404 page not found is an error every internet user has encountered. But what does it really mean? And how can you fix it if people are experiencing 404 errors on your website?
What is an “HTTP error 404”?
An HTTP error 404, most commonly known as a 404 page not found error means that the webpage you’re trying to access can’t be found on the website’s server.
This can happen for a few reasons. The first reason you might encounter a 404 error is if you’ve made a mistake when typing the page into your address bar. For example, if you were put “bbc.co.uk/spart” instead of “bbc.co.uk/sport”, you’d end up seeing the BBC website’s 404 error page.
The same thing will happen if you click a link from one website to another, and the creator of the first website has made a typo when setting up the link.
You’ll also encounter a 404 error when a page has been deleted, or its address has changed. In these situations, the error will occur when you click a link from another website, or try to access the page via a bookmark, or if the old address is automatically suggested by your browser.
What should I do if I visit a website with a 404 page not found error?
- Check the webpage address for errors. If you’ve manually typed in the address and made a typo, then you’ll get a 404 page not found error.
- Try refreshing the page either by pushing the “reload button” or re-entering the URL in the address bar. Sometimes, the 404 page not found error can be caused by a temporary issue.
- Try visiting the page the next level up from the one giving you the 404 page not found error. For example, if you’re trying to visit example.com/blog/blog-article, try visiting example.com/blog and see if you can find the page you’re looking for there.
- Search for the page you’re looking for from the website’s homepage.
- If the website you’re using doesn’t have a search function, try searching for the page you’re looking for using a general search engine.
- Try visiting the page on a different device. If it loads on one device but not the other, that indicates the issue isn’t with the website. Try clearing the cache and deleting cookies on the device that can’t load the page.
- Contact the website owner and let them know about the problem.
- If all else fails, you can try to find the information you’re looking for on another website.
How can I fix 404 page not found errors on my website?
Although they seem harmless enough, 404 errors can cause issues for a website, especially if there are a lot of them.
Obviously, you can’t do anything about people typing in the address of a webpage incorrectly, but there are steps you can and should take to tackle the other ways they can occur.
The first thing to do is find any 404 error pages you have on your website.
By the far the easiest way to do this is by using Google Search Console. (Note: Search Console should be enough to find most 404 errors on small to medium size sites, but if your site has a lot of page you may need to look at other ways of finding the errors, some of which can require a bit of technical knowhow.)
If you’ve already got Search Console installed on your site, you can just click Crawl Error > Not found.
You’ll then be given a list of URLs that are causing 404 errors. You can click on each URL to view pages that are linking to it.
Now, you can start to fix your 404 errors.
If you’ve deleted a page and it’s causing 404 errors then you should implement a 301 redirect. A 301 redirect tells web browsers that a page has moved, and directs them to the new address. If the deleted page and replaced it with similar content, then you can simply redirect the old page to its replacement. If there isn’t a replacement, the redirect should point to the most relevant page available. For example, if you run an online fashion retailer and you discontinue a certain style of shoe and want to remove the page, you’d probably want to redirect that page to the general shoe category page.
If the address of a page has changed and it’s causing a 404 error, then you can simply redirect the old page to the new one.
You should never delete a page, or change a page’s address without putting a 301 redirect in place.
If you’re using WordPress, this guide will help you create 301 redirects. If you’re using something else, you can check out this general guide to creating 301 redirects.
If the 404 error is caused by a typo in a hyperlink on your website, you can simply edit the hyperlink.
If the 404 error is caused by a typo on someone else’s website, it’s worth reaching out to the owner of that website and asking them to fix the link, especially if it’s a large or important site that’s likely to send traffic your way.
In some cases, you might find that your request isn’t acted upon. If this is the case, you can always create a 301 redirect from the “typo page” to the correct page.
Once you’ve dealt with your existing 404 errors, you should check for new ones once every quarter, or more frequently if your site has a lot of pages.
Reducing the impact 404 errors have on your users
You can never completely get rid of 404 errors – people will always make typos.
So it pays to make an effort to reduce the impact a 404 error has on your website visitors, and the way to do this is by using a custom 404 page.
Usually, someone encounters a 404 error page they’ll just get a brief error message, which isn’t very helpful.
But with a custom 404 error page you can direct people to somewhere useful by including your site’s navigation and search bar.
Here’s GoDaddy’s 404 error page:
You can learn about creating a custom 404 error page in this guide.
404 errors can be annoying for your website’s visitors, but more important they can cost you money.
People who encounter a standard 404 error might not stick around to work out what’s gone wrong.
So make sure you deal with all the 404 errors you can, and create a custom 404 error page to reduce the impact of the ones you can’t.