What Is a 404 Error?

Adam Steele
Aug 3, 2021
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The dreaded 404 error page. The torment of every site owner and webmaster’s existence.

Or do they?

Soon, we will find out.

Website uptime, or the amount of time a company’s website is operational, is an important metric for marketers and IT professionals to monitor. But, no matter how much effort you put into ensuring that your website never, ever, ever goes down… there’s always the chance that it will.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact of life. Visitors’ reactions to your temporarily unavailable website can range from “taking it in stride” to “completely losing their minds.”

While you can’t do anything about the latter, you can make your website’s downtime less painful by using a creative error 404 messages. In an otherwise frustrating situation, this can work wonders to make your website visitors smile.

This article will bring an insight into what a 404 error is, why it is important, why 404 errors occur, and how you can fix them.

Let’s dive in.

What Is a 404 Error?

A 404 error is a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) status code that indicates that the page you attempted to access on a website could not be found on their server — “server errors”
To be clear, the error response codes indicate that, while the server itself is accessible, the page displaying the error is not.

Individual websites frequently customize 404 Not Found error messages. So, keep in mind that the error could appear in almost any way imaginable depending on the website from which it is displayed. A 404 (Not Found) page is technically an HTML Status Code.

How You Might See the 404 Error

Here are some examples of how you might see the HTTP 404 error displayed:

  • 404 Not Found
  • 404 Error
  • Error 404
  • HTTP 404
  • Error 404 Not Found
  • 404 Page Not Found
  • HTTP 404 Not Found
  • 404 File or Directory Not Found
  • The requested URL [URL] was not found on this server
  • Error 404. The page you’re looking for can’t be found.

These HTTP errors can occur in any web browser or operating system. The majority of them appear in the browser window in the same way that web pages do.

Why is the 404 error Important?

Because 404 errors can be frustrating for users, the primary goal of a 404 page is to transform the potentially negative user experience of encountering an error into a positive one.

Links on 404 pages are crucial because they provide users with a way out of the error page. Instead of closing the window or leaving your website, the user can find useful and potentially relevant resources on another page.

In some cases, adding links and a search function can help increase the site’s conversion rate by up to 50%.

Creative branded custom 404 pages with helpful links and possibly a search bar will assist users while also generating positive attention for your company. People enjoy discussing and sharing clever 404 pages they come across online. So, as in this HubSpot blog post, a really good page can get you some great backlinks.

404 Error FAQ

Are 404 errors bad for SEO?

Although 404 error pages do not harm your SEO, there is a lot you can miss out on if you do not fix them. If you have backlinks pointing to pages on your own website that return a 404 type of client error, try to repair those external links, and 301 redirect your broken URLs to a more appropriate location. If you have links on your site that lead to broken pages, make sure to fix them as soon as possible in order to maximize link equity flow and user experience.

How do I fix Error 404?

  • Examine the URL for any errors.
  • Retry the web page by pressing F5, clicking/tapping the refresh/reload button, or entering the URL again into the address bar. The 404 Not Found error can appear for a variety of reasons, even if there is no real problem, so a simple refresh will often load the page you were looking for.
  • Use a popular search engine to find the page. It’s possible that you’ve entered the wrong URL, in which case a quick Google or Bing search should get you there.
    If you do find the page you were looking for, make sure to update your bookmark or favorite to avoid receiving the HTTP 404 error in the future.
  • If you have any suspicions that the 404 message is yours, clear your browser’s cache. For example, if you can access the URL on your phone but not on your tablet, clearing the cache on your tablet’s browser may be beneficial.
    If clearing the cache didn’t work, you might try clearing your browser’s cookies, or at least the ones associated with the website in question.

Why do 404 errors occur?

Most of the time, one of the following issues causes 404 errors to occur; moving a page’s directory, mistyping a URL, moving a page, moving a whole site, and not adding 301 redirects.

Moving a page’s directory

It is possible that the cause of a 404 is not the page itself, but rather the page’s containing folder. This is sometimes referred to as the page’s “directory.” When you move a folder containing pages, the URL for each of those pages changes.

