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Using Google Webmaster Tools To Clean Up Your (404) Act

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Here’s a quick link building (or link reclamation) tip for you.  Google Webmaster Tools has really grown.  Yeah, there’s still some squirrely reporting (like why my impression count is exactly the same every day), but the Crawl Errors function is vital for anyone who adds and removes a lot of pages, or has switched sites and URLs.

A client of mine recently got a new website.  More than a reskin, 98% of the URLs had changed (for the better).  With Screaming Frog and some insight on what the URLs were going to be, I was able to whip together a good .htaccess file to use.

The new site has been live for a few months now, and despite thinking I had the 404 issue pretty covered, I logged into the Crawl Errors tool in Google Webmaster Tools.


I thought I had it under control.  Clearly not.  But Google makes it easier than ever to fix.  Click the Not Found button, and take a look at the list of 404′s it gives you.

Ideally you can clean these up with a couple sweeping server redirects.  In my case I simply forgot to remove an old XML sitemap.  But the beautiful thing is that each resulting page can be clicked for more information:

That’s a pretty sweet link I was missing out on.  I made this my priority.  You might find some nuggets too with a fairly small amount of digging.

Are you of the video persuasion? Here’s the a screencast of the tactic:

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    The comments are do-follow. However, any comments that use keyword anchor text as the name will be removed.

    1. Anthony Moore
      October 25, 2012

      Handy little post here, Dr. Sebald.



    2. Travis Van Slooten
      October 25, 2012


      Thanks for the reminder about this hidden gem. I checked the stats for a site I recently purchased after reading this post and sure enough there were well over a dozen 404′s I wasn’t even aware of. I didn’t find any links from though:)

      Travis Van Slooten

      P.S. I’m glad I’m not the only one who edits his comments for grammar. There is nothing more annoying than reading comments on blogs that are filled with spelling and grammar errors!


    3. Zdenek
      October 26, 2012

      It’s a big improvement! I will check my sites and hope that there are not any “hidden treasures” like the one you found ;)


    4. Dom
      October 29, 2012

      It’s definitely much friendlier than it used to be. I would still like errors to be somehow permanently logged rather than disappearing on being marked as fixed. Sometimes, it’s hard to trace why there are all these individual weird looking rewrites everywhere. Just me I suppose.


    5. Jeremy McDonald
      November 7, 2012

      I’ve noticed that it has become much less daunting. Previously when I have to rely on SEOmoz’s tools for crawl errors, I find Webmaster tools now suffices. Thanks for the post Bill


    6. Rebecca
      November 24, 2012

      Great post and reminder. It is a little thing but it could really make an impact if you’re missing out on a great backlink.