Every webmaster knows that 404 errors are simply a part of life on the web, and while they’re easy to ignore, there’s real value in learning how to find 404 errors on your website. Together, these isolated problem spots can paint a larger picture and help you identify areas in which you can improve your website.
How to Find 404 Errors on Your Website with Google Analytics
If you’re looking for a solution to this ubiquitous problem, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve devised an eloquent way to take the first step in identifying the 404 errors on your site.
This incredibly handy error report works on any Googel Analytics (GA) account and can save you the hassle of digging to find active 404 errors. Before we start, make you’re logged into the GA account in question and click here: https://www.google.com/analytics/web/template?uid=Vwha4sfrRxS2Qg7f6Mokqg
Select the profile view you’d wish to run the report with (we’ll wait).
Now initially, the report will show no data, but don’t panic. We’re not done yet. Find the edit tab at the top left of the report:
This will bring you to the edit custom report screen. You’ll need to scroll to the bottom and find the Filters section. To make this report work for you, you’ll first need to go to your website and navigate to a page that doesn’t exist. We’re fond of http://www.yourwebsite.com/whatever, but feel free to run wild with creativity here.
Once you’ve found a 404 screen, just identify the page title (highlighted below). At Forthea, we’ve kept things simple and gone with the classic “404 Error” title. We like to think we made up for it with the ever-adorable basket full of kittens.
Returning to the GA custom report edit screen, you’ll just need to include the 404 error title as a filter and save the custom report, and voila! A complete list of all the URLs that produced 404 Errors over your selected date range.
So I’ve Found the 404 Errors, Now What?
While Google is generally sympathetic to 404 errors – by which we mean it won’t directly penalize your site for it – 404 errors hurt user experience, which could lead to a higher bounce rate and less time-on-site. That can affect your quality score and eventually your Google search engine ranking. So you’ll need to be proactive on this one and root out the source of the problem.
Top 5 Ways to Use This Nifty Report
1. Correct the Most Common URL Errors
If you discover that a specific URL is generating a high volume of 404 errors, dig into the URL and find out what’s going wrong. Are people going to the page directly? Is a sub-Reddit shipping 100s of users to the great beyond? By figuring out what’s wrong, you can better address the solution. For the most common errors, you can easily create a 301 redirect to marshal users to the correct page.
For example: one of our clients had 90 errant visits from Google in April alone just because Google placed a backslash at the end of the “/index.php” URL. Since notifying Google of its mistake is out of the question, I think we’d save a lot of time (and leads) with a quick 301 redirect.
2. Find Internal Broken Links
In the second tab of this report, “Bad Internal Links” is quite useful because it follows your internal 404 errors back to the source. While external links are beyond your control, broken links on your own site can actually cause Google to penalize your site. Luckily, you can fix this. Find these broken links and correct them at the source.
3. Locate Errant Links
While using the first tab (Bad Inbound Links), set the Secondary Dimension as “Full Referrer”, which shows you the page that’s directing you bad links. Now, if a search engine is directing you bad traffic, I’d resort to using a 301 redirect, but if you’re seeing a large number of redirects from a website or forum, this could be a great opportunity to reach out to them and cement that relationship.
4. Shared Failure
Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about users sharing broken links on social media platforms, other than keep an eye out and redirect them as you see them.
Again, the true value in this report is the long-term view of the site. Individual errors seem meaningless, but as they begin to build up patterns emerge. One of the most useful pieces of information on the report is the Segment Percentage. If more than 1–2% of All Sessions run into 404 errors, it may be time to analyze your site structure, URL structures, and figure out how to stop the bleeding.
We hope you find this report helpful. If you have any other nifty tricks in identifying and correcting 404 errors, please share them with us in the comments, we’re always excited to learn new tricks.