Mistyping a URL

Often, the simplest solution works best. Before you make phone calls or get worried, double-check the spelling of your URL. Typos are a common blunder that can lead you to believe you have a problem when your website is perfectly fine.

Moving a page

If you recently added or moved a page, the page may have been placed in the incorrect folder.
Examine the path to the desired page and compare it to what you see in your file transfer protocol (FTP) service or content management system (CMS). If it is a deleted page that has no replacement or equivalent, returning and restoring a 404 is the right thing to do.

Moving a whole site
If you’ve recently moved your entire site — that is, rehosted it — you may see a 404 while the site readjusts to its new location.
While 99 percent of website hosts do everything possible to minimize downtime, it does occur on occasion.

Forgetting 301 redirects

If you’ve recently moved pages (or your entire site), it’s possible that you didn’t use proper 301 redirects. If specific pages are returning 404 errors, you should create a 301 redirect for them. A 301 is a response code that informs a user’s browser that your content has been relocated to a new URL.

How do I test a 404 error?

Run a few tests with users from your target market and keep the following tips in mind to get the most out of your results:

Provide participants with context

It may appear simple, but in order to obtain the most useful insights from your study, you must first help your participants understand your product or service. Request that your participant first visits your homepage and browse around a bit to learn more about your company. This will provide context for your participant to view your website error page, but be patient. You don’t want them to go to your error page just yet.

Do not inform your participants that you are conducting a 404 error test

It’s time to send your participant to your error page now that they have a context in which to view it. It may seem obvious, but if you want your results to be as realistic as possible, don’t prepare your participants for an error page. Set up your test like any other study, and sequence your tasks so that your participants arrive at your error page without being explicitly directed there.

Ask the participants about what they would like to see

You can finally reveal that you’re testing your error page after your participant completes the task in the previous section. Inquire with your participants if the content of your error page was what they expected to see based on their knowledge of your site and company. If it didn’t live up to their expectations, ask “why not?” and leave the conversation open-ended.

How do I open a 404 page?

Broken links and 404 pages are useless to search engine bots, and they represent a dead end. It is an essential part of SEO to resolve all potential 404 pages.

Though, in WordPress, there is a plugin called Broken Link Checker that can help you find all of the broken links. However, if your blog is large, it may temporarily slow down your web server.

You can also use free SEO tools like Broken Link Check or Dead Link Checker to locate broken links and missing pages on your blog. When you use WordPress, 404 errors frequently pop up as a result of redirection of conflicts or permalink issues.

The simplest method is to use Google Search Console to locate and fix all 404 pages. Log in to your Google search console account and go to Diagnostics — Crawl errors to see a list of all 404 pages.

When you click on not found, you will see a list of all the links that resulted in the 404 error codes. When Google’s algorithms determine that the page is an error page based on its content, Search Console displays a soft 404 error. If you click on any URL, you will be directed to all of the pages that contain the broken link. You can manually edit those links and re-allow Google crawlers to crawl your blog. Site crawlers, such as Screaming Frog, are an excellent way to quickly identify broken links that result in 404 errors.

Don’t forget: check out the other definitions (over 200) in our growing SEO glossary.

Fix Your 404 Error

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of 404 errors.

It’s a fact of life that no matter how well you test your website, you’re going to end up with an error issue. One minor tweak and you can find that dozens of links are broken and the first time you’re going to know about it is when your Google analytics package starts spitting out dozens of 404 error page hits.

Loganix can help you improve your website’s user experience and make your visitors’ frustrations less painful by fixing 404 errors. This will result in a lower bounce rate and keep users on your website, as well as keep people engaged with your site and moving through your sales process.

Maintain consistent branding across your site and attract external attention for your brand by leaving them with a positive feeling after a positive resolution to their 404 problems.

Written by Adam Steele on August 3, 2021

COO and Product Director at Loganix. Recovering SEO, now focused on the understanding how Loganix can make the work-lives of SEO and agency folks more enjoyable, and profitable. Writing from beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.