What You Need to Know About 404s

404s Have you ever been shopping online or browsing a website, then clicked on a product and suddenly found yourself on an error page?

If you own a business and have a website, this may be happening to your customers too. Keep on reading to learn more about 404s and how to avoid them.

Before We Start: What Is a 404?

A 404 (also known as HTTP 404, Error 404, or Page Not Found), is an automated error message that is displayed by your website’s server when a user is led to a page that does not exist in your database.

404s can happen for a variety of reasons, with some of the most common including:

  • The page was deleted
    • Ex: If you got rid of a product, service, or outdated content
  • The URL path was changed
    • Ex: “yoursite.com/red-shoes-for-women” to “yoursite.com/shoes/red”
  • A typo was made either by the user or while interlinking
    • Ex: “yoursite.com/candle” vs. “yoursite.com/canlde”

Ways Most Users Find 404s

  • Broken Links – As a user navigates your website, they likely click through various pages to find what they are seeking. And if you have linked pages that have been deleted or no longer exist, you could be directing them to a dead end.
  • Search Results – Just like users can find deep pages through interlinks on your website, any page you have indexed can be found on search engines. If a user clicks on one of your pages through Google that is a 404, it may turn them away as they could think you no longer provide such products or services, or your website is incomplete.

So, Do 404s Impact SEO?

According to Google, not really! But while they may not exactly hurt your online rankings, they play into the user experience on your website:

“If some URLs on your site 404, this fact alone does not hurt you or count against you in Google’s search results. However, there may be other reasons that you’d want to address certain types of 404s. For example, if some of the pages that 404 are pages you actually care about, you should look into why we’re seeing 404s when we crawl them!”

Susan Moskwa, Webmaster Trends Analyst on Google Webmasters Blog

How to Fix 404s: 301 Redirects

A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect that will automatically take the user to a specified path that you dictate to your server. Setting 301 redirects for the 404s on your website is the best way to eliminate error pages on your website to help improve your website’s health.

Step 1: Find 404s on Your Website

There can be various ways to get a running list of the 404s on your website, with one of the most popular methods being through Google’s Search Console. In the Search Console interface, you can see all the 404 errors that Google has found from combing through your site.

You can also use software such as Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider that can crawl through your website (or your clients’ websites) to see what errors exist.

Step 2: Implement Redirects

Depending on the type of content management system your website is built on (WordPress, Shopify, etc.), there can be a variety of ways to add redirects. Here are some articles on popular CMS options that can help:

And if you are in doubt, reach out to your web developer to implement redirects.

The Case for Ongoing Website Maintenance

While 404s may not directly impact your SEO, eliminating them should be included in the overall scope of maintaining your website to help ensure that your customers have a good experience on your site.

Website maintenance in some ways can be thought of like gardening. Are you tending to weeds? Have you cut troublesome branches? Are you consistently planting new seeds? Do you regularly harvest? Are you watering your plants to help them grow?

All of these actions help tend to your garden, and search engines and customers expect you to tend to your website in similar ways. So making sure you don’t have 404s on your website can in turn help ensure potential customers that you are doing your due diligence to maintain your site.

Read More on Technical Website Maintenance

Want to learn more on how you can have a healthy website? Check out these articles:

Lara Perrin

About the Author

Lara Perrin

Lara Perrin is our Web Manager and has experience updating, designing, and building websites for manufacturers, dentists, and colleges, and many other business types.

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