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Increased 404 Errors and Sudden Drop in Website Traffic

6:12 am on Oct 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I have about 960 pages indexed in Google. Recently I received 2 alerts of "Increase in Not Found Errors: 404" in Webmaster Tools, first on Oct 12, 2013 in which 25 Errors were reported while second on Oct 19, 2013 in which number of error are increased to 37 Errors.

Since yesterday I've observed sudden drop of approx. 70% in my website traffic. Following are last 7 days stats:

Oct 14, 2013: 83 Visits
Oct 15, 2013: 103 Visits
Oct 16, 2013: 106 Visits
Oct 17, 2013: 107 Visits
Oct 18, 2013: 94 Visits
Oct 19, 2013: 24 Visits
Oct 20, 2013: 27 Visits

While reviewing errors list I found that last month I removed some categories from my website which resulted in generating 404s against deleted category pages.

In your opinion, do you think that it is the main reason of this drop? What is the solution?
2:08 pm on Oct 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I would appreciate if anyone from experts share their valuable thoughts on the issue!
3:16 pm on Oct 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

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The "Increase in Not Found errors" message is for your information only, to alert you to 404 in case you are not expecting them. If you have removed category pages, then, providing these 37 URLs are from removed categories, this is what you would expect in this case.

You should however check "linked from" for every of these 37 URLs to see where Google found links to these pages. If it is from within your site, and this is historic data (i.e. you are not any more linking internally to these URLs), then this should be fine. If not, check your internal linking.

As for the traffic drop, are you sure this is not a normal weekly pattern? Your post is showing your traffic data for one week only and the low traffic is for Saturday and Sunday. Many websites show a similar pattern where Saturday/Sunday are the worst days of the week. Perhaps you should check 2-3 weeks pattern and compare Sat/Sun from a week ago and two weeks ago before drawing a conclusion?

If, after checking 2-3 weeks pattern you are seeing the drop that is not explained by daily fluctuation, then you should analyse further.

For example, were the category pages you have removed were driving the traffic to your site prior to removing them. If not, where did you lose trafic - your analytics should show you which pages and you could use WMT Search Queries to see which keywords dropped in impression and clicks.
3:49 pm on Oct 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I have experienced a similar case on a much larger scale involving both 404 and 500 errors. When comparing the increase in 404's on the site with the decrease in traffic, the timing of the two was really too close to be coincidence.

But after we fixed the vast majority of the errors (the remaining ones being mostly broken links from odd search engines), we did not see the expected return in traffic. We experienced a small uptick in traffic, but nothing close to regaining the previous levels.

We are currently seeing another uptick in traffic, but this seems more to do with subsequent changes in links to our site and site speed rather than the 404 and 500 errors.

My suggestion would be to dig deeper and see what else in your site could be giving off low quality signals. 404 and 500 errors are definitely among these, but my experience on the matter has taught me that it's only the tip of the iceberg.
4:43 pm on Oct 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member lucy24 is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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last month I removed some categories from my website which resulted in generating 404s against deleted category pages.

When you intentionally remove a page, always include a line in htaccess or IIS equivalent to issue a 410. This tells google* that you've removed the page on purpose; it didn't just get lost. You can then ignore any wmt messages about 410s-- "Yes, yes, I know, I did it on purpose" --and concentrate on the 404s.

* A 410 makes google go away and stop asking a lot sooner. It doesn't seem to have any effect on bing.
5:32 am on Oct 22, 2013 (gmt 0)

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First of all thanks to everyone for contributing in this thread.

@aakk9999: All "Linked From" pages appearing against pages are internal which were automatically replaced with alternative category while removing those pages.

As far as traffic pattern is concern, on weekends normally my website traffic gets 15% to 20% lower then week days. Secondly, the category pages that I removed from my website were not bringing any traffic.

Today "Search Queries" data is updated in WMT which shows huge drop in impressions and queries as below:

Oct 14, 2013: 83 Visits | 5500 Imp.
Oct 15, 2013: 103 Visits | 5500 Imp.
Oct 16, 2013: 106 Visits | 5500 Imp.
Oct 17, 2013: 107 Visits | 4500 Imp.
Oct 18, 2013: 94 Visits | 4500 Imp.
Oct 19, 2013: 24 Visits | 600 Imp.

Now I am not appearing in top 100 SERPs on list of long-tail keywords on which I was appearing on 1st page earlier.

Here I would like to share few more insights about my website:

1. Website is 4 months old
2. All content is unique/genuine
3. Avg. time spent downloading a page in WMT is: 54
4. 2 Weeks ago I implemented RDFa format with title, description, type, url and image at my website.
5. Total 448 Inbound Links from Social Media, Personal Blogs, Article Websites and links from 5-6 Authority Directories such as Business.com.
6. Inbound Links are pointing to 77 pages of my website not home page only.

9:14 am on Oct 22, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I think there is more to this than 404's, our impressions are also falling & continue to get lower each week (13 year old domain).

Oct 14, 2013: 90 Visits | 1600 Imp.
Oct 15, 2013: 90 Visits | 1600 Imp.
Oct 16, 2013: 70 Visits | 2000 Imp.
Oct 17, 2013: 70 Visits | 1600 Imp.
Oct 18, 2013: 90 Visits | 1600 Imp.
Oct 19, 2013: 70 Visits | 1300 Imp.

(used to be nearer 4000 impressions & 280 visits)

We are also getting loads of 404 warnings as we removed a fair few pages that were never visited & out of date. However we didn't get any alerts & we had over 100 404 errors. All our 404 errors are from pages that are very old, we cleaned up the htaccess file at the same time. All links were internal, any external links are still redirected to a relevant page. However, we have another domain that has no 404's and that is showing the same pattern.