How to Fix Error 404 on Google Webmaster Tools

How to fix 404 errors:

It is probably safe to assume that the first time you took a look at the crawl errors displayed on your Google Webmaster Tools, you felt like throwing up your hands in despair. That sinking feeling is familiar to many website owners and webmasters, so there is no need to panic as yet.

Admittedly, it can take a significant amount of patience to eradicate all the errors, but it is not an insurmountable task. Before we look at how you can fix those errors, let’s define these errors specifically:

The major HTTP status error codes reported back by web browsers are:

  1. 404 Not Found
  2. Soft 404 Not Found
  3. 410 Gone

What is Error 404 Not Found

The 404 error status code is one of the most commonly displayed web errors.  This occurs when Googlebot tries to resolve a link but cannot identify a World Wide Web resource (usually a web page) associated with the provided link. The error could be as a result of any one of the following scenarios:

  1. You deleted a page but did not use the 301 HTTP code to redirect links to that particular page.
  2. The targeted page was renamed but no 301 redirect was applied to redirect browser requests.
  3. There is a typographical error (typo) on an internal link to your site which creates impression of a page which does not exist to the Googlebot
  4. Someone linking to your page from another site has a typo in the link they are using, pointing to a page that does not exist in your domain.
  5. You migrated your web address to a new domain and the subfolders fail to match up exactly to your earlier hierarchy and structure.

Implications and Solutions to 404 Errors and What to Do

Google does not use incoming 404 errors to rank your website. However, if the 404 errors result from links within your own site, they impact on the navigability of the site and may result in a significant ranking penalty. Make sure you fix these errors first.

It is usually a bit tricky to deal with 404 errors. On the face of it, it would appear as if redirecting all the error pages to the correct pages or the home page would be the thing to do. However, if you have too many redirects on your website, this may have the net effect of slowing down the entire site. Just make sure you use 301 redirects, and NOT Meta Refresh which is much slower.

Use your Google Webmaster Tools to analyze all the feedback that is available and determine if there are good links pointing to a 404 page. Once you find these links, redirect them using 301 redirect protocols. This is the way to go if you have recently renamed a page or moved to a new domain. If you have a large set of pages you want completely erased from your website’s domain index, it is perfectly OK to let them 404.

The rule of thumb when it comes to dealing with 404 errors is to check if the 404 is pointing from a page on another website. If this is the case, use a 301 redirect to point the traffic to a good page on your website. If not, leave it the way it is.

Soft 404 Not Found

If you have pages on your website which seem to have very thin content or which appear as landing sites, these may be classified as “soft 404” URLs. This classification is considered even worse than having hard 404 errors because of the problems which they create.

If you do have a site suffering from soft 404 errors, the best thing to do, and the simplest thing to do would be to correct them to make sure that Googlebot shows them as “hard 404” (Not Found) or “410” (Gone) error codes.

410 Gone

The Googlebot returns this message if the web page or other WWW resource has been moved permanently. In many ways, the 410 error is similar to the 404 error except that it is reserved to report resources which were known to exist but which are now not found. In this case again what you need to do is use the 301 redirect to point the Googlebot to the new location of the moved resource.

Other Common Crawl Errors

Other errors you are likely to have to deal with in your Google Webmaster Tools include:

  1. 400 (Bad Request) This error means that the server failed to understand the syntax and could not resolve it. 400 errors mainly result from typos and there is nothing much you can do about correcting them.
  2. Timed OutThis error is also known as a “DNS Lookup Timeout.”  This error simply means that the Googlebot failed to get to your domain’s server. Check your DNS settings to deal with this problem.

Fixing Server Errors with Redirect 301

There are a few common solutions you can use to fix various server errors including the following:

1)  Server side 301 redirects are the best way to fix the various HTTP crawl errors described above. If your website is run on an Apache server, you will need to access the Apache server’s “htaccess” file in order to implement a 301 redirect. If you are not sure whether this applies to your website, check with your web hosting provider first.

2)  If you use WordPress, there are free plugins you can use to fix HTTP crawl errors with. Of the most effective ones, try the Broken Link Checker.  Or try the Simple 301 Redirects plugin. These add-ons integrates well with your site and automates the process of finding and correcting broken links.

3)  If you do not use WordPress, then just Google a search for how to do 301 redirects. Put in the right keywords and you will find your answers. If you want to learn how to code 301 redirects for example, then this is a good link to check out.

4)  Some other webmaster’s find it easier to install a desktop app that searches for and corrects these errors. Unless you are completely certain about the effectiveness of such tools, we recommend you give them a wide berth. They are more likely to cause you grief than solving the problems you have.

Additional Resources

You might find the following resources and guides useful when you are searching for and correcting the error codes described above. It goes without saying that you need to register with Google Webmaster Tools first to enjoy the exclusive use of the data they collect on your website.

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