“Page Not Found” – three words guaranteed to raise the stress levels and frustrations of anyone trying to visit your website. These messages aren’t just annoying to web users, they are bad for your SEO (search engine optimisation) as they send negative signals to search engines, as well as being bad for business. Potential new clients cannot buy your products or services if they cannot access your website, so not only is it essential to find out how and when these errors occur, but you need to know how to fix them.
404 errors: The response returned by the server when an Internet browser requests access to a URL that does not exist, has been removed or specific content related to that URL cannot be found.
What are the common causes of 404 errors?
The most common causes of 404 errors are that content can no longer be found by the server for a wide variety of reasons. For example:
- Renaming has resulted in a change to a resource’s address (the URL).
- The resource has been transferred to a different area.
- The document (page) was removed
- The customer asked for a resource that was never available (by typing an incorrect URL in the browser address bar)
- The removal or renaming of a URL is one of the most frequent reasons for a site to become inaccessible. When website administrators and content editors make changes to online pages, this frequently occurs unintentionally.
Changes to a website’s URL structure are another cause of 404 errors. For instance, if you alter the website’s structure or shift the domain as part of a website relaunch. An error message with the status code 404 will appear if redirects from old URLs to new URLs are not configured for the sites or if URLs are “forgotten” during the process which is not good!
How do 404 errors affect SEO?
There is a greater chance that key content won’t be available through internal linking if you have a large number of inaccessible pages. It will be more challenging for users and search engines to navigate your website. Directly linking to error pages frustrates users, increases bounce rates, and ultimately harms the success of both your website and your company.
Inaccessible pages are a common problem for online retailers in particular. Why? What happens when the pages for temporarily unavailable products are removed, given that this situation occurs frequently? 404 errors! Even if you delete these pages from your online store, they will still be found in search engine results even though they are no longer present anywhere on your website (if they were crawled and indexed correctly).
Sometimes, external pages may link to your product pages, which results in dead links and a lot of web user irritation. Your organic rankings will suffer if search engines determine that your website has accessibility issues. which in turn results in lower organic traffic and conversion rates. You must handle 404 pages effectively to prevent both SEO degradation and visitor annoyance. This calls for the need to identify and address 404 issues before users (and search engines) do.
How can you find 404 errors?
You should always aim to have as few 404 errors as possible on your website. Both your visitors and Google’s bots find them annoying (and therefore your search engine rankings will be affected).
When evaluating 404 pages, you should pay particular attention to the date of these pages, and check whether they still exist. You can see which pages are found by Google with status code 404 in Google Search Console under “Settings,” and Google Search Console lists all 404 pages that currently exist and have existed in the past.
Additionally, it is beneficial to examine pages that include a soft 404 error. These pages display the status code “200 OK” or “302 Found” despite having faults or being empty. When pages are marked as accessible but do not contain the intended content, soft 404 errors happen. This could be as a result of it having been removed or the fact that there isn’t much original content on the pages to begin with.
This indicates that users are unable to locate the content they are searching. When a piece of content is no longer hosted on a website, Google advises always using the 404 status code to prevent confusion.
How can you fix 404 errors?
Once you’ve identified the 404 errors on your website, you must decide how to address each one individually. Depending on the cause of the mistake, the solution can be different…
Redirect non-reachable pages
Redirects are frequently the best way to fix 404 issues on your website since they guarantee that when a page’s URL changes, the client is forwarded to a new address and the user may still access the information. For 404 pages with fresh versions or those with similar themes, a permanent redirect (301 redirect) is more appropriate. Visitors get the same (or comparable) information they did before in this fashion. Redirects to pages with no thematic similarity should be avoided because they confuse users and search engines and may lower your results.
Adjust your internal links
When handling 404s, you should also consider your existing links. Internal links for this item should be adjusted if you delete it from your website or change its URL. Internal links to permanently inaccessible content should be removed, and links to content that has migrated should have their link destinations changed. By employing the proper redirects, as previously mentioned, you can prevent the loss of external links.
As you can see, inaccessible pages have a detrimental effect on how users interact with your website and can actually damage your conversion rate. Consider how frequently they irritate you as a web user. Therefore, periodically monitor your website for 404 errors. You can make sure that all of your material is still available to your intended audience by keeping a watch on removed pages, setting up sensible redirects, and maintaining links. This will please Google as well as your website’s visitors, and isn’t that what we all want?