While browsing the internet, you may have encountered an error 404 warning instead of the content you were looking for. This hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) status code can be frustrating and annoying, especially if it appears on your website. In addition to hurting your website’s user experience, a 404 error page can harm your on-page SEO efforts.

But what does error 404 mean? Why does it appear? Can it harm your website and brand reputation? Read on to learn more about error 404, its causes, and the best ways to fix it on your website.

What Does Error 404 Mean and How Do You Manage It

What is error 404? Definition and explanation

Error 404 is an HTTP status code that indicates the web server did not find the requested URL or resource. Various search engines display error 404 and other error messages differently.

As a result, the error 404 code can appear in several formats, such as:

  • 404 error message;
  • Error 404 not found;
  • 404 error;
  • HTTP error 404;
  • 404 page not found error;
  • Error 404;
  • The requested URL was not found on this server;
  • The website cannot display the page HTTP 404;
  • We can’t find the page you’re looking for;
  • 404 file or directory not found;
  • HTTP 404 not found.

Today, error 404 status codes are less common than a decade ago. Most well-designed websites use a URL redirection plugin to take visitors to a similar usable web page instead of showing the dreaded 404 error page.

Common causes of error 404

You may be getting a 404 error code instead of your desired page for various reasons, including:

  • Wrong URL;
  • The webpage has been linked incorrectly, moved to a new address, or deleted;
  • A dead or broken link within your website;
  • There is an issue with the website’s server connection;
  • The website’s domain name has been changed;
  • The requested resource or web page never existed in the first place;
  • A broken .htaccess file;
  • Domain Name System (DNS) settings issues;
  • Missing webpage assets such as an image, CSS, or JavaScript file.

How error 404 affects user experience and search engine rankings

Below are ways 404 errors impact your website’s user experience and how it ranks online:

User experience

When a user encounters a 404 error on your website, it means the webpage they were looking for cannot be found. This can be frustrating, especially if they were expecting to find specific information or content. Frustrated users are more likely to leave your website for other sites and develop a negative perception of your business.

Plus, encountering several 404 error pages can easily erode the users’ trust in your website and business. It will give the impression that you’re inattentive, unreliable, and incapable of maintaining your website. This could damage your brand’s reputation.

Search engine ranking

When ranking websites, leading search engines like Google Chrome, Bing, and Yahoo usually consider content quality, user experience, and backlinks. If your website has frequent 404 errors, it may be a sign that it needs to be better maintained or provide a good user experience. This could lower your website’s ranking.

Additionally, 404 errors make it difficult for search engine bots to crawl and index your web content. If the bots encounter a 404 client error, they won’t be able to crawl and index the web page in search results. As a result, the search engines will assume that your website is unfinished or not optimized, thus damaging your rankings.

How to identify and fix error 404 on your website: Tools and methods

The first step to fixing 404 errors on your website is identifying them. You can use several simple tools and methods to find and track these errors, including. They include:

Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free tool offered by Google that tracks and troubleshoots your website’s performance in Google Search results.

Follow these steps to identify 404 errors on your site:

  • Log into your Google Search Console account.
  • Go to Coverage.
  • Click on the Excluded tab on the right-hand side, ensure it turns gray, and the box is marked. Google Search Console will list all URLs returning 404 errors on your website.
  • From there, click on the URLs and use the ‘Inspect URL’ function to get a detailed analysis of every 404 error.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a great tool you can use to identify 404 errors by monitoring user traffic. Although this method may be more complex, it provides the most detail.

Follow these steps to find all 404 errors on your site:

  • Go to the Behavior option on Google Analytics.
  • Click on Site Content.
  • Click on All Pages.
  • Switch the Primary Dimension to Page Title.
  • Type 404 in the search bar and click Enter.
  • Under Page Title, you’ll get a list of all web pages tagged with 404.
  • Click on each 404 title to see all the URLs showing error 404.

Online broken link checkers

Broken links do not take you to the intended web page. This happens when the pages are moved or deleted without a redirection.

You can use online broken link checkers to scan external and internal web pages for broken or dead links that result in 404 errors. Some popular online broken link checkers include Screaming Frog SEO Spider, Dead Link Checker, Xenu’s Link Sleuth, and Sitechecker.

Server logs

Web servers usually log all 404 errors in the access log file. Accessing these server logs can provide valuable information about all the 404 errors generated by your website and the web pages involved. However, you’ll need advanced technical knowledge to analyze and understand these server logs.

Strategies for fixing error 404

Strategies for fixing error 404

Here are some of the best ways to fix 404 errors on your website:

Double-check the request URL

Sometimes, the 404 error appears because the webpage URL has been mistyped. Recheck the URL on the address bar before exploring complex troubleshooting steps to ensure it’s typed correctly.

Clear your browser’s cache

Your browser may cause the 404 error page you’re encountering and not the website. Try clearing your browser cache and cookies to see if the issue persists.

Restore deleted content

If error 404 appears because the webpage content has been deleted or removed, consider restoring it. You can solve this issue by visiting your website’s local backup and restoring all the deleted files. This way, the server can find the page whenever requested.

