementing language support. In this case, after much deliberation, we’ve upped the maximum sentence length from 20 to 25 based on in-depth research into the use of the Italian language.

The second supported language we’ve enhanced in this release is French. Thanks to Sylvain Perret and Vianney Andre we can now offer full insights and linking suggestion in French. Full support for French is expected soon.

Upwards and onwards

Yoast SEO 5.0 is another milestone release that makes SEO a bit easier for everyone. We’re offering you a new way to look at your site and the content within. We’ve made links visible and usable, so you have to spend less time figuring out how everything is connected. Now, hit that update button and go work on your site structure!

Read on: ‘Why every website needs Yoast SEO’ »

Ask Yoast: Use a 302 or 307 redirect?

Redirects serve multiple purposes. For every occasion there’s a specific redirect that works best. Some redirects seem quite similar though, for instance, the 302 or 307 redirect. You can both use them to temporarily point users to another URL. So we’re not surprised some people wonder what’s the exact difference. Let’s clarify this here!

WordPress specialist Marcel Bootsman, also known as Nostromo on Twitter, has send the following question to Ask Yoast:

Can you explain when to use a 302 or a 307 redirect when temporarily redirecting a URL?

Watch the video or read the transcript further down the page!

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When to select a 302 or a 307 redirect?

Let me explain when to use which one, if you need a temporary redirect:

“Well it’s actually quite simple. If the URL is really, really temporary
please do use a 307. Only use a 302 if you want the URL that you are redirecting
to show up in the search results with the content of the page that you are redirecting to.

So you have page A with a URL and you have page B with a content. You want the URL of page A to show up with the content of page B in the index. If that’s what you want use a 302. If that’s not what you want use a 307. And if something is not temporary but permanent use a 301 redirect and not anything else.

Good luck!”

Read more: ‘Which redirect should I use?’ »

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer pressing SEO questions from followers. Need advice about the SEO of your website? Let us help you out! Send your question to ask@yoast.com.

Ask Yoast: Is my site structure too deep?

If you own a website, you have to think about the structure of your site, whether it’s a blog or a shop. Site structure is essential to help users find their way on your site and it helps your site to rank. So your site’s hierarchy needs to make sense to both users and search engines. When you’re creating one, you might wonder if your structure is too deep or too shallow. Let’s take a look at an example.

Milada Sejnohova, emailed Ask Yoast with the following question:

“How deep can I make the site structure of my blog? Can I make it for instance:

  • Elemis
    • products
      • anti-aging?”

Check out the video or read the answer below!

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Depth of your site structure

In the video, I answer Milada’s question:

Well of course you can!

First of all, if you have a products section, then it’s not a blog, it’s a website.

And two, your structure (products and then anti-aging) is a perfectly reasonable way of setting up your site. As long as it’s useful to users and it makes sense, you’re okay. It has to make sense for someone who has never been on your site.

What you really should be thinking about is: if I come to your site and I’m on any page on your site and I know that something should be there, do I know how to get there easily? Because that’s determined in large by your site structure. So make it as easy to understand as possible! 

Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from followers. Need some advice about SEO? Let us help you out! Send your question to ask@yoast.com.

Read more: ‘The ultimate guide to site structure’ »