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404 Errors from External links: Does this hurt rankings?

 7:48 pm on Jan 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

We are a minimally optimized, white-hat site with strong authoritative inbound links, PR5. ON 1/2/13 We saw a catastrophic drop in traffic at which point I started looking for answers.

In Google Webmaster Tools under crawl errors it shows "not found" URL errors from sites like scrapersite.com/refer/SpamJoZ24/?t=w&b=0&q=brand+Letter+series

Obviously I cannot fix these "broken" links to pages that do not exist on our site. I have always operated on the belief that nothing external can hurt rankings (lest sabotage would come into play). Could this be one of the reasons of a penalty/ranking loss?

Thanks in advance for your help!



 8:30 pm on Jan 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

They can hurt after a while but Google's been pretty good to us about not penalizing for the obviously spammy/scrapey looking ones or those that are wannabe search engines and link to you 5000+ times. The real internal errors we've have caused what appear to be some penalties when they go overboard and aren't redirected properly fixing those gets traffic back up.

Google has mentioned that 404s are natural up to a point.


 8:35 pm on Jan 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

Appreciate the response!


 8:38 pm on Jan 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

Those are the only URL errors (external). Hoping it's not something else :S I've been hands off for a long time and have migrated out of the SEO/marketing position, but we don;t have anyone else so I am trying to reacquaint myself after years of neglect...


 8:51 pm on Jan 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm sure they don't affect your ranking.

But, I worry about how it looks to someone who happens to follow one of those links. They would see an error on your site. Sometimes a good site will create a bad link to your site. So, some of the bad URLs may get clicks.

Of course, an easy solution is to have a good error page that provides info about your site and links the visitor can follow. But, I've done a little more on some of my sites. My 404 error page is a script which records the "bad" URLs in a database and updates number of times they are visited. Every once in a while, I sort the results to see which URLs are getting the most clicks and I set up a 301 redirect from those URLs to an appropriate web page.


 8:30 am on Jan 28, 2013 (gmt 0)

My top website (and some subdomains) is under this type of attack: in the last week GWT sent me a notification and I see thousands of external links from dozens of domains to non existing pages.

I don't see a significant traffic change, but my site has dropped for the most competitive keyword from page 1 to page 3.

Yesterday I used Google Disavow Links tool to tell Googlebot what domains it should ignore, but I don't think it will work.


 10:15 am on Jan 28, 2013 (gmt 0)

But, I worry about how it looks to someone who happens to follow one of those links. They would see an error on your site. Sometimes a good site will create a bad link to your site. So, some of the bad URLs may get clicks.

Time for log checking, then. Has anyone other than the googlebot actually tried to follow those links? All of them? Some of them? Any pattern?


 8:32 pm on Feb 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

After a bunch of research, I found that Webmaster Tools > "links to your site" showed a domain.ru (a Russian language PR checking site, I believe) link. Upon further review, I saw that it showed that Google first discovered it on 1/2/2013! That is the EXACT day our organic traffic plummeted off the cliff!

Sure it's possibly a coincidence but, here's my questions:

1) Could this ONE link harm a PR5, 3-year old site with historically strong rankings?

2) Would I need to use the Google disavow tool? I have never used it before...

Thanks guys!


 5:57 pm on Feb 8, 2013 (gmt 0)



 8:58 pm on Feb 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

That has got to be coincidence. Especially since the whole "links to your site" area recently went bonkers, as discussed in assorted other threads.

It's hard to see how links from one isolated site could cause your own site to plummet. Unless that one site is surrounded by special google flags that say Evil Incarnate, so the merest hint of any connection will kill you. (Are there such sites? Brr.)

It probably wouldn't hurt to disavow them. With emphasis on the "probably". It's a fairly new tool.


 9:33 pm on Feb 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

Yeah, it's so strange. The ONLY links we have are literally on .org non-profit sites within the open-source/internet world...truly frustrating!


 10:02 pm on Feb 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

404 Errors from External links: Does this hurt rankings?

No ... Why would they let me tank anyone I felt like by putting up 10,000,000 links to their site and their server responding correctly with a 404 error?

I don't think they're silly enough to make it that easy to tank a site when they're trying to find the One Right Answer for people ... It's much more likely links to 404s hurt the site(s) they're on, because why would Google want to send a visitor to a site where they're clicking broken links all the time if they decide to visit a different page or resource?

Actually, in thinking back to some other 404 threads and the 'careful wording' Google Employees use, they've consistently said 404s don't hurt, but I can't recall Any of them saying Links To 404s don't.


 10:25 pm on Feb 8, 2013 (gmt 0)

I dont think the 404s do any harm.
A site of mine was hacked about 4 years ago. I had a stupid redirect script in a page that was taken advantage of by p#%*n sites though I quickly removed the page and got it removed from G.

The site took a knock but recovered its position in a few months.
However WMT is still showing around 60,000 404s which are links with various paramaters to that non existant redirect page. Although i would like that site to do better than it is, I dont believe those links to 404s are hurting it - even if I worry that they might.

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