A picture of a dog holding a placard showing "404 Error"

How to Find and Fix Error 404

At one point in time, you would have stumbled on the “not found” page when browsing the web.

You know how it feels like, right?

Frustration, confusion,and disappointment. These feelings are too heavy for your website visitors to bear.

While 404 error is a normal part of the web, its impact on your website could be harmful when it comes to SEO.

In this article, we’ll uncover how to discover 404 error on your website and fix them.

Ready?

Let’s get started.

The Technical Concept Behind 404

404 error is a http status code that informs a web user that a requested page is not available. 

It’s like the server telling you that the page you requested cannot be found on the server. Remember that server is the container of a website content. There are several things that can lead to a page not being available anymore. Here are some of the reasons

  • Deliberate deletion
  • Deletion of a page accidentally 
  • The URL has been edited 
  • Misspelt URL
  • Domain migration without proper redirect

How Error 404 Could Impact Your Website’s SEO

Before we get soaked into the journey, let me say this. If you intentionally delete some page on your website for some reasons, there might not be any issue if you treat the deletion properly. However, let’s quickly dive in to how error 404 can affect your website.

Loss of Ranking: Imagine having a high volume of unavailable pages on your website. The pages have once performed, generated traffic, and attracted quality backlinks, if Google keeps crawling these pages and found them unavailable, Google may stop showing them in search.

Poor User experience: Serving your site visitors with unavailable pages could affect your site reputation as visitors can’t find what they need. This leads to high bounce rates and bad site reputation.

How Do You Find 404 Pages at Scale?

Your sure bet with identifying pages with 404 error is by crawling your website with an SEO crawler, e.g. Screaming Frog SEO tool.

Using Screaming Frog 

Navigate to the overview and check the 404 section to see those pages.   

Export all the URLs and start analyzing. The essence of analysis is to help you understand more about the 404s. Some 404 could be unimportant pages, some could be intentionally deleted.

During your analysis, check if there are backlinks pointing to each URL. If there are pages with high backlinks, gather them in a tab and sort them alphabetically so you can understand the url structures.(we will look at how to handle this in the next section)

  • Group those that are deliberately deleted in a tab as well
  • Group those without backlinks as well

Using GSC to Discover 404 Error

  • Open the website’s Google Search Console  (GSC). 
  • Go to the page section and check for non indexed pages and click to see reasons for their non-indexability. 

  • Check the 404 section. Export them and list crawl them using SF. 

Why are we doing this? 

We want to have a good understanding of each url by checking their inlinks and outlinks. This will help us understand how to address them.

Use Broken Link checker

Broken Link Checker is a free WordPress plugin that can help you identify and fix broken links on your WordPress website. 

To use Broken Link Checker to identify broken links, install and activate the Broken Link Checker plugin on your WordPress website. Navigate to the “Tools > Broken Links” menu in the WordPress dashboard. 

Check the report for any broken links on your website.Click on a broken link to see more details, including the URL of the broken link and the status code of the error. Fix the broken link by updating the URL or redirecting to a new location.

How to Fix Error 404 on a Website

Depending on what caused the error 404 “not found”, there are many ways technical SEO specialists address this issue. In this section, we’ll discuss how you can handle all the 404 errors you’ve found.

301 Redirect

  • This is known as permanent redirect. If there are 404 URLs that are mistakenly deleted and they have SEO values, 301 redirect them to their corresponding related pages if the exact match is not available.
  • Blog pages that are no longer existing could be redirected to a related blog page. If there is non, redirect to the blog landing page

Avoid redirecting all the 404 to your home page.

Remove Broken Links from Where They Are Linked from Internally

What we are trying to do here is to clean up the website off any broken links that have no value. These are broken links that are gine forever and they have no SEO value on the website. Do the following to remove the broken links:

  • Based on the list-crawled URL from GSC with SF evaluate the inlinks of each URL and see where they are being linked from on your website. 
  • Remove these URLs from every page they’ve been linked from internally or change these URLs to a relevant one. This is applicable if there are no relevant page to redirect them to or they are intentionally deleted

Correct the URLs

If the 404 error was due to accidental edit of the url structure, change it to the previous one and the issue is fixed

For example, if the correct URL was https://examplewebsite.com/blog/why-we-eat/ and there was an update to the URL which now changed to https://examplewebsite.com/blog/why-we-eat-foods/, visiting the previous URL will always lead site visitors to the not found page. Therefore, correct the URL or 301 redirect the previous URL to the new existing one.

For deliberately deleted URLs, create a custom 404 page.Customizing a 404 error page will allow you to tell the user what is happening and guide them to a solution.

How to Create a Custom 404 Page

As mentioned earlier, error 404 is a normal part of the web. However, there is a very interesting way to use this error to your advantage. 

Customizing a 404 error page will allow you to tell the user what is happening and guide them to a solution. For example, you can take them to other pages on your website or give them some reassuring hints. 

In either case, a personalized page improves the user experience. Here are some tips to make your 404 page successful: 

It’s important that there is no mismatch between the 404 page and the rest of the website. Try to be consistent so that the user understands that he is inside your site and still interacting with your brand. Use the same aesthetics and the same tone of communication. 

For example:

Make the Layout Pleasant

The 404 error is frustrating for the user, since the user cannot find the content they seek. So the page design has to be focused on appeasing and calming the user. 

Place an error message nearby

Avoid cold messages such as those that appear in default browsers. Again, this is an opportunity to improve the way your users experience your brand. Even in these moments, they should notice the closeness and warmth that characterizes you. So use relatable messages that help the user. 

Use Humor

Some platforms use some humor in their 404 pages: a funny message, some illustration in the form of a cartoon, etc. These are good ways to use this error to your advantage.  

Link to the Main Sections of Your Site

Always put links to the most important sections of your website on your 404 page. Otherwise, if your user wants to continue interacting with your website, they won’t be able to. And the immediate result is that they will go to another website and the bounce rate will increase. 

Place an Internal Search Box

This way the user will be able to find the content he is looking for in a more direct way. 

Include a way for users to inform you of the error: this way you will let the user know that you are open to finding a solution. Also, it will help you a lot: the users themselves are telling you which are the valuable links to fix! 

Note: remember that the 404 page should never be indexed by search engines. You have to place it NOINDEX so that it does not appear in search engines. With the Yoast SEO plugin you can do it easily, if you are on WordPress. 

  1. Should I always redirect all broken links to my homepage?

Avoid redirecting all 404 urls to your home page to avoid confusing your site visitors and search engines. Only redirect broken links to the most related page on your website.

  1. How do I track error 404?

Use SEO tools to crawl your websiteand keep monitoring. Google Search Console is also a free tool that you can always use to track 404 errors on your website.

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