Everyone online has encountered 404 errors at some point in their browsing history. Simply put, a 404 error is the message you see when you try to go to a page that doesn’t exist on a particular domain. You can what your site’s 404 error page looks like easily, by making up a page on your domain, for example techte.am/error. Because there’s no “error” page on techte.am, it displays a 404 Not Found message.
I found 404 errors
People stumble across error messages all the time. Because all a 404 means is that page doesn’t appear on a site, there are a number of reasons why you might see it. Firstly, it could be something as simple as a typo. Techte.am/contact takes you to an active page, but if you type techte.am/contatc into your browser, you’ll see a 404 error. This isn’t the site’s fault, and doesn’t mean anything’s wrong that needs to be (or can be) fixed. It’s just a mistake.
Then why should I worry?
Not all 404 errors are caused by simple mistakes. Say you made a page titled “Guide to My Site” with the slug
/guide-to-my-site, and used that link on a couple of blog posts or your social media. Everything works fine until you realize there are stop words in your slug. That’s a problem easily solved by changing the slug, maybe to
/site-guide. Except unless you remember where you posted all the links containing the old slug, they’re now dead and will lead to a 404 error page.
This is problematic for several reasons. First, having lots of dead links is bad for your site. If visitors can’t trust your links to work, they’ll soon stop returning.
Secondly, you’ve lost the opportunity to direct people where you want them to go. Online, you should always give users the fastest possible route to their destination. If they arrive only to be confronted with a 404 error, you’ve lost them. Don’t assume they’ll spend time searching your site for a page that should have been readily accessible.
And thirdly, broken links negatively affect your SEO. Search engines want to direct their users to the most relevant and reliable information on the web. A 404 error isn’t that. Additionally, when users are confronted with a 404 they almost always leave the site immediately. This is called a “bounce” and a high bounce rate is an indicator search engines use to gauge the quality of a site’s content.
How do I find broken links?
Finding all the dead links on a website isn’t easy. Especially if a site is large or old, there are guaranteed to be broken links on it. A small number of 404 errors isn’t going to ruin your site’s reputation. But there are tools available to help you keep that number small.
The quickest way of checking 404 errors is to use a plugin like MonsterInsight. Another good source are search engines themselves. Google’s Webmaster Tools will display crawl errors, including 404s. By seeing what users entered when they found the error, you can determine if it was a typo (unlikely from a search engine crawler) or a broken link.
If you want to stay ahead of search engines, try using your own spider. Screaming Frog‘s SEO spider can show you how a search engine views your site and lets you fix errors before they become a problem.
How to fix the errors for good
If you know what caused the error—maybe something as simple as a typo in a link you posted—then manually fixing it might be the quickest and easiest option. If you have broken embedded content such as links or video, those can also be manually altered. For example if you embed a YouTube video and the user later takes it down. Finding a different video or removing it altogether might be time-consuming, but it will keep your site looking up to date and professional.
Some errors, however, will be beyond your control. You can’t change incoming links from other sites. What you can do however is redirect the broken URL to a different page. Say you have 100 incoming links to the page
/guide-to-my-site , but you’ve changed the slug to
/site-guide. Rather than losing all those visitors to 404 errors, simply create a redirect from
/guide-to-my-site which will take visitors directly to
/site-guide. It’s not perfect, but it will stop you losing visitors.
To set up a redirect, create one manually in your .htaccess server configuration file, or use a WordPress plugin such as Yoast SEO Premium to code the change for you.
404 errors are a small nuisance that can become a big problem for your website. Locating and repairing them is well worth it to improve visitor experience and boost your SEO performance. If you need help, pick a plan and let TechTe.am’s friendly experts manage everything for you today.