Google: Spam Links To 404 Pages Won't Hurt You

Jan 31, 2012 • 9:21 am | comments (13) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Bad LinksGoogle's John Mueller said in a Google Webmaster Help thread said that if you have bad or spammy links pointing to 404 pages, it should have no negative impact on your overall site's rankings.

John said not only should it not happen, he has never seen it happen. He said:

To be clear, I have never seen a case where bad links pointing to URLs that return 404 have ever caused a website any noticeable problem in web-search. 404s are a part of the internet, they're expected to be seen when a non-existent URL is crawled, there's no reason that I can think of where it would make sense to count 404s against a site.

What if you do find a case? Then John says, let him know.

That said, if you ever feel that you've run across a case where it is really causing a problem, I'd love to take a look at the details. Feel free to send me a note directly on my Google+ profile ( ) with the details that you've found. In this particular case (assuming you mean the site mentioned in the original post), those 404s are really not having any negative effect, and any changes in ranking that you're seeing definitely have other causes.

I don't get why a link to a dead URL would have any positive or negative impact anyway, but I guess anything is possible.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

Image credit to ShutterStock.

Previous story: Jef Poskanzer ACME Banned From Google AdSense


Jason Damas

01/31/2012 03:58 pm

I always thought that broken links were considered shorthand for poor site maintenance, and could cause reduced rankings like any other technical issue would? I've been telling clients this for like, seven years now, and any time we've cleaned up broken links we've seen a rankings boost. I thought this was one of the oldest tricks in the book!

Michael Martinez

01/31/2012 04:58 pm

In a followup comment John cautioned people not to generalize from that discussion (either way).  My only concern about large numbers of 404 errors (that Google reports) would be that the crawler is hitting the server with a lot of dead end requests.  That's not a good thing in itself.


02/01/2012 12:56 am

A popular site will often be linked to with 10,000s of different malformed URLs. It would be an insane - and as JohnMu says essentially pointless to try and fix them all. For example: instead of 

Craig Broadbent

02/01/2012 09:57 am

in theory, does this mean if you inherit a penalised site caused by spam links pointing to internal pages, you can let those URLs 404 and subsequently remove the penalty? 


02/01/2012 12:58 pm

Theoretically, Google can find links anywhere - on other sites linking to you too. If someone misspelled an address, and for older sites with affiliate links it's a very probable situation, than you think it's OK for Google to extend a punishing hand ???

prabhjot singh

02/01/2012 01:41 pm

Soryy but i am not agree with you

Jeff Weber

02/06/2012 02:58 pm

I've always been concerned about these links as webmaster tools reports them as broken and the number of spammy 404's I see regularly is a pretty exhaustive list from a wide range of garbage spam sites. Am glad to hear I was correct in not wasting time trying to remedy these.

Eric Scism

03/02/2012 07:08 pm

That's good to know. Even though I try not to have any 404's they are are bound to happen. So I'm glad you won't get penalized for them. 


03/15/2012 10:13 pm

why would anyone build links to a 404 page anyway? if you have a 404 or broken page just redirect it to your homepage.

Jacob King

08/09/2012 04:08 pm

Hrmm....nice conclusion here. Not!

Travis Brown

05/30/2013 07:27 pm

I think there is some important info here that people might be overlooking and generalizing because of. Some of it may be more a matter of the subtle distinction in terminology. For example, what John is effectively saying is that backlinks pointing to a 404 will not negatively affect the site that has the 404. The reason behind this is, 404's do not pass link value. That's an important distinction to make, and also why generalizing here can have us overlooking some very important things. So if you have some poor quality or potentially spammy backlinks pointing to a URL on your site that is giving a 404 error, you don't have to worry about those, as the 404 is not passing any link value from those links. So 404's don't pass link value. In general, a standard 200 HTTP status code or 301 redirect WILL pass link value. What does this mean? Say you move a page on your site and forget to properly redirect the old location to the new URL. If you had a bunch of high value backlinks to that old URL, and it is now throwing a 404 error, you just lost all of that link value. So, in effect, you just lost links from your backlink profile. That's not good, and you can see negative effects in terms of ranking as a result. So what does all that mean? Bad quality or spammy backlinks pointing to 404 pages on your site you don't have to worry about. However, don't ignore Webmaster Tools. When you see 404's in the crawl errors section, go through the list, click on each of them, then click the "Linked To" tab in the pop-up box. This will show you very quickly if that page has any backlinks. At a glance, you can do this and come up with a list of 404 pages that do have backlinks. Write your 301's for those to their new respective pages, or at least your most relevant current site pages, and now you've just saved yourself from losing that link value. Just to clarify, I don't think John was at all suggesting to ignore 404's. It's still wise to manage your site properly, do your due diligence, and fix technical errors where possible. Work smart, not hard, and make sure you're at least taking care of the valuable 404's with good quality backlinks.

Rajesh Prajapati

06/10/2013 06:30 am

Please explain why are you not agree with this.

Jeff Grant

03/12/2014 08:50 pm

Let's suppose a spammer register to your forum, it make a spammy post and it link back to the post from other spammy / low-quality links. You notice that and you remove the spammy post as well as the user profile, that's how you get a 404 (removed page) with spammy links pointing to it .. i also assume that redirect such pages to your homepage will pass all the trash to your main page.

blog comments powered by Disqus