Set up 301 redirects for any moved content

If you are encountering the 404 error for a specific page, you’ve recently modified or moved the content. If users attempt to access that content, they will land on the 404 error page. The best course of action here is to create redirects so that the users will automatically be directed to the new pages.

The 301 redirect is suitable if the webpage has been moved permanently. If the page has been moved temporarily, set up a 302 redirect instead.

Fix file permissions

When you’re using a web hosting service, the server manages all your files and sends them to your browser so that it can load the website. Incorrect file permissions will prevent the web server from accessing certain assets on the webpage, resulting in a 404 error.

To fix this, ensure the server can access all the assets on that page and return the content to the user.

Configure the .htaccess file

The .htaccess or Hypertext Access file is a vital website file that manages the high-level configuration of your site. Despite being a powerful website file, the .htaccess code can become misconfigured or corrupted, leading to inappropriate 404 errors.

Fortunately, disabling and replacing the corrupted .htaccess code with a proper code can help fix the issue. However, back up your website to restore it to its previous state if something goes wrong.

Update your permalinks settings

You should check your permalink settings if you encounter frequent 404 errors on your own website. Permalinks are the permanent web addresses pointing to individual pages on your website — and incorrect permalink settings can easily lead to 404 errors.

The best way to fix this problem is by updating your permalink settings through the WordPress dashboard. Doing so will help fix all 404 errors caused by broken or dead links.

Importance of timely detection and resolution of error 404

Timely detection and resolution of error 404 is essential for website owners for several reasons.

With it, you can achieve the following:

  • Ensures users can access the information and content they want, thus improving customer satisfaction.
  • Boosts your website’s search engine ranking.
  • Polishes your business’s online presence and reinforces your brand’s reputation.
  • Improves navigation and conversion rates.
  • Helps build customer trust and loyalty in your brand.

All these steps are vital in order to detect any 404 errors on your website in a timely manner.

Best practices for managing error 404

Below are some best practices for managing error 404:

  • Perform regular website audits.
  • Create a user-friendly, fun, and informative customer error 404 page.
  • Update your website content consistently.
  • Regularly check and fix broken links.
  • Test your website’s usability and performance after any changes.
  • Double-check web content and emails before publishing.
  • Redirect users to the most relevant page or homepage.
  • Monitor and analyze 404 errors at all times.
  • Educate your team about the benefits of managing error 404.

By following the above recommendations you can ensure a seamless user experience and healthy SEO profile.

Create a custom error page to improve user experience

Here are some tips to help you create a user-friendly custom error 404 page:

Keep it simple

The last thing you want to do is overload your custom error 404 page with unnecessary details or design elements. Try keeping everything simple by providing users with the information they need clearly and concisely.

Add some humor

Using humor or creative design goes a long way in creating customer error 404 pages. A well-placed joke can help alleviate users’ frustration and remind them that the website still exists.

Incorporate branding elements

When designing your custom error 404 page, keep the branding and messaging consistent with your business brand. 

Including catchphrases, colors, logos, or any other branding elements from your business on the error 404 page can help maintain a positive user experience, improve your site’s SEO ranking, and reinforce your brand identity.

Include a search bar

If users encounter your error 404 page, they still need to find the content or information they sought. In that case, including a search function on your custom error 404 page will make it easier for users to try again and find the necessary information.

This can help improve the overall user experience, especially if they succeed in finding the content they want using this search bar.

Include contact information

Adding contact details or a contact form is essential in creating the ideal custom error 404 page. Such information will be helpful when the user needs further assistance from your customer support team.

Provide helpful internal links

One of the primary purposes of creating a custom error 404 page is to help turn the potential negative user experience into a positive one.

Add links to other functioning parts of your website to give internet users a way out of the error 404 page and increase the likelihood of them finding the information they seek.

Create a custom error page to improve user experience

Using error monitoring and management tools to automate the process of detecting and resolving error 404

Error monitoring and management tools play a vital role in streamlining the process of detecting and resolving 404 errors.

Here are some helpful tips for using these tools to automate the process:

  • Customize the tool’s configuration to specify the types of errors you want to monitor.
  • Configure the tool to send you alerts when 404 errors are detected.
  • Prioritize 404 errors based on their severity and impact on your website’s usability and SEO performance.
  • Monitor your website to ensure the fixes you’ve implemented on 404 errors have been effective.

Frequently asked questions

Can I bypass a 404 error code?

No, it’s not possible to bypass a 404 error. This is because it’s a response from the web server indicating that the requested page cannot be found. However, you can easily set up a 301 redirect to send internet users to another webpage.

What is the difference between error 404 and error 403?

Error 404 not found indicates that the requested page cannot be found. In contrast, 403 forbidden error means that the web server understands the request but refuses to authorize it due to lack of permission or the necessary authentication.

How can I prevent error 404?

There are several things you can do to prevent error 404 from occurring on your website, including promptly fixing broken links, keeping web content up to date, regularly updating internal/external links, and creating redirects for all the pages that have been permanently moved.