You’re browsing the web, and excited to find information you need. But then – disaster. You find a page that simply says “404 Not Found” or “Request failed with status code 404” and you don’t know what to do. What does “error 404” even mean?
While these are common errors anyone can encounter, they’re not fun for SEOs– because they know the dire effects this error can have on a page’s performance.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what 404 errors are, why SEOs should care, and what SEOs can do about them to save their page from negative consequences.
So, what does 404 mean? 404 errors are a class of Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) errors that communicate the status of a given webpage. There are many different classes: 400, 500, etc. – and each communicates a different type of HTTPS error.
In the case of the 404 error, it means that the page is not or no longer located at the URL entered: basically, it becomes a dead link. When the server is pinged to display the page, it will be unable to find the page, and will respond back with “Error 404 not found.”
Occasionally, you might find a cousin of the 404 error, “Error 400 Request failed” with an HTTPS status code. This means the server is coming up with an error around the request and ultimately cannot provide the requested page.
There are many different reasons you might come across a 404 error as it’s easy to accidentally create a dead link. Some of the most common reasons why 404 errors occur include:
These are just some of the causes of 404 errors, but they boil down to one thing: the content isn’t where it should be, and that can be a problem for your site.
There are many reasons why 404 errors pose a problem for a website. While it’s obvious it’s inconvenient for the user, this can translate into loss of conversions or sales on your site and broken trust on the part of your customers. If it’s difficult for them to find what they’re looking for, or they see a site full of broken pages, they’re less likely to use it or even visit the site at all.
There are also potential SEO implications for 404 errors. While Google doesn’t necessarily penalize for 404 errors per se, if it sees many broken links or missing pages, it won’t index them AND high bounce rates do eventually negatively affect search rankings. Additionally, any link equity passed in either direction won’t work as before: link equity going to a 404 page will simply not be utilized, and link equity from a 404 page will disappear.
There are many ways to fix a 404 not found error. To address the missing pages, you have several choices:
You can create a redirect that will automatically deliver your site’s users to a working page, so they never encounter the HTTPS error page. This way it’s not a broken user experience. For example, if a site has a page “/about-us” but not “/about” you might create a redirect from /about to ensure the user lands in the right place.
If the link that is driving to the 404 page is on your website, you can change the broken link to something that works. Internal links are a great way to spread link equity across your site, but that does mean that they require maintenance whenever you make changes on your site.
If the 404 not found error is due to a page on your site that you deleted, you always have the option to bring back the page and thus make it a functional link again.
If the 404 error happens largely around URLs a user might type directly into their web browser, then try and anticipate potential typos. Then, you can create URL redirects to the intended page accordingly. While this is an imperfect art, anticipating user error will make your site feel that much more professional in the eyes of the user. There are several plug-ins for websites on WordPress that can create automatic redirects to solve this. Our favorite is Redirection.
Another option you might have is to ignore the 404 error for now, but either way it is a best practice to create your own 404 page. This way it feels controlled and easier to maintain user trust.
On your 404 page, be sure to include:
With these best practices for error 404 pages you should be able to dramatically improve user experience and ensure they stay on your site – and keep coming back.
While 404 Errors are almost to be expected on any site that is dynamic and changing, they’re never fun to come across as a user. While you have several tools at your disposal to fix Error 404 Not Found pages, it’s important to do so quickly lest there be a drop-off in users or SEO implications. Be sure to crawl your site regularly and do what you can to repair links – and, barring that, make a customized 404 page that helps your users get to where they need to go.
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