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Tracking 404 Errors

Jon Volks
Written By | @webproninja

Tracking 404 ErrorsTracking 404 errors is an important task for every web administrator. Why? Visitors (and search engines) will loose faith in your website.  Lets get started. There are two aspects of tracking 404 errors that need to be discussed:

  1. Tracking 404 errors from links on your website.
  2. Tracking 404 errors from links on third party websites.

Tracking 404 Errors from Links on Your Website

To accomplish this we’ll need a website scanning tool to crawl the website and look for all the link elements. On small websites, you could always do a visual inspection. But it’s something I wouldn’t recommend. First thing to do is check with content management system (CMS) that your website is running to see if it provides any tools. Some do but most do not. If your CMS doesn’t have one, then there are a variety of third party tools you can use:

  • Xenu’s Link Sleuth – I’ve actually been using this program for many years. It’s a desktop application that goes through your site page by page and finds broken links.  When finished, it gives a nice report. The website to download the software is lacking but it’s solid tool. And it’s free. Note that it is a Windows only program.
  • Google Webmaster Tools – Google crawls your site and reports back any 404 errors it picks up. Now this report is actually telling you any pages that Google had indexed but are not gone. Most likely pages that you have deleted or renamed. It’s very useful during a redesign.
  • Google Analytics – Google Analytics is an amazing tool to track stats for your site (plus it’s free). But it can also be configured to track 404 errors. Default setup doesn’t do it but follow the link for instructions on how to set it up.

I’m sure there are many other scanning programs out there. But these are the ones I use on a consistent basis. Do you have one that you like to use? Share it in the comments below.

Tracking 404 Errors from Third Party Websites

Tracking 404 errors from third party websites isn’t done a lot by web administrators. But it is important to keep an eye on the broken links users are visiting. Why? Because when patterns emerge, you can send visitors to an appropriate URI instead of a 404 page. Better user experience.

To do this, you’ll need to setup something on your 404 page to track the URIs. Check with your CMS to see if it has the ability to do this. WordPress has a few plugins that can do this; 404 Error Logger, 404 to 301, or 404-error-monitor.

I like to use Google Analytics trick mentioned above. It’s helped me see many patterns that I was able to take care of and setup redirects.

Once you get the tracking setup, keep an eye on what comes in. If a pattern emerges, it’s a good time to setup a redirect on that URI. For more information on how to handle 404 errors, check out my previous blog post.

What do you think? Any tools you prefer to use with tracking 404 errors or broken links? Let me know in the comments below.

About The Author

Jonathan Volks is currently a Web Programmer at Skidmore College in Upstate New York. He enjoys everything about the Internet; from Search Engine Optimization to Web Programming. His hobbies include landscape photography and hiking the Adirondacks.

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