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In a recent discussion on Reddit, Google’s John Mueller shed light on a common issue regarding an abundance of 404 errors appearing in the Google Search Console (GSC). This dilemma often prompts website owners to question the most effective approach to managing or rectifying these errors.
Decoding 404 Errors
A 404 error serves as a signal from a server indicating that the requested page cannot be found. It acts as a message to inform search engine crawlers or web browsers that the intended webpage is unavailable.
Mueller provided valuable advice on how to interpret and handle these 404 errors, highlighting that their presence doesn’t always necessitate immediate action.
Common Reasons Behind 404 Errors
Some of the common causes behind a 404 error often include:
- The sitemap includes pages that have been removed
- Internal pages linking to non-existent web pages
- Typos in the webpage URL
- Content relocation without setting up redirects
- Spam pages linking to pages that don’t exist
Tackling 404 Errors
It’s crucial to distinguish between legitimate 404 errors and potential issues that require attention. For pages that genuinely do not exist or have purposefully been removed, a 404 error is appropriate.
Attempting to ‘fix’ this by redirecting such pages to the homepage can result in what’s known as a ‘soft 404.’ Mueller cautioned against this practice, as it might mislead search engines and users, potentially impacting the site’s credibility and ranking.
However, if the absence of a page is unintentional, it’s an opportunity to rectify the issue by updating links or providing suitable redirects to relevant content.
- If a page is not meant to exist, then the 404 error is an expected and appropriate response from the server. It signifies that the system is working as intended.
- However, if the missing page was supposed to be accessible, the 404 error is a reminder to address the issue.
It’s essential to consider the context of these 404 errors within the Search Console’s Page Indexing report. Understanding whether a missing page is intentional or accidental allows for a strategic approach to address these issues, ensuring a website’s optimal performance and user experience.
Remember, 404 errors, when appropriate, are a fundamental part of a well-functioning website, informing users and search engines about page status. By discerning when action is required and when it is unnecessary, website owners can efficiently manage their site’s health and visibility.