What Google Says About Fixing 404 Errors From Inbound Links

In response to a Reddit topic regarding identifying and mending inbound broken links, Google’s John Mueller provided a nuanced analysis, pointing out that while some broken connections are worth locating and mending, others are not.

Reddit Question About Inbound Broken Links

On Reddit, someone questioned whether there was a free way to identify broken links.

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Here’s the query:

Fixing 404 Errors From Inbound Links
Screenshot from Reddit

If the inquiry was regarding an inbound broken link from an external website, the asker made it clear.

John Mueller Describes How to Find and Repair 404 Errors

In response, John Mueller said:

“You may look at the analytics of your 404 page and analyze the referrers there, filtering out your domain, to discover which links to your website are broken & “relevant.”

This displays the ones that receive traffic in reality, which is most likely a reliable proxy.

You can observe which ones search engine bots crawl and obtain more detailed information if you have access to your server logs.

It involves some technical work, but no additional tools are required, and the assessment of what can be fixed or redirected is probably more accurate.

John Mueller provides an answer to the query about locating 404 results brought about by malfunctioning inbound links and determining what should be “redirected” or “useful to fix.”

Mueller Offers Advice On 404 Pages: When Not To “Fix”

Next, John Mueller gave guidance on when leaving a 404 page unfixed makes no sense.

Mueller clarified:

It’s important to remember that 404 pages don’t need to be fixed; stuff disappearing is acceptable.

Bringing a 404 back has probably less SEO “value” than the effort you put into it.

Certain 404 errors need to be fixed, while others don’t

According to John Mueller, there are instances in which a 404 error resulting from an incoming link is simple to fix. He also provided advice on how to find and resolve such problems.
Mueller said that in certain situations, it’s just a waste of time.

The lack of clarification regarding the distinctions between the two could have led to some misunderstandings.

Broken inbound links to already-existing webpages

Sometimes another website links to yours using the incorrect URL. A 404 response code will appear on your website as a result of traffic from the broken link on the other website.

These links are simple to find and helpful to fix.

Other times, a third-party website will point to the right page, but the webpage URL has changed and the 301 redirect is absent.

These types of inbound broken links are also rather simple to locate and remediate. Read our article on when to redirect URLs if you’re unsure.

A 404 response will be generated in both of those scenarios by the inbound broken links to the current webpages, and this will be seen in server logs, Google Search Console, and plugins such as the Redirection WordPress plugin.

When utilizing the Redirection plugin on a WordPress website, troubleshooting becomes simple as the plugin provides a comprehensive report of all 404 results, which includes all the information needed to diagnose and resolve issues.

If the Redirection plugin isn’t being utilized, the redirect can alternatively be handled by hand-coding a.htaccess rule.

Finally, the broken link can be reported to the other website and asked to be fixed. There’s always a slim risk the other website will choose to take down the link completely. Thus, fixing issues on your end could be quicker and easier.

Regardless of the method used to repair the external inbound broken connection, identifying and resolving these problems is not too difficult.

Broken inbound links to deleted pages

In other cases, such as when a service was discontinued or an event happened, an old homepage was taken down for good reason.
Since that’s one of the reasons a 404 response should be displayed, in that scenario it makes sense to just display a 404 response code. A 404 error is a perfectly acceptable response.

Some may choose to build a new webpage to replace the lost page in order to derive some benefit from the inbound connection.

However, since the page’s original purpose has been superseded, the link to an irrelevant and useless item may not be helpful.

Although some link equity may still transfer to the page even if you construct a new reason, it is meaningless as the topic of the inbound link is unrelated to anything other than the expired reason.
Some people take advantage of links to pages that are no longer available by redirecting the missing page to the home page. However, Google views those links as Soft 404s, thus no advantage is passed.

When John Mueller stated the following, he was most likely alluding to these cases:

You don’t need to update 404 pages; stuff disappearing is common and acceptable.

Bringing a 404 back has probably less SEO “value” than the effort you put into it.

Mueller is correct; some pages need to be completely removed from a website, and a 404 error response ought to be the appropriate server answer for those pages.

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