What Is a 404 Error and How to Fix It?
7 min. read
You know the experience: you click on a link, eager to read the content. But instead of getting the information you want, an error appears saying that the page you requested is unavailable. It reads: “404. That’s an error.”
A 404 not found error is an HTTP status code that means that the page you wanted to access a website couldn’t be found on their server.
Did you know that search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, will get a negative impression of a website if it has too many HTTP 404 errors? Here’s what else we’ve found:
- A 404 error code is one of the most annoying things your visitors can come across.
- Apart from a negative user experience, high bounce rates due to broken links can negatively affect your SEO.
- If a user clicks on your page and leaves in a few seconds, Google will think that your result doesn’t match the user’s intent. As a result, it will rank your page lower in the search results.
Read our full analysis and tips on how to solve the issue below.
What Is a 404 Error?
Every time you try to access a link on the web or visit a site, you’re actually telling a server that’s located somewhere to send you a page. For example, when you go to Amazon.com, you’re telling the Amazon server that you want to see their home page.
This is called a request. The server then responds to your request by sending you back a page. And this system of communication is known as HTTP. If you were talking to a real person, it would go something like this:
You: I want to see your Today’s Deals page.
Amazon’s server: Okay, got it. It’s coming right away
Or, if there’s an error:
You: I want to see your Today’s Deals page. Amazon’s server: I’m sorry, I don’t know what that page is.
There are different types of HTTP response status codes. They all indicate whether a specific HTTP request has been successfully completed. There are five classes:
- Informational responses (100–199),
- Successful responses (200–299),
- Redirects (300–399),
- Client errors (400–499),
- and Server errors (500–599).
To be clear, when an HTTP 404 appears on your screen, it means that although the server is reachable, the specific page you’re looking for is not. Essentially, it’s a page that doesn’t exist or it’s broken. The 404 error code can appear in any browser, regardless if you’re using Google Chrome or Mozilla.
A 404 not found error can be displayed in many different ways. Here are some of them:
- 404 Not Found Error
- 404 HTTP 404
- 404 Page Not Found
- Error 404 Not Found
- HTTP 404 Not Found
- The requested URL was not found on this server
- 404 File or Directory Not Found
Why Am I Getting a 404 Error Code?
There are several reasons why you’re getting an HTTP 404 code:
- One typical trigger for an error 404 message is when the page has been deleted from the website.
- The page was moved to another URL and the redirection was done incorrectly.
- You entered an incorrect URL address.
- Although it happens very rarely, sometimes the server malfunctions.
- The entered domain name doesn’t exist anymore.
Broken links are often left for long periods of time after the page has been deleted or moved. The reason for this is that websites that link to this page are not informed that the site doesn’t exist anymore or that it can be found under a new URL. It’s common for websites not to check their external links regularly, leading to users trying to access a dead link. That’s why webmasters need to perform regular website maintenance.
How Can HTTP 404 Errors Damage a Website’s Ranking and Reputation?
Have you ever tried to access a page in search of some information only to discover a 404 error? What did you do at that moment? Chances are you closed the tab and went on searching for a different site. This is how the majority of users behave on the internet.
The more 404 pages you have on your site, the fewer time users will spend on the site. And the longer you have a broken link on your site, the more users will experience the error.
The search engine algorithms pay special attention to how users behave on your website. Their online behavior has a major role in the ranking process. And an HTTP 404 code is one of the most frustrating things your visitors can come across. Once they see that the content they’re trying to reach is unavailable, they will leave your site and go to your competitor’s.
Apart from a negative user experience, high bounce rates due to broken links can negatively affect your SEO. SEMrush has found that the bounce rate is the fourth most significant ranking factor in SERPs. Although Google’s algorithm may not directly consider bounce rate, it can indeed hurt your online rankings.
If a user enters your page but soon leaves without clicking anywhere, this signals to Google that your result doesn’t match the user’s intent. As a result, it will rank your page lower in the search results.
How to Detect and Track down Broken Links?
If you want to enhance the user experience, then get ready to find and fix your site’s 404 links.
Getting rid of your 404 not found errors will undoubtedly have a positive impact on your rankings.
Here are a few tools you can use:
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is an easy way to detect 404 pages so you can fix them. To discover all 404 pages, you need to:
- Log into your account.
- Go to Crawl errors → Diagnostics.
- Click on Not Found, and you will see a list of 404 errors
Analyzing your website with a tool like Screaming Frog can give you plenty of insight. Simply download the tool on your computer, insert the website URL you want to analyze, and start detecting issues.
To find 404 Page Not Found errors using Bing Webmaster, go to:
Bing Webmaster Tools under Reports & Data → Crawl Information
Here you can see if your site has any outstanding 404 errors.
To find 404 errors using a tool like Yandex Webmaster, follow this path:
Yandex.Webmaster → Indexing → Searchable pages → Excluded pages
Here you can select the pages that have the error using the “Error HTTP: 404” filter.
How do I Fix a 404 Error?
There are high chances that your website has some 404 not found errors. Before you start worrying, let us tell you that having a few broken links is normal. The majority of sites will have a 404 Page Not Found error sooner or later. However, what you should do is continually track them and fix them. Fixing the errors as quickly as possible is crucial in order to avoid users coming across them.
Now, the most crucial part: How can you fix an error 404? Here’s what you can do:
Redirect the page
The simplest and easiest way to fix your 404 error code is to redirect the page to another one. You can perform this task using a 301 redirect. What’s 301, you may ask? It’s a redirect response code that signals a browser that the content has been transferred to another URL.
Correct the link
To err is human and mistakes can happen. Sometimes, people can simply mistype a URL. If this is what happened with your 404 error code, make sure you go back and fix the URL.
Restore deleted pages
In some cases, people will come looking for a page that you have deleted on your site. People won’t stop looking for a page just because you deleted it from your site. Or, people might land on that page through external links. To fix this, you can always restore a deleted page. Unless there’s a business reason to keep that page removed. If not, when you want to delete some pages from your site, make sure you redirect them to pages that have similar content.
It’s basically inevitable: 404 errors will appear on your site. To avoid SEO issues and low user engagement, make sure you proactively monitor the performance of your website. Checking for an HTTP 404 is as vital as posting unique and high-quality content.
Check your 404s at least once every month and if your site is bigger, every week. Putting time aside to update your website and perform technical testing will help you stay ahead of the competition and keep those users interested.