Google Webmasters Tools may look like Rocket Science, but it’s really not. One of the biggest issues people face is dealing with 404 errors. A 404 error pops up when a page on your site can’t be found because the link was incorrect or the page just doesn’t exist anymore.
Obviously having 404 pages in a search engines index sucks. It’ll hurt your site’s status with Google, Bing or Yahoo, not to mention people don’t want to go to a page without any content or information. Google Webmasters Tools is a great way to track your 404 errors and other various site issues but it can sometimes be confusing to a newcomer when you can mark those errors as fixed.
What if you mark it as fixed but it’s not? How do you fix a 404 error? Will Google ban you for life? Will your family disown you and leave you stranded in the desert without any pants?
Well hold onto your pants (and try to keep the meth manufacturing to a minimum) because it’s about to all become clear.
How to fix a 404 error:
In Webmasters Tools, look at your crawl errors. Is it showing any ‘Not Found’ errors (404 or soft 404)? If not, you can stop reading this now and pat yourself on the back because you rock.
If on the other hand like most people you do have 404 errors, open up the first one by clicking on it. It should show you details and some more information about it. Try visiting the link, is it actually showing as a 404? If it is, read on. If not? Mark it as fixed and you’re done, Google makes mistakes sometimes.
Ok, you’ve verified that it’s actually a bad link. But where did it come from? Look at the ‘Linked From’ tab back in Webmasters Tools and visit a few of those pages. Can you actually find the link on those pages? If so, try to remove them. This is easy if it’s your website. Not so easy if you don’t own it.
While you’re at it, check to make sure that it’s not in your sitemap. Wouldn’t want to keep telling Google to look for it after it’s gone. Ok, all those things done? If you can’t get rid of all the links in the ‘Linked From’ tab it’s not the end of the world. It’s worth a shot though if you have control over them.
The final thing to do is pop this sucker in between the head tags of your 404 page on your website:
<meta name="robots" content="noindex,follow">
This rule is the magic wand to get rid of 404 pages. This tells the robots (spiders) that crawl the internet for search engines to stop indexing the damn page and just move on.
After you’ve included that rule in the head of your 404 page (make absolute positive it’s not included in other pages!) just go through a half dozen of the 404 errors that Google Webmasters Tools is showing and ensure that the rule is displaying in the source.
Then go back to Google Webmasters Tools and mark all the errors as fixed! This should prevent 404 pages from popping up in Webmasters Tools too often. If you continuously have a ton of 404 errors popping up all upons the place, you should probably look into why that’s happening. Sometimes if you’re using a CMS it could create false links when you save drafts or you could accidentally publish a post before you mean to among a ton of other potential issues, but it’s impossible to guess at what all of those could be.
If you have any questions feel free to post below!