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Traffic drop after we created a 404 spike

     
3:37 pm on May 1, 2013 (gmt 0)

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We've experienced a sudden drop in traffic since Nov 16th 2012, then a slow day-by-day for the past couple of months. Because of this, I've searched the site for any low quality pages that I can remove in case there was something triggering panda/penguin.

Things like tag pages and some older low quality forum posts have been removed, but this has caused a significant number of 404 errors (there should be no links to these pages from our site now, as the tag generation links and threads no longer exist).

After we did this, overal traffic seemed to decline rapidly - even though those pages received minimal traffic.

Has anyone seen a rapid traffic drop when a large number of 404 appears (excluding the traffic you'd expect to lose from those pages)? Does this recover after time or is the traffic drop a co-incidence?
6:07 pm on May 1, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Any moment now, a flood of top blokes will come and post that it doesn't work that way, but, as you've found out, yes it does for quite a few folk
2:24 am on May 2, 2013 (gmt 0)

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When the 404s are generated from a site's own changes, it can definitely work that way and take a good many months to recover. The only time 404 spikes seem harmless to me is when they are only external backlinks.
2:57 am on May 2, 2013 (gmt 0)

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What tedster said.

Don't think about or pay attention to what Google says wrt 404s not harming a site; it's been reported on many occasions here when 404s are internal traffic decreases often follow, especially if there are links to 404 pages. (I understand links to 404 pages are should not be present in your specific situation, but I think it's definitely relevant for future readers experiencing traffic drops due to 404 issues.)
10:12 am on May 2, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for the replies. Has anyone experienced a full recovery from this and if so, how long did you have to wait? I'm hoping that "many months" isn't too long ;).
11:19 am on May 2, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Four months in one case, seven in another. Both were poor configurations in the CMS that generated bad backlinks we needed to 404.
3:33 pm on May 2, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Eek, looks like I'm going to have to wait this one out then!
5:59 pm on May 2, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Redirecting these 404 from deleted pages to an internal page (sitemap for example) will not help better?

I also deleted some pages that gives 404 now, in WMT i see at 404 "Links to this page" my own pages. Links to deleted pages does not exist on those pages from WMT, but probably Google often check cached page, this does not makes sense for me.
6:25 pm on May 2, 2013 (gmt 0)

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That's one of things it takes a while for Google to clean up. Just make sure YOUR business has eliminated all the old, now bad, links.

Redirecting these 404 from deleted pages to an internal page

Please don''t so that. It can look like a quick fix, but there can be long term trouble by using a 301 or 302 redirect instead of a 404 or 410 response (bitter experiences.)

If you're concerned about the user experience, use a custom error page with links on them, but make sure that the HTTP status is either 404 or 410.
3:01 pm on May 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

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ted is right.

Errors generated by webmaster can hurt their website but not if they are generated externally (meaning other website linked wrongly to your pages)

I am one of them who "shot themselves in the foot". A plugin conflict generated over a hundred thousand not found errors in Google Webmaster Tools. Traffic started to dip and I am still waiting for recovery.
 

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