It has been common knowledge that when a link points to a 404 error, i.e. a page that does not exist, it has no SEO value. Bum links like this will not necessarily cripple your SERP performance, but they are not taken into account by Google and therefore will not do you any favours.
Even so, debate has raged for some time as to whether redirecting old 404 pages to new pages that do actually exist could hold some kind of SEO value. Debate which has been put to rest by Google’s John Mueller, who confirmed this week that no, redirecting old 404 pages does not translate to better SEO performance.
A Website Migration Warning
Mr Mueller was presented with a question by a concerned SEO, who wanted to know how broken links and 404 pages could be affecting their site’s performance. Having noted a significant drop in organic traffic, the SEO pondered whether broken links could be to blame.
Here’s the full question asked by the SEO:
“Another question is about the broken links on our website where our website has around 40k in pages and doubled the links. So we have around 20k of broken links caused by a migration gone bad from a platform to another platform.”
“Since then we started noticing decrease in organic traffic. We used to rank let’s say for 20k, 25k per day in organic traffic now we’re only getting like 2k to 3k or 4k at max. So do you think it’s a great metric to SEO ranking to remove this these broken links and 404 pages?”
He also explained that the migration took place about two years ago, sometime in 2020.
To which, Mr Mueller provided the following answer:
“My guess is for the most part that doesn’t matter anymore. So it is something I would watch out for with any migration because. Essentially the main thing you want to catch is the situation where someone externally links to your website and that link to your website essentially goes into nowhere.”
“So if you see someone externally linking to a page that is now a 404 page because you forgot to redirect it, that link is kind of lost. And if you see that happening at a larger scale then those links are things that you will lose and that can be reflected in the search results over time as well.”
“I’d say for a certain while you can still go back and add a redirect for those individual links that you see like that. I don’t know if after two years it would make a big difference unless there are really strong links that are going to your site and kind of being lost like that.”
In short, redirecting old 404 pages to new pages is not going to make any real difference to your site’s SEO performance.