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Ugly 404 Pages: How to Find Them on Your Site & Why They Should be Removed ASAP

March 9th, 2009 | | Crawlability

What is a 404 page?

The dreaded 404 error pages are not only annoying to users and create a bad experience, but they’re also not good for the search engines and crawlability of your site either.  The 404 or Not Found error message is an HTTP response code that says the client was able to communicate with the server but the server could not find what was requested, or it was configured not to fulfill the request.


How do 404 pages occur?

A 404 error page occurs when the URL of a page is moved and not redirected or when the URL is removed altogether.  A 404 not found page could also happen if someone types in the wrong URL indirectly or if someone links to your site with the wrong URL.  Either way, you need to get this fixed ASAP in order for your site to be crawled appropriately, indexed and liked by the search engines.

How do 404 pages affect SEO?

If you have a large number of 404 error pages the search engines may think that your site is under construction and this can reduce your search engine rankings. Also, the search engines essentially have two options when coming to a 404 page, they either hit the back button or exit your site altogether. Neither of these two options is very good for the end user or your site.  Some 404 error pages can also deliver a 200 code, which actually tells the search engines its okay to index this page.  The last thing you want is for Google to spend time indexing pages on your site that are not available.  Finally and most importantly, the search engines are not going to index a 404 page (that is actually throwing the 404 code).

How to find 404 not found pages within your site:

The first step to finding pages on your site that 404, is to go to your Google Webmaster tools account. In the overview section of GWMT, you will see near the bottom where it says, ‘web crawl errors’ there is a row named ‘Not Found’ – if you  have pages on your site that are 404′ing then there will be a number listed just to the right of the not found row.  Click on ‘details’ to the right of that number to see an actual list of the page URL addresses’ that are 404′ing.  You can export this list into an Excel or CSV file which is great to send to your IT team to get fixed.


How to get them fixed:

There are several ways you can go about getting your 404 pages fixed.

  1. You can update the page and provide content on that URL.
  2. You can set up a 301 redirect and send traffic from one URL to another URL that contains content.
  3. You can create a custom 404 page which is the best possible option. Creating a custom 404 page can provide users a more positive experience and will give them an option to click back to your homepage or an identical page they were trying to get to in the first place.

In conclusion, you should be looking at your Google WMT account frequently to find any error pages that are occurring on your site. If you do find them, be sure to fix them quickly. The best alternative is to create that custom 404 page to provide your users with the best experience possible, because slipups can and will happen!

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