“Not found (404)” is a Google Search Console status. It means that your page responds with a 404 HTTP response code as its content doesn’t exist. It also indicates that the page didn’t get indexed.
If you manage a large website, it’s perfectly normal to find some of the “Not found (404)” pages on your website. However, the way you approach them may be essential for your user experience and crawl budget optimization.
Causes for “Not found (404)”
If you see “Not found (404)” in the Page indexing (Index Coverage) report in Google Search Console, it means that:
- Googlebot communicated with your server to retrieve a given page,
- The server couldn’t find the requested URL, so it responded with the 404 HTTP response code.
The general outcome for you is always the same – users also can’t find your content, and it doesn’t get indexed.
However, the possible reasons why the server responds with the 404 status code may differ:
Removing a page
Managing a website, it may happen that you accidentally remove a page. If it’s a crucial page with many links pointing to it, it may contribute to a significant traffic loss for your website.
But you may also want to remove your content on purpose.
Here are a couple of reasons why you may want to do that:
- Optimizing duplicate content that has no value for your business and users, and you don’t want to modify it.
- Having orphan pages that don’t drive traffic to your website, but you can’t link to them or redirect them.
- Addressing the out-of-stock product pages that no longer have search demand or backlinks and aren’t returning to your website.
- Hiding content you unintentionally published on the production site, e.g., during a website migration.
There’s nothing wrong with removing the page that doesn’t bring business value to your website or may harm its SEO.
And as long as you can’t address your issues in any other way (e.g., modify or redirect your content), feel free to set up the 404 status code.
Changing the URL structure
Your website is constantly changing, so it’s normal for some URL addresses to change with time.
But remember that if the link pointing to a page is incorrect, the server won’t provide users with the requested content because it can’t find it.
Another case is when you make a typo in a URL when manually adding links or typing to enter a given page.
Such mistakes may concern, e.g.,
- words with alternate spellings (optimisation vs. optimization), or
- adding spaces to a URL as they will be replaced by the %20 string (example.com/red-%20car)
The change may seem insignificant from your perspective. However, for search engine bots, even a minor difference in the URL address is interpreted as a different URL.
How to fix “Not found (404)”
First, browse the list of affected pages in the Page indexing (Index Coverage) report to check if they are the consequence of your deliberate decision.
Also, if you manage a large website, navigating your 404 pages is easier with an SEO crawler like Screaming Frog or WebSite Auditor.
Troubleshoot “Submitted URL Not found (404)”
Another thing you need to check is to ensure your XML sitemap doesn’t include any “Not found (404)” pages.”
“Submitted URL Not found (404)” was previously a separate status in the Page indexing report.
Now, you can filter your affected URLs in the upper left corner to ‘All submitted pages’ on the status page.
Ideally, as your sitemap file should only include pages responding with the 200 status code, you shouldn’t find any URLs on the list of ‘All submitted pages’ (or, as it was in the past – within the “Submitted URL Not found (404)” status.)
Otherwise, it may mean the following things:
- You don’t want the page to be indexed any longer – you removed a submitted page but didn’t update the sitemap file, or you updated your sitemap, but it contains the error page anyway.
Ensure you update your sitemaps every time you make changes on your side.
And remember that even though you implemented your changes, they won’t be immediately picked up. Check your ‘All submitted pages’ report again when Google recrawls your sitemap.
- You want the page to be indexed – you added your page to the sitemap but then removed the URL by mistake.
- Your sitemap contains URLs you don’t care about to get indexed. In this case, follow the best practices of creating XML sitemaps for SEO, as such an approach may waste your crawl budget.
If you confirm that your “Not found (404) pages shouldn’t exist and they don’t contribute to other issues, you can ignore the “Not found (404) status.
However, if that’s not the case for you or you aren’t sure how the “Not found (404) URLs may affect your website, read on for further steps.
Set up 301 redirects
Consider redirecting your “Not found (404)” page when you:
- Moved your content to another page that is semantically related,
- Removed your page, but you have another page on your website that is related, and you want your users to head there,
- Removed the page that used to deliver traffic or still has search demand for keywords that it targets, and
- Have many internal and external links pointing to your “Not found (404)” so you can pass a given page’s authority.
In the perfect scenario, after the proper redirect (and after Google recrawled the URL), the “Not found (404)” page will change its status to “Page with redirect” in Google Search Console.
Then, a given page remains not indexed, but users are (most often) automatically redirected to another page, and your accumulated PageRank is transferred to the page you point to.
However, remember that you shouldn’t rush to redirect your “Not found (404)” pages to contextually unrelated pages just for the sake of redirecting. Otherwise, it may contribute to other issues on your website.
For example, in the case of an eCommerce website, watch out for redirecting product pages to your homepage, as bots may see it as the “Soft 404” error.
Are you about to redirect your 404 page? Dive into our ultimate guide to redirects to explore the topic further and avoid possible mistakes.
