google john mueller indexing 404 search console

Decoding Google’s Approach to 404 Errors: Insights from John Mueller

Feb. 16, 2024 7:06 am PST – SEO Gazette | By Will Ten Eyck

In an informative exchange on Google’s handling of 404 errors and the Search Console’s “validate fix” feature earlier this week on an X thread, John Mueller provides insights into the functionality and purpose of these tools.

Key Points –

  • John Mueller clarifies the “validate fix” function in Google Search Console is primarily for tracking the resolution of pages that were mistakenly removed, not for every 404 error.

  • A 404 status code indicates the absence of a page, not necessarily an error that needs fixing. Google treats 404 and 410 responses similarly, with 410 leading to slightly quicker de-indexing.

  • Fixing 404 errors from external links may not always be worthwhile, according to Mueller. The focus should be on improving user navigation and experience rather than correcting every external incorrect link.

Understanding 404 Errors and Their Management

404 status codes are served when a requested webpage cannot be found on the server, indicating either an accidental removal of a page or a nonexistent page at the requested URL.

Google’s John Mueller clarifies the intention behind the “validate fix” option in Search Console, emphasizing its use for tracking corrections of mistakenly deleted pages rather than for obligatory error fixes.

The Technical Perspective on 404 Errors

The official definition of a 404 status code does not label it as an error per se but rather as a response when the server fails to find a current representation for the target resource.

This distinction underscores that a 404 response primarily communicates the absence of content, without implying a need for correction on the part of the website.

While both 404 and 410 status codes signify non-existent pages, they are treated similarly by Google, with the 410 status leading to a slightly quicker removal from Google’s index.

Dealing with External 404 Errors

This recent discussion extended to the challenge of handling 404 errors stemming from external links. John Mueller suggested that rectifying such errors, especially those originating from incorrect inbound links by external sites, may not be worth the effort.

This stance is grounded in the principle that “validate fix” targets internal site issues rather than errors in external linking.

Nevertheless, Mueller acknowledges the importance of addressing significant inbound 404 errors that could impact user navigation, advising a focus on traffic and user experience rather than purely on SEO benefits.

Article written by Will Ten Eyck, SEO Gazette LLC

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