There are useful free blogging tools available on the internet that can be used to maintain the links in your WordPress.com blog and keep close track of them. The last thing you want to do is create “404” “Page not found” error pages. It’s a supreme disappointment to visitors, who may not choose to use the searchbox and explore your content to locate what they are looking for.
By definition a 404 “Page not found” is an HTTP status code. It occurs when your computer makes request for a specific webpage to the server and the server cannot locate that page. This error can be due to deleting a post or page from the site. It can be created by changing datestamps on posts. It can also be a result of a malformed URL, or by making a typing error resulting in an incorrect URL.
There are many ways that bloggers end up creating 404 pages including these:
- Publish a post or page and then delete it
- Publish a post and then change the date
- Publish a post or page and then change the URL slug (end part of URL)
- Delete images from your Media Library that have been embedded into published in pages or posts
- Move a post from one category to another
- Delete a category from a published post
- Delete a tag from a published post
- Delete a category from your site
- Delete a tag from your site
- Convert all your categories to tags
- Convert all your tags to categories
- Export your content out of one blog and import it into another blog without purchasing a site redirect upgrade
- Allow a domain name to expire
Publish a post and then change the date
Google wants to deliver fresh, relevant content, so in 2010 when Google Instant Search was introduced they made datestamps within blog posts a criteria by which they determine freshness of content. Permalink structure can be changed on WordPress.org self hosted installs and many bloggers with “News” blogs removed datestamps from their posts.
Ranking in Google News is determined based on a number of factors, including:
- Freshness of content
- Diversity of content
- Rich textual content which would help users searching for information to find your articles
The WordPress.org news bloggers were not alone when it came to removing datestamps, other WordPress.org bloggers in different niches followed suit. What carried over into the WordPress.com blogging community was (1) the perceived need to eliminate datestamps from posts and (2) a desire to change datestamps on older posts.
The permalink structure, which cannot be changed on WordPress.com blogs, includes a datestamp embedded in post URLs. While you can edit the posts and change the datestamps in the Publish module in WordPress.com blogs, I caution you to think long and hard before you do for three reasons.
1. Changing datetamps on posts that have been indexed by search engines means when anyone uses a search engine, gets back search results containing links to pages that no longer exist, and clicks those links they will get 404 “Page not found” error.
2. Changing datestamps also means that all the posts you change datestamps on must be re-indexed by search engines. As search engines do not clear their caches frequently. The result oc changing datestamps after re-indexing will be that the original links which will produce 404 “Page not found” error messages, and the new links will both appear in the SERPs (search engine page results) at the same time.
3. Changing datestamps on blog posts gives rise to the question: Who do you blog for? When researching it can be important to know the date a post was published on. Indeed some readers like myself may be annoyed when they cannot determine when it was published.
Note 1: If you delete the placeholder “Hello World” post on a WordPress.com blog then the front page of your blog will produce a 404 “Page not found error message. In this case all you have to do is publish a post and the error message will disappear.
Note 2: For the specific 404 “Page not found” error messages as they appear on free hosted WordPress.com blog themes see The 404 error message.
Note 3: “Don’t use the [Google] URL removal tool to get rid of pages [... ] to clean up cruft, like old pages that 404. The tool is intended for URLs that urgently need to be removed, such as confidential data that was accidentally exposed. If you recently made changes to your site and now have some outdated URLs in the index, Google’s crawlers will see this as we recrawl your URLs, and those pages will naturally drop out of our search results over time.”