Virtually every internet user has experienced a 404 error at some point when attempting to access information from a webpage. When your webpage displays a 404 error page to visitors, this not only prevents them from successfully reaching the information they are seeking but can also significantly impact their impression of your brand, causing them to avoid engaging with you in the future.
Below, we offer a definition for this error, outline common causes, explain why they matter for your brand, and instruct you on fixing these errors before they damage your reputation.
What Are 404 Errors?
Every time a visitor attempts to visit a webpage, they submit a request to the page’s server to send you to a specific location. After a client submits a request, the server replies with different HTTP response status codes based on completing the request. Server errors (500-599) inform the client that the server accepted the proposal but that an error on behalf of the server prevented it from successfully responding.
Also referred to as a “not found error,” a 404 error is an HTTP status code that indicates that the webpage the visitor wanted to access is unable to be located on the server. In this situation, the server is reachable by the client but cannot successfully perform the requested action.
What Causes 404 Errors?
Several circumstances can cause your brand’s webpage to display a 404 error in response to a client’s request, the most common of which include:
- Your website operator moved or deleted a webpage or its content and neglected to set up a redirect to the new website.
- They relaunched or transferred your webpage domain and didn’t redirect the old URLs to the new domain.
- Some parts of the page’s URL have changed.
- They mistyped the URL in an internal link.
- Your URL was incorrectly written during the original creation or a later redesign.
- The client typed the URL incorrectly into the browser.
- The server responsible for operating the webpage has malfunctioned or been completely shut down.
- The connection between the server and the webpage is broken.
Why Do 404 Errors Matter?
The inability to access information on your webpage results in a frustrating user experience (UX) for visitors, meaning they lose trust in your brand and decide it is not reliable enough to follow along the conversion process. When faced with this code, the vast majority of users will respond by immediately leaving your website. Even one 404 error code can cause you to lose potential customers, but this impact becomes even more intensified when multiple pages feature these errors. The more error codes visitors receive, the less time they will spend on your site. The longer these codes persist, the more visitors will find them, and the more widespread the negative impact will become.
These errors also harm the search engine optimization (SEO) aspect of your marketing campaign. Dead links make it more difficult for search engines to effectively crawl your site, leading to a substantial drop in rankings on results pages. These algorithms analyze how visitors behave on your pages. A user that enters your page without clicking on anything or viewing your content indicates to Google that your page does not sufficiently match with the visitor’s intent. As high bounce rates comprise the fourth most important factor when ranking pages in search results, Google pushes your page further down in results pages or even penalizes you.
How Do I Fix a 404 Error?
To fix a 404 error on your webpage, take the following steps:
Step 1: Find the Error
You can find 404 errors by utilizing site crawlers, such as Screaming Frog. To use this resource, run a site audit, select “Response Codes” in the top menu and “Filter for Client Error 404” to receive a list of every page displaying this error. Site crawlers only show you broken links, so the best method is to use Google Search Console. Log in to this platform, click “Coverage,” and then choose the “Excluded” tab to view a list of all pages featuring 404 errors.
Step 2: Fix the Error
You can fix the 404 error in one of four ways:
- Correct the link so it sends users to the right place. This is the easiest and most straightforward solution for most errors.
- Redirect users to a different page on your website relevant to the initial search. Do not simply send them to your homepage.
- Restore the original page. This is the preferred option if the demand for the content remains high and there is no relevant page you can use to redirect users.
- Create a custom 404 error page. You can offer more valuable information to your users than a standard error page does, such as apologizing for the error, explaining how to access the desired information, linking to other relevant pages on your website, or even injecting humor into the situation. A custom 404 error page also makes it easier to use Google Analytics to track 404 errors in the future.
Step 3: Monitor Your Website
Regularly check your website using the tools described above to monitor dead links. Because functioning links can transform into dead ones for various reasons, it is imperative for website operators to conduct consistent, thorough audits of their pages. Failing to do so allows dead links to stay online over extended periods and cause more widespread damage.
Although 404 errors are an inevitable consequence of running a website, you can implement an effective strategy to manage them. By taking a proactive approach, you can prevent error codes from ruining your site visitors’ experience, hurting your brand’s reputation, and lowering your online rankings. Implement the steps above in your marketing strategy to ensure you can find these errors and promptly fix them before negatively affecting your brand.