Welcome to the second part of our series regarding 404 Errors. If you missed it, we suggest that you go back to the first article on understanding what what 404 errors mean for SEO and User Experience.

HOW DOES ONE FIND 404 ERRORS?

  • Google Webmaster Tools

    We highly recommend this source because the errors are reported directly from Google. Locate 404 errors by logging into Webmaster Tools, clicking “Crawl,” and selecting “Crawl Errors.” The missing URLs will be listed under the “Not Found” section.

    How_To_Find_Crawl_Errors_404_Errors

    Click on the “Not Found” box to see the graph that shows how many total errors there have been over time and a chart with all of the current 404 error pages.

    Not_Found_404_Errors_And_SEO

    Download this as a .csv or click each specific URL in the chart to see more information, such as which URLs are linking to this page and when Google detected the error.

    How_To_Download_Crawl_Errors_and_404s

    From this view, you can also select “Mark as Fixed” or “Fetch as Google.” Marking as fixed will suggest to Google that the link is no longer broken and will virtually send a request to re-crawl the page. Fetching as Google is an option to view the page exactly how Google did when the bots crawled it.

  • Moz.org

    Another option is using a Moz account. From the dashboard, click “Search,” then “Crawl Diagnostics.” 404 Errors are shown in the “High Priority” tab.

    How_to_identify_404_Errors_with_Moz

    Similar to Webmaster Tools, this will generate a graph and a chart listing the 404 pages, which can be exported to a .csv file.

  • Broken Link Finders/Toolbars

    There are many free websites and browser extensions designed to find broken links, including “Check My Links” and “validator.w3.org.” These are useful for quick finds or when searching an external website for broken links.

HOW TO FIX 404 ERRORS

We highly recommend creating a custom 404 page for your website. Even perfectly healthy sites experience 404 errors, so it is important to facilitate visitor’s ability to get back into their flow. Here are the components that make up a fantastic custom 404 page:

1

Design matches that of the website

2

Links to a page that is similar to what someone was attempting to visit

3

Includes a header and footer with links back to important landing pages, such as product or service pages

4

Features an apology of some sort to acknowledge its waste of a user’s time

SETTING 404 REDIRECTS

  • 301 Permanent Redirects: If a product/service page has been moved due to a site move or URL change, 301 Redirects from the old URL to the new URL will quickly solve the problem. We recommend 301s specifically (as opposed to a 302) because they pass along the authority of the linking pages. Basically, this means that the transfer equity that the previous page had received from inbound links to the new page. This is a big deal if you don’t want to lose page authority.

  • Robots.txt: Sometimes a large group of pages, such as a category of products, get deleted or re-named. If all of these pages fall under a category folder, such as /watches, you can add this folder to the robots.txt file for the site. This will effectively tell Google not to crawl any of the pages that fall within that folder.

  • Correcting Misspelled Links: One of the great things about Webmaster Tools is that it tells you what pages are linking to broken pages.  By visiting that page, you can see if the link has simply been misspelled. If this is an internal page, this is an easy fix. If external, reach out to the site and request that they correctly spell out the URL.

  • Requesting Moved Links: On the same note, look to see if external pages are linking to an old 404 page that has been moved. If this is the case, reach out to them with the new URL. Generally, they are happy to change it and thankful that the mistake was pointed out to them.

  • Request Removal: Some 404s are lingering in Webmaster Tools from pages that have been deleted. If this is the case, when Google re-crawls the site it will likely notice that the page has been deleted, and the 404 will disappear. However, if it is a high priority or if the error remains lingering, you can submit a URL removal request in Webmaster Tools.