Dealing with 404 errors can be a frustrating part of website management. You might one day log into Google Search Console and suddenly see a long list of URLs on your site that are returning 404 not found errors, indicating pages that have gone missing. Too many 404s can negatively impact your site’s indexation and crawlability.
So what causes these 404 errors, and how do you properly fix them? Luckily, by understanding the common sources of 404 errors and leveraging the right tools, you can efficiently detect and fix missing pages causing problems in Google Search Console (GSC).
This article explores different types of 404 errors, top fixes for broken URLs, steps for preventing future issues, and GSC tools to stay on top of crawl errors. Learning 404 error remediation best practices will save you from headaches down the road.
Identifying 404 Errors in GSC
The first step is locating 404 errors in Google Search Console (GSC). Here’s how:
- Log in to Google Search Console and click on “Coverage” in the left menu
- Select “404 errors” to view a list of recently crawled URLs returning 404 status codes
- Alternatively, go to “Crawl” > “Crawl Errors” to see 404s and other errors
Review the list for patterns and problematic URLs. Sort by the “Last detected” column to prioritize recent 404s.
Determining the Source of the 404 Errors
Once you’ve identified 404s in GSC, analyze them to uncover the source:
Mislinked Internal Pages
Many 404s are from internal pages that have bad links. For example, you may have changed a URL structure resulting in broken internal links. Filter 404 errors by including “site.com” to check for on-site sources.
Review recent content changes or migrations that could have broken links. Identify patterns in faulty URLs to hunt down sources. Update any incorrect internal links pointing to 404 destinations.
Broken Backlinks from Other Sites
External sites linking to your missing pages also may show 404 errors in GSC. Filter errors with -site.com to view off-site backlinks.
Reach out to site owners regarding broken links, or create 301 redirects to route the URLs to relevant active pages. Disavow low-quality links using GSC’s disavow tool.
If you intentionally deleted pages, errors will display for those URLs. Filter by URLs containing strings like /old-page/ to find removed content causing 404s.
Consider setting up 301 redirects from removed pages to similar relevant URLs that still exist on your site. This passes link equity and helps fix associated 404 errors.
Changes to URL Parameters
Dynamic URLs with changed URL parameters (like sort filters or session IDs) often trigger 404 errors after site updates. Review filtering and pagination links causing parameter issues.
Update templates, menus, facets etc. with updated parameter strings. Or set up redirects for major parameter changes that cannot be easily fixed en masse.
10 Quick Fixes for 404 Errors in GSC
Here are some common techniques site owners use to address 404 errors in Google Search Console:
1. Set Up 301 Redirects
Creating 301 (permanent) redirects from old 404 URLs to relevant new landing pages passes ~90% of link equity. This helps retain rankings.
2. Eliminate Duplicate Content
Consolidate or update duplicate URLs triggering 404s to prevent thin content issues. Point all versions to one canonical URL.
3. Fix Broken Site Links
Review site navigation, menus, internal links, etc to identify and fix broken references directing users to 404s.
4. Update URL Parameters
Dynamic URLs may require updated parameters (like changed category names) following migrations or redesigns.
5. Disavow Toxic Links
Disavow irrelevant, toxic domains linking to deleted pages using GSC’s disavow tool. This removes their ranking influence.
6. Reach Out to Backlink Sources
For broken external links, notify site owners about removed pages causing 404s so they can update references.
7. Resubmit Sitemaps
Submit updated XML sitemaps in GSC to re-crawl fixed URLs and remove 404s no longer in the index.
8. Fix Structural Issues
For widespread 404s, audit information architecture for structural flaws that may require redesigned URL hierarchies.
9. Re-Add Deleted Content
If valuable, republish retired content triggering external site 404 errors to retain backlinks.
10. Create Custom 404 Pages
Develop custom 404 error pages that provide relevant suggestions to enhance user experience. Include site navigation/search.
Prevent Future 404 Errors
Along with fixing existing 404 errors in Google Search Console, take proactive measures to minimize new ones, including:
- Actively seek out and fix broken internal links using link checkers like Screaming Frog
- When moving or deleting pages, always implement 301 redirects to route users and bots
- Perform link cleanups after migrations and redesigns to prevent referral 404s
- Closely track 404s in GSC and site analytics to catch rising issues
- Conduct recurring site audits to identify URL and linked content issues
- Educate content teams on URL management best practices to avoid creating orphaned pages
- Carefully plan site architecture changes to avoid causing mass 404 errors
Catching and correcting 404 errors quickly using best practices keeps your site’s crawl health in good shape. Prioritize fixes for pages with high search visibility, and monitor progress in Google Search Console. Eliminate easy 404 wins first, then tackle complex global changes triggering widespread errors.
404 Monitoring & Redirect Management Tools
Using 404 and redirect tracking tools can streamline identifying and fixing issues at scale:
- Screaming Frog Log File Analysis – crawl site logs to uncover new 404s
- Redirect Path – find and create redirects in bulk to fix 404s
- Moz Pro Campaigns – tracks crawling issues like 404 errors
- Datadog – advanced monitoring for 404spikes indicating problems
- Simple 301 Redirects WordPress plugin – easily fix 404s
Leveraging robust tools and GSC makes managing 404 errors less painful. However, preventing 404s in the first place via governance best practices is the best approach for long-term crawl health.
In closing, identifying and correcting 404 Not Found errors should be an ongoing priority to keep your site running smoothly. By implementing preventative measures, regularly auditing site content, setting up redirects for deleted pages, and monitoring Google Search Console, you can catch 404 issues early and minimize their impact.
Don’t ignore warning signs of creeping crawl errors – get ahead of 404s before they turn into bigger headaches that may negatively impact organic rankings and site traffic. Leveraging the fixes and tools outlined here will help you keep your site’s pages findable.