Help! My Website has an Error 404
It’s probably happened to you at least once, when you’ve been searching for something on the internet, and all you receive is this message – 404 Error: Page Not Found!
Irritating isn’t it? However, imagine being the owner of the website with the “error message”. An Error 404 indicates some issue on your website that needs to be fixed immediately, not because your website is going to explode or break, but the fact that Google won’t like it…(for various reasons, including user experience).
So, in this blog, I’m going to talk about:
- What an Error 404 is and why it happens
- How it impacts the SEO of your website
- Methods to track down the broken links
- And most importantly, how to fix the issue
The following information will (should!) help you improve the performance of your website on search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc, which in turn will help your overall SEO strategy for achieving a good ranking.
What is an Error 404 and why does it happen?
The answer is that when visitors type a destination URL on the search bar of the browser (as an example), they are greeted with a message …. 404 Error –page not found. Here are some other classic messages that pop up:
- 404 Not Found
- The requested URL was not found on this server.
- HTTP 404 Not Found
- 404 Error
- The page cannot be found
Bet you’ve seen this image many times…..and you bounce right off don’t you?
The simple reason for these messages (and the answer to WHAT IS AN ERROR 4o4) is that the hosting server is unable to find that page, and that’s why it’s showing the message. There are multiple reasons for not finding the exact page that you’re trying to access, but the most common reasons include:
- Page requested doesn’t exist anymore
- Server is down
- Internet connection is down
- Broken links
- Incorrect URL
- Page has been moved to a different address
- Spelling of URL has been typed incorrectly
The impact of an Error 404 on your website’s SEO
Bounce Rate. Search engine optimisation best practice involves onsite work and if your website isn’t offering a great UX (user experience) or has errors, then search engines (which follow definitive algorithms to rank websites) will penalise you. So, your Bounce Rate is one of the most important factors for Google Ranking.
What’s a Bounce Rate? The BR refers to the percentage of visitors that leave your website (or “bounce” back to the search results or referring website) after viewing only one page on your site. So, I mean someone comes to your site and “bounces” (leaves) your site by closing the tab within seconds (no click to site). As a consequence, the page slips down in the ranking, even though it’s not there.
If the number of “broken links” is higher on your website, visitors will often come across the 404 Error message and this will lead to a higher Bounce rate. Most websites will see bounce rates between 26% to 70%, according to a Rocket Fuel study.
It’s quite interesting because they found out from their studies that a Bounce Rate of less than 25% means that there is probably something wrong!! (you’d think great as so low….but not so!).
Here are their findings:
- 25% or lower: Something is probably broken
- 26-40%: Excellent
- 41-55%: Average
- 56-70%: Higher than normal, but could make sense depending on the website (so many variables, domain age, number of links, pages, content etc).
- 70% or higher: Eeek (bad) and/or something is probably broken
Want to see what your Bounce Rate is? You need to go into your Google Analytics.
So you’ve realised the negative impact of an Error 404 message on your website’s SEO performance but have no fear, because broken links can be fixed; that said, however great the quality of your content is on your website, if the broken links aren’t fixed, it’s going to be difficult to rank your website higher on SERPs.
How to track and find broken links
If you’re concerned about the SEO performance of your website, it’s a good idea to track down all the broken links on your website. If you try to find all the broken links manually on your website, this may take longer than you can expect…..
There are some effective free tools that can make the task really easy for you!!
#1. Google Search Console (GSC)
This is one of the most popular free tools to analyse the overall performance of your website. You can easily find the 404 pages with the help of this tool. Just perform the following steps:
Log in to your Google Search Console account
Go to Crawl Errors and then Diagnostic
Click on “Not Found” to the 404 errors
You can easily work on these error links now J
#2. Screaming Frog
This is another powerful performance tool for a thorough website analysis. Once you download and install the tool on your PC, you can fetch loads of excellent data and information about your website which includes broken links as well. All you need to do is, open the tool on your desktop and insert the URL that you want to analyse. There is a FREE tool and a paid tool.
#3. Dead Link Checker
This is one of the simplest web tools to check the deadlinks of a website. It is helpful to find both the internal and external dead links on a particular web-page or on the entire website. You just simply need to put the URL and select the option of either a single web page or the whole website. it will then list all the tracked error pages with status code. The name is literally what it says on the box….Deadlink Checker.
Here’s how to FIX the 404 Error issue
Below are a few steps that you can perform, after you have found out the broken links on your website, to fix the issue.
Redirecting the page to another page is the very basic solution. You can use 301 redirects, which is basically a redirect code that informs the browser that the content has been transferred to another URL.
Restore the Page
If the pages are deleted mistakenly, this is the time to restore all the pages. Even if you have deleted some pages purposefully, people may come looking for content from external sources. If you delete pages, make sure you redirect that to a page with relevant content.
Check the URL
It happens a lot of times that the URL is spelled incorrectly. So, while seeing a 404 error message on a particular web page, check yourself if the URL is correctly spelled.
Remove browser cache and cookies
If that particular URL can be accessed from other computers and the error message is only appearing on certain computers, then it’s probably a browser issue. In that case, you need to remove the browser cache and the cookies.
WordPress: How to fix Error 404
Squarespace: How to fix Error 404
Wix: How to fix Error 404
Shopify: How to fix Error 404
NOTE: Shopify doesn’t have a specific page to help directly, but this is what they say to do:
“Within your Shopify Website, you theme should include a template called 404.liquid. To access the code on this, head in your admin to online store > themes, and then click on the little button with three dots to edit HTML/CSS. You can then get to the template under the themes heading. It’ll have content set up there already, but you can replace that with whatever you wish!
If this is your first time editing code, it’s a good idea to duplicate your theme before making any changes, just in case you run into unexpected results and need to revert to an unaltered version! “
Simply put, 404 Errors are really common so no need to panic and now you know what they are, and how to get rid of them.
The best and most effective method to deal with these naughty gremlins is to design a custom 404 Error page, so why not have a bit of fun with your customisation (see one of my favourites below from Heinz). Website errors are all part of the digital era, but if Google has somewhere in your site to redirect to (to stop it bouncing), and your visitor knows it’s not their fault plus you’re giving them options where to go instead within your site, it’s great marketing and relationship building isn’t it?
If you’d like website help for onsite tech, get in touch to see if we can help. No pressure, no contract, just help.
BE SEEN, with Elaine and the PG Team.