Google’s John Mueller answered a question on Reddit about what to do about the thousands of 404 errors reported in Google Search Console.
John’s answer clarified how to approach the Search Console Page Indexing report with regard to the 404 errors listed there.
The 404 error response is a message from a server to the crawler (or a browser) telling the the crawler that the server encountered an error in fetching the requested webpage because it does not exist.
The error is that the webpage does not exist.
It’s not an error in the sense that this is something to fix.
That said, there are situations where steps should be taken to make those 404s go away.
Some of the most common reasons for a 404:
Sitemap is listing pages that no longer exist
Internal webpages are linking to webpages that no longer exist
Webpage has a misspelled URL
Content has moved but no redirect was put into place
Spam pages are linking to non-existent webpages
The above is a list of six reasons I can think of off the top of my head. There may be more reasons.
Of the six reasons for 404 pages that are listed above, the first five are the ones that are website issues that need to be fixed.
The last one, 404s caused by external links to webpages that don’t exist, that’s something that can safely be ignored.
The person asking the question wanted to know what to do about 404 errors caused by spam sites linking to thousands of webpages that do not exist.
This is the question asked:
“I got an email from Google today about validating fixes in GSC. Most of the fixes relate to 404 errors for URLs that do not exist on my website.
It seems that spam sites have linked to pages on my website that do not exist, so I’m unsure how to proceed since Google wants me to “validate fix.”
Should I re-direct all of the links to our homepage? Should I just let it be?”
John Mueller answered:
“Just ignore them. If the page isn’t meant to exist, then having it return 404 is expected.
If you thought the page was supposed to exist, then this error is a good reminder.”
As previously mentioned, the 404 response is not always something that needs fixing.
If you know the page doesn’t exist then, as John Mueller said, the server is doing the right thing by returning a 404 response.
There are some who don’t want their server returning a 404 response. What they do is create a redirect to the homepage so that there are no longer any 404 errors. But that’s not a good practice because it creates what’s called a soft 404.
That practice is based on the idea that the 404 is an error. It’s not an error. It’s a server response, that’s all it is.
The takeaway is that it’s correct for a webpage that doesn’t exist to return a 404 error response.
Unless there is a mistake on the website that is responsible for the 404 server response.
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