Google On What To Do About 404 Errors In Search Console

John Mueller from Google recently responded to a query on Reddit concerning the appropriate actions to take when faced with a significant number of 404 errors appearing in the Google Search Console. In his response, John provided valuable insights into how to effectively navigate the Google Search Console Page Indexing report when dealing with the presence of these 404 errors.

404 Error Response


The 404 error response functions as a communication between a server and a crawler (or a browser). It informs the crawler that the server faced an issue when attempting to retrieve the requested webpage due to its non-existence. In essence, the error stems from the absence of the webpage itself. However, it’s important to note that this error is not inherently a problem that necessitates immediate correction. Nevertheless, there are circumstances where it becomes advisable to take measures to eliminate these 404 errors.

Reasons for 404


Reasons for 404

Let’s delve into some of the reasons behind the presence of 404 errors:

  • Outdated Sitemap: One common cause of 404 errors is an outdated sitemap that still lists webpages that no longer exist. It can mislead search engine crawlers and users, resulting in unnecessary 404 errors.
  • Internal Links to Non-Existent Pages: Internal webpages linking to pages that have been removed or no longer exist can generate 404 errors. It’s important to maintain the accuracy of internal links to prevent this issue.
  • Misspelled URLs: Sometimes, 404 errors occur due to typographical errors in URLs. These errors can misdirect users and cause frustration, so it’s crucial to ensure that URLs are correctly spelled.
  • Content Relocation Without Redirects: When content is moved to new locations on a website, failing to implement proper redirects can lead to 404 errors. Redirects are necessary to guide users and search engines to the new location of the content.
  • Spammy Backlinks: In some cases, spammy or low-quality websites may link to non-existent pages on your site. These links can trigger 404 errors, and disavowing such links may be necessary to prevent this issue.

In summary, while 404 errors are a common occurrence, they are not inherently problematic in and of themselves. They are merely signals that specific web pages do not exist. However, by understanding the root causes of these errors and addressing them systematically, website owners can enhance user experience, maintain search engine visibility, and ensure that their websites remain error-free and user-friendly.


Reddit User’s Query Regarding 404 Errors in Search Console


A Reddit user raised a query regarding the appropriate actions to take in response to 404 errors stemming from an abundance of web pages that don’t exist, primarily triggered by spammy websites linking to them. The question inquired as follows:

“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?”

Here is John Mueller’s response:

“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.”

Related: Google has announced the completion of the rollout of its spam update for October 2023


404 Error Is A Server Response


As previously noted, it’s important to understand that a 404 response isn’t always an issue in need of correction. As John Mueller has emphasized, when you’re certain that a particular page doesn’t exist, the server’s delivery of a 404 response is the correct course of action.

However, some individuals opt for an alternative approach by implementing a redirection to the homepage to eliminate 404 errors. This practice, though well-intentioned, can lead to the creation of what’s referred to as a “soft 404.”

It’s crucial to recognize that this practice is rooted in the misconception that a 404 is an error, when, in reality, it’s merely a server response – nothing more, nothing less.

The key takeaway here is that it’s entirely appropriate for a non-existent webpage to yield a 404 error response. The exception to this rule is when the website itself contains an error that is responsible for generating the 404 server response.


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