How damaging are 404 errors?

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404 errors are unsightly at the very least, especially if it is a ‘template and basic’ 404 page with no link to anything useful. 404 pages do annoy visitors to websites and audiences generally, and you would therefore think that Google views multiple 404 pages in a domain as a negative signal. Some clarification has been provided on this from a recent article and piece of research and in our latest post, we will take a closer look at this.

Google have concluded that 404 errors are actually a normal part of web crawling and as far as URLs in its search console is concerned, could amount to up to 40% of the links which are displayed.  Another thing which has been learnt recently is that webmasters can’t stop old URLs from continuing to be found after they have deleted – not even for the most clever and diligent SEO or webmasters. It has been made know that Google will continue to crawl deleted URLs for possibly years after they have been deleted and there is little that can be done about this.

These facts came to light following a question from someone who has a website of which certain pages had been deleted for 8 (yes 8) years, yet they were still being found when being crawled by Google. 8 years would seem farfetched for pages of a site to be found after they have been deleted, yet it is evidently possible.

When pressed further about this point, the webmaster asks if anything can be done to put stronger emphasis to Google that these pages have been deleted / gone forever / not to be found again. In reply, Google responded that once a page becomes live for the first time and is found, if it is later deleted then there is no guarantee that it couldn’t be found again. As it was once deemed useful, Google will still appear to ‘check’ it from time to time it is understood. To many people, that will seem strange and counter productive and totally defeats the point of a page being deleted, i.e. the idea is for it not to be found again by anyone. Google have urged users not to worry though, because a crawl will simply just find the deleted page, realise it was relevant once but then accept it is now deleted and doesn’t work anymore.

The important point for many webmasters is that 404s are not seen as a ranking signal or having a quality impact on a website (apart from the annoyance and frustration of discovering them as we alluded to earlier.) Google give the example of websites selling items with classified listings that once sold or expired, never have a reason to appear again. These types of websites would literally have hundreds of 404s, thus it would not be fair to penalise. The only problem would be if vital pages (such as the home page) return 404s which would be a different situation.

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