What is a 404 Error?

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What is a 404 Page?

A 404 error is a common error that displays when a browser is able to communicate with a given server, but the server was unsuccessful in finding what was requested. When it pops up, your search is halted. 

Example of a 404 error:

404 error

Example of a 404 page with better user experience:

404 error

In other words, when this error displays, it means the page you are looking for cannot be found. This can happen when you type the wrong URL, if the URL has been removed, and when the web page you are looking for is not an actual web page. You also get this error if the URL of the page has been changed and when the web page you are looking for was once a live web page at one time.

A 404 error is the standardized HTTP status codes which are three-digits codes and range from 100 to 500s. Each code has a specific purpose. HTTP status codes are standard across browsers and servers.

Having a deeper understanding of error codes helps you with all your SEO efforts. In this piece, we go over the basics of 404s and how to fix them when they occur. Let's dive deeper.

Are 404 errors good?

Well, 404 errors are both good and bad. They are good because they will not hurt you negatively on Google search results for a low to a normal number of 404 redirect errors. On the other hand, if the volume of 404 redirects is very high within a short period, your website’s overall search rating will be hurt.

Is redirecting users secure?

Not once cybercriminals have used URL redirects to take advantage of users' trust, especially when financial gains are involved. They leverage URL redirects to trick users into landing on sites that contain malware, phishing, and other undesirable content. So whenever possible don't redirect your users otherwise, you might see all the handwork you have put going down the drain.

How to fix crawl errors

404 error

If you are a starter, do the following for your website to initiate a 404 redirect correctly.

  • Use Google Search Console to monitor crawl errors. Through the console, you will be able to see where Google crawls a site error. That way, you will discover where the 404 redirects are happening, and this will allow you to start fixing your website errors.
  • Use Google Analytics to monitor the quantity of 404 errors on your page. This way, you will determine the impact each error has on your users. This is particularly helpful if you have a PPC ad that directs traffic to a predetermined landing page. Precisely, Google Analytics guide you in directing all users who are activating the PPC ad 404 redirect errors.
  • Create a custom 404 redirect page. This is vital as it allows you to inform your users that they are in the right place. Make sure the page follows your brand standards for the best experience. You may also want to make it easier for users to navigate to pages they are looking for and your website. This can be achieved by adding a few popular links and a search bar. By doing this, you will not only help your users navigate your website to the information/pages they are looking for, but you will be able to keep them on your website, increasing your conversions. 

The impact of 404s on SEO

Here is how these errors impact SEO:

Loss in page rank

Your page is likely to lose its rank if search engines keep on trying to access it unsuccessfully. When this happens, bots send negative signals about that particular resource, and it can be removed from the index if this happens several times. Now consider that is your landing or home page and contain essential information. 

Definitely, the page won't be ranked. Not only that, if it is a product page, then it means your sales will also be hurt. That is not something you really want to happen.

Bad user experience

One reason why a site attracts more and more people is because of the excellent user experience. Now consider having a site that halts users’ attempts to view your products and services by displaying the 404s. No doubt, they will stop trying and probably give your competitors a shot. Additionally, if the bounce rate is high, search engines will note that and lower your ranking.

How to fix 404 on WordPress

By using the Redirection plugin. Here is how to use it after downloading and installing:

  • Once downloaded and installed, go to Settings and then 404 tab.
  • Tap to review any issues detected
  • Then fill the Redirect section with the URLs from which you want to redirect
  • Add the new URLs, the ones that you want to redirect to in the destination tab
  • Save changes

You can also use these plugins:

  • WP 404 Auto Redirect to Similar Post
  • Simple 301 Redirects
  • Safe Redirect Manager
  • Yoast SEO Premium

Redirecting a WordPress page without Plugin

Do this to redirect 404 to homepage:

  • Open your website's Cpanel and go to its root files.
  • Find a page named "404.php ".  Create a new 404.php page if it does not exist and add a code in it and save the file.
  • Once you save the file, your all 404 error pages will start redirecting to the homepage without any error. 

Better ways to handle 404s

The other way to handle 404s (we ask to try this approach), is by addressing each reason causing 404 redirects individually. For example: 

  • If you have deleted a page, see how to solve that as soon as possible. Learn more here.
  • Suppose someone linked to an article and made a mistake in their URL. Try to redirect the wrong URL to the right article.
  • Someone is randomly typing in URLs on your website just to see if something exists: a 404 is right. Of course, then your 404 pages could be useful in pointing them to the right spot.
  • If 404s are displaying because of a broken link in your template, fix it and then, redirect all the 404s to the right page. 
  • Someone is trying whether your website can be hacked through a specific URL, that 404 is 100% the right thing to serve.

Using 404 pages for good

404 pages come in handy is helping users find the error page or resource they are looking instead of closing the window or navigating to other sites.  These pages do a good job of turning potential negative user experience of encountering errors into a positive one.

Here are some links to add on your 404 pages:

  • Your home page, obviously
  • Most popular or valuable product or category pages
  • Some of your most popular blog pages
  • An HTML sitemap
  • A way for users to report a broken link or a contact page/form

Note that you can also add a search bar to your 404 pages to help your users find what they are looking for.

Should you redirect 404 to homepage?

  • 404s should not be redirected globally to the home page.
  • 404s should not always be redirected.
  • 404s should only be redirected to a parent or category page only if that is the most relevant user experience available.
  • It is okay to serve a 404 when the page doesn't exist anymore
  • Don't panic. 404s are normal.

Conclusion

Not all 404 redirects or site errors are bad. When used correctly, 404 redirects can be valuable to your website because you will able to keep more users on your website, which will in turn drive more conversions. By monitoring your 404 redirect errors through Google Search Console and Google Analytics, you will be better informed why users are experiencing these errors, and you will be able to know how to fix crawl errors when they surface.