Google’s Recommendations for Rectifying 404 Errors in Inbound Links

3 min read

John Mueller from Google engaged in a Reddit discussion regarding discovering and resolving broken inbound links. His nuanced insight highlighted that while some broken links merit finding and fixing, others may need a different attention level.


Reddit’s Inquiry on Free Detection Methods


A Reddit user inquired about a cost-free method to identify broken links. Their query was specific: “Is there a way to locate broken links akin to identifying expired domain names?” They clarified that they were particularly interested in discovering inbound broken links from external websites.

John Mueller’s Insight on Identifying and Addressing 404 Errors
Mueller suggested a method:
“To pinpoint broken and ‘relevant’ links to your site, delve into your 404 page analytics. Filter out your domain and review the referrers listed there. This method highlights links that receive traffic, serving as a reliable indicator.
For a more detailed analysis and visibility into links crawled by search engine bots, accessing your server logs can offer valuable insights.
Though a bit technical, this approach requires no external tools and likely provides a more accurate assessment of what warrants fixing or redirecting.”


Mueller’s Insights on When to Leave 404 Pages Unfixed


John Mueller guided scenarios where it might not be necessary to address a 404 page.
He explained, “It’s important to note that you’re not obligated to rectify all 404 pages. It’s natural for things to disappear, and that’s generally acceptable.
The SEO impact of resurrecting a 404 page might likely be outweighed by the effort required for its restoration.”


Deciphering 404 Errors: John Mueller’s Insight on Fixing Inbound Links


John Mueller highlighted the varying nature of 404 errors stemming from inbound links. He offered guidance on easily fixable instances and ways to identify and address those errors. However, he also mentioned scenarios where investing time might yield little results.
Unfortunately, the distinction between these two cases wasn’t explicitly outlined, potentially leading to some confusion.


Addressing Inbound Broken Links to Existing Webpages


There are instances when external sites link to your site using incorrect URLs, resulting in 404 response codes when visitors follow these broken links.
Identifying and rectifying these links is straightforward and beneficial.
Similarly, external sites may correctly link to a webpage, but if the URL has changed without a 301 redirect, it results in inbound broken links. These instances are also easy to discover and advantageous to fix. For further guidance, consider reading our URL redirection guide.
In both scenarios, the appearance of inbound broken links generating 404 responses can be tracked through server logs, Google Search Console, and plugins like the Redirection WordPress plugin.
For WordPress websites utilizing the Redirection plugin, diagnosing and fixing these issues is simplified through the plugin’s comprehensive report of all 404 responses. If the site doesn’t use this plugin, creating a .htaccess rule can address the redirection.
An alternative involves contacting the website responsible for the broken link and requesting them to rectify it. However, they may opt to remove the link entirely. In such cases, fixing it on your end is quicker and simpler.
Regardless of the chosen approach, rectifying external inbound broken links is a relatively straightforward process.


Inbound Broken Links to Removed Pages


There are cases where a webpage was legitimately removed, perhaps due to an event conclusion or the discontinuation of a service. In such instances, displaying a 404 response code aligns with the intended purpose, as 404 responses serve this function. It’s okay to exhibit a 404 response in these cases.
While some individuals may contemplate creating a new webpage to leverage the inbound link’s value, this strategy might need to be more helpful. The link pertains to content that is no longer relevant or beneficial due to the absence of the original context.
Even if a new page is crafted, attempting to redirect the link equity might prove futile because the essence of the inbound link is unrelated to anything beyond its expired purpose.


Redirecting a Missing Page to the Homepage: Soft 404s and SEO Implications


Redirecting an absent page to the homepage is a tactic some employ to leverage a link pointing to a non-existent page. However, Google categorizes these redirects as Soft 404s, nullifying potential benefits.
This aligns with what John Mueller hinted when mentioning, “You don’t have to fix 404 pages; having things go away is normal & fine. The SEO ‘value’ of bringing a 404 back is less than the work you put into it.
Mueller’s perspective holds certain pages should indeed be removed entirely from a website. Employing a proper server response, such as a 404 error, for these pages aligns with best practices.

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Shilpi Mathur
[email protected]