John Asks: “Hello. What do you do with the 404 not found errors in Google Search Console? Do you redirect or block them in robots.txt or anything else?”
Short Answer: 404 pages are not errors, they are a normal part of any website. Any page on your website that doesn’t exist should return a 404 page. You don’t need to redirect or block anything, Google is just letting you know in Search Console that you used to have an active page on those URLs that are now returning a 404. So don’t take that particular report about 404 URLs that are not indexed in Google Search Console as a negative point for your website, but more as a heads up or informative display.
Here’s the longer explanation:
A “404 Not Found” error in Google Search Console (GSC) indicates that Google tried to crawl a particular URL on your website but couldn’t find it. This can happen for a variety of reasons.
Handling these errors correctly is essential for both SEO and user experience. Here’s a guide to understanding and resolving “404 Not Found” errors in Google Search Console:
1. Why You Might See 404 Errors:
- Page was deleted: If you’ve removed a page from your site but it’s still being linked to either internally, externally, or both.
- URL was changed: If the URL of a page was changed without a redirect being set up.
- Typo in internal or external link: Someone might have linked to a non-existent page on your website, either because of a typo or some other mistake.
- Site structure changes: If you’ve reorganized your website or made significant changes to its structure.
- Temporary server issues: Sometimes, a page might be temporarily unavailable due to server issues when Google tries to crawl it.
2. How to Address These 404 Errors:
- Review the Errors in GSC: In the Google Search Console, go to “Coverage” to see details of the pages with errors. This will show you the URLs that returned a 404 error.
- Decide on Action:
- If the page was intentionally removed and won’t be replaced: You can let it remain a 404. Google will eventually remove it from the index. If there are valuable backlinks pointing to this page, consider redirecting it to a relevant existing page or to the homepage.
- If the page has moved: Set up a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new one using the Redirection plugin in WordPress. This informs search engines that the page has permanently moved and transfers most of the old page’s ranking power to the new one.
- If it’s a typo in a link on your site: Correct the link.
- If it’s a typo on someone else’s website: If possible, contact the owner of the external website and ask them to fix the link. If not, and if the link is valuable, consider creating a redirect or even a new page.
- If the page will be available again in the future: Use a 503 (Service Unavailable) status code to indicate a temporary situation.
- Enhance your 404 page: Make sure your 404 error page is user-friendly. It should have a design consistent with the rest of your site, clear messaging about the error, and links to important parts of your website to guide lost visitors.
- Recheck Old Errors: Over time, after you’ve addressed issues, it’s a good idea to revisit the 404 errors in GSC to ensure they’ve been resolved.
- Regularly Monitor GSC: Make it a habit to check Google Search Console regularly. Addressing issues as they arise can prevent larger problems in the future.
- 404 errors are not necessarily harmful. It’s natural for old pages to disappear, especially if you’re updating your site frequently. What’s essential is how you handle them.
- Google uses crawls to index the web, so if a URL is still showing as a 404 error in GSC long after you’ve fixed or redirected it, you might just need to wait for Google to crawl your site again.
In conclusion, while 404 pages are common (the most common page on the web you could say), they should be seen as just another page that doesn’t exist, not necessarily as errors