When you think a given page shouldn’t exist so it’s correctly returning the 404 HTTP status code, ensure it isn’t extensively linked throughout your website and from external resources.
You can replace your internal linking to 404 pages with links to the related pages that respond with the 200 status code.
When it comes to external linking, you may contact the websites linking to you and ask them to update the no longer existing links. However, I understand that’s not always possible, especially if there are thousands of backlinks pointing to your page.
In this case, make a 301 redirect to an existing page (or consider creating new related content you can redirect to), or set up the 410 HTTP status code.
Analyze incorrect URL issues
You may find some URLs you don’t recognize as part of your website structure because they never existed. These issues are often the result of a user’s typo.
Start with analyzing how common these errors are. If they occur occasionally, you can ignore them.
But when you see that a specific type of error is commonly repeated, you should consider redirecting users to the right page.
The situation is slightly different when the URL is incorrect, but you can guess what page it is supposed to point to. Your further actions depend on where such a link comes from:
- If you added the incorrect link by yourself, browse your website structure to modify or update your links, or
- If the incorrect link is pointing to your website from an external source, ask its provider for the link update or make a redirect to the correct URL.
Remember that you won’t be able to predict and protect yourself from these mistakes. The best thing you can do is to regularly monitor the “Not found (404)” pages in search of frequently recurring patterns.
Set up the 410 HTTP status code
The 410 HTTP status code indicates that a given page was removed from your website.
Although, according to Google, they treat the 404 and 410 status codes the same over time, remember that bots need to crawl your “Not found (404)” pages to learn about their status. But as you don’t specify what exactly happened to your page (they only know it doesn’t exist), they may be more likely to come back to it and check if anything has changed.
Consider setting up the 410 status code as it:
- Underlines that your page is permanently gone from your website, and
- May remove your page from search results quicker than the standard 404.
Here’s what you can do now:
- Contact us.
- Receive a personalized plan to deal with your issues.
- Enjoy your organic traffic!
Still unsure of dropping us a line? Read how technical SEO services can help you improve your website.
Why you should optimize your 404 pages
Even though having some “Not found (404)” pages is inevitable, leaving them unoptimized may contribute to further issues on your website.
Here’s why you should monitor the way 404 pages influence both your business and SEO:
Avoid negative user experience
Most likely, no matter how users entered your “Not found (404)” URL, they weren’t looking for a blank page.
Seeing no content on a target page may create a negative user experience. And how users feel about your website directly influences your conversion rates.
Therefore, you need to ensure your visitors don’t feel lost when encountering 404 pages on your website.
A good practice is to create a custom 404 page that is not only visually attractive but, most of all, informs users:
- Why they see the “Not found (404)” page, and
- What further actions they may take on your website, e.g., read your top articles.
By creating a sound 404 page, you can encourage users to stay on your website even though they can’t explore the exact page they want to.
Learn how to create a custom 404 page for your website by reading my colleague’s article.
Save your crawl budget
Google doesn’t have infinite resources to crawl everything on the Web.
If bots can freely crawl your “Not found (404)” pages, they may never get to the more valuable pages on your site before your crawl budget is wasted.
If you think that might be your case, go for crawl budget optimization services to unlock your website’s full crawling potential.
Preserve your traffic potential and ranking signals
If you have many internal and external links pointing to your 404 pages, you shouldn’t leave them as they are.
In this case, consider the potential benefits of transferring the accumulated PageRank when making a 301 redirect.
By redirecting your pages, you minimize the risk of losing your traffic. And that may directly influence your business goals, like selling your products.
“Not found (404)” vs. “Soft 404”
“Not found (404)” can be easily confused with another Google Search Console’s status ‒ “Soft 404.”
Both these statuses indicate that your pages didn’t get indexed. You can find them in the ‘Why pages aren’t indexed’ table in the Page indexing (Index Coverage) report.
The major difference between these statuses is that with “Not found (404),” a page responds with the 404 HTTP status code, meaning a page doesn’t exist anymore. In turn, with “Soft 404”, your page responds with the 200 HTTP status code suggesting that the page was successfully requested even though there is little to no content or the page shows an error message.
While “Not found (404)” may be a consequence of your deliberate actions that you don’t have to address, you should always treat “Soft 404” as an issue to take care of.
Learn what to do if you see the “Soft 404” errors in Google Search Console.
Explore other 4xx client error statuses by reading our articles on:
- No matter the reason behind it, when the server responds with the 404 status code, it means two things: it can’t find your page, and Google won’t be able to index it.
- If you’re sure that a given page shouldn’t exist, consider setting up a 301 redirect to keep the traffic flow to another page and transfer the accumulated page authority.
- Create a custom 404 page to minimize the negative user experience and keep the visitors on your website.
- Sometimes, 404 pages may result from uncontrolled chaos on your domain and the lack of a proper technical SEO strategy. Contact us to receive dedicated recommendations to work with your issues.