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Google On 404 Errors And Search Console Validation Fix

John Mueller answers questions about validating fixes for 404 errors and whether it's worth fixing external 404 links

Google’s John Mueller answered an interesting question about what actually happens after clicking the “validate a fix” link in Search Console if the 404 status still exists. John Mueller explained what’s going on with that “validate a fix” function.

What Causes A 404 Status Code And How Should It Be Dealt With?

When a browser requests a webpage the server offers a response and a code that relates the status of the request. If the request for a webpage is successful the server responds with a status code of 200 (Okay). If the request was unsuccessful because the requested webpage does not exist at the requested URL address then the server will respond with a 404 (Not Found) status code.

How does Google Search Console (GSC) handle the validation of fixed 404 errors?

Dixon Jones, CEO of Inlinks asked a question about what it means to validate a 404 error response in search console when the 404 still exists.

He tweeted his question:

Hi @JohnMu – boring question… If a 404 means a page does not exist (and should not exist), what does GSC do when it tries to “validate a fix”?

It will still be a 404… so what drives it out of the 404 list? Removal of links To that page? Or should we start creating 301s? I assume not…”

Google’s John Mueller explained the purpose of 404 search console validation:

“It’s more if you accidentally 404’d something and fixed it. You obviously don’t have to fix 404s that you want to be 404s. Also, this is more about tracking for you (“I fixed this, tell me when you see it fixed too”).”

It’s not uncommon for publishers to accidentally remove webpages or to disappear because of technical issues. As a convenience to publishers (and to searchers), Google keeps rembering the location of the missing webpages so that it can start showing them in the search results again once the page returns, as John Mueller says, “…if you accidentally 404’d something and fixed it.”

What Causes A 404 Status Code And How Should It Be Interpreted?

The 404 response is called an error because the webpage requested from the URL does not exist and thus the request is in error, not that Google found and error on the webpage that needs to be fixed. lists the official Internet standards for HTML and the official description of the 404 Status Code does not even mention the word error.

This is the official standard for the 404 status code:

“15.5.5. 404 Not Found
The 404 (Not Found) status code indicates that the origin server did not find a current representation for the target resource or is not willing to disclose that one exists.

A 404 status code does not indicate whether this lack of representation is temporary or permanent; the 410 (Gone) status code is preferred over 404 if the origin server knows, presumably through some configurable means, that the condition is likely to be permanent.”

Technically, if 404 status is known to be permanent and the webpage is never coming back then the correct response is to show a 410 status code.

But Google treats the 404 and 410 response codes almost equally. The 410 response causes the webpage to drop out of Google’s search index just a little bit faster. But the end result is the same.

Is It Necessary To Fix All 404 Errors Including From External Links?

Jeannie Hill stepped into the discussion to ask about inbound links from other sites to the wrong URL.

She tweeted:

“Most of the 404s we don’t want are derived from external sources that fail to get the inbound URL right. Even Research Gate. Trying to correspond typically lags or has no response. Is it worth pursuing?”

John Mueller responded:

“Probably not. (Also “validate fix” is about checking the URL on your site, not the linking URL, so it wouldn’t apply there anyway.)”

Jeannie followed up:

“Thanks, @JohnMu for the response.

It is useful to identify these inbound 404s while “Validate fix” helps resolve internal linking issues.

We’ve resolved a few inbound 404s that we thought were more important. However, I question the value gained for the effort it takes.”

John responded with a commented on the value of spending the time to fix inbound links:

“I’d look at the traffic and not SEO-Juice. Are too many people getting lost when they want to visit you? That seems like something worth fixing if you can.”

The Role Of “Validate Fix” In Managing Internal And External 404 Errors

John Mueller made clear that the 404 search console report is meant to be a way to communicate that Google found missing pages. It’s up to publishers to decide what to do about them.

When it comes to external links to URLs that don’t exist, Mueller suggests that fixing those is not worth pursuing but I think most SEOs would disagree if the link is from a legit website. It makes sense to pursue fixing those inbound links by creating a 301 redirect from the malformed URL to the correct URL.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/tynyuk

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Roger Montti Owner - at

I have 25 years hands-on experience in SEO and have kept on  top of the evolution of search every step ...

Google On 404 Errors And Search Console Validation Fix

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