Dead URLs from the previous CMS on this domain is displayed in SERP, most likely due to people still trying to access them through bookmarks or browser history. This traffic is picked up by Google Analytics, and probably causing these dead URLs to be prioritized because they are popular/often accessed.

This is all perpetuated because Wordpress is not responding with 404/301 when these ghost URLs are accessed.

Is there a way to force Wordpress to respond with 404/301 when visitors are accessing non-existing pages?

Right now visitors get served an 'empty' page, displaying only header and footer – no real content.

EDIT: Reworked the text in light of new information to clarify the problem.

Unwanted search results

  • Have you recently changed your permalink structure?
    – knif3r
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 21:39
  • No, but the domain had a different CMS a month ago. I think these old links are showing up because people have bookmarked them, and because they are not marked as 404 or 301, Google think they are still important pages that can be promoted in the search. Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 9:21
  • Moving to different CMS has changed the permalink structure and it can't overwrite them because it doesn't have a database with the old urls, also you might have made the database export incorrectly. When you move a website you have to make 301 redirects from the old pages so you can tell google that this pages are no longer active, currently you have indexed 404 pages, which are still visible in SERP and you will need to use the tool specified in the answers and sumbit a request for reindexing.
    – knif3r
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 14:30
  • Sorry, I see I wasn't providing enough details. By different CMS, I mean non-Wordpress (no idea what CMS it was, something proprietary I think). The new CMS is Wordpress, and a brand new site – no export from the old CMS. My problem is that Wordpress doesn't give a 404/301 when people access old URLs that is not present on the new site. Instead, the visitors get served a 'empty' page (only header&footer). Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 15:00

2 Answers 2


There are two WordPress plugins I've used for managing 301 redirects: Redirection & Simple 301 Redirects.

Either plugin makes it easy to define redirects from Old -> New.

WordPress Redirect

The WordPress Codex also has a guide to Creating an Error 404 Page. If that doesn't work, you may try contacting your web host to see if there's a configuration option you're missing.

  • Thanks, the Simple 301 Redirects plugin did the trick! The more advanced Redirection plugin did not work on my multisite, unfortunately. Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 18:04

Try the Google URL Removal tool (https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/removals), allows you to submit pages to be removed from search results if they have been altered (versus google cache) or removed.

  • 1
    I'll try this, but I am afraid that as long as there is incoming traffic to these links (from old bookmarks) they will continue to show up. I need to get wordpress to redirect these non-existent pages to the real front page, or to throw a 404, so Google understands that hey are actually dead. Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 9:25
  • Is the content different from what is seen in the Google Cache ? If so you should still be able to get it removed.
    – Analog
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 15:32
  • 1
    Google say "Do not use the tool to clean up cruft, like old pages that 404." Getting WordPress to return proper 404s and redirecting where possible is the better solution. Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 19:17

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