How to find and fix your error 404 pages
No one likes error 404 pages. They’re unattractive, unclear, and overall unhelpful. They rarely lead to a page that actually helps you solve your problem, and probably just point you to a generic website search. When users get error 404 pages like this, they leave the site without figuring out what they were looking for in the first place.
Your error 404 pages hurt your search engine rankings, your visitor’s experience, and your conversion rate. By checking in on the health of my website’s error pages and taking necessary actions, I rescued many of my website visitors from an otherwise poor experience.
Learn how to do this with this guide! Here we are not only going to show you tips on how to find and fix your error 404 pages, we are also going to take a look at the meaning, Why should you care about error 404 messages, and Where you can find your 404 error pages.
What is a 404 page?
A 404 page is a page that doesn’t exist. Websites can have pages that don’t exist: they are called 404 pages.
In the beginning, there was HTML code and an operating system that could interpret it. This implied a standard way to create a website. It was required that a website contain one or more “pages,” which consisted of a load of text and potentially some images as well as links. This was one of the requirements set forth in the standard. The single most important thing about a page, however, was its title. The title had to be at least two words long because every web browser used to read it as the name of the page you were looking at. If your browser couldn’t find this title, it would say “404 Page Not Found.”
If your browser didn’t understand HTML, it might interpret “Page Not Found” as “I’m not a page”; in this case, if the browser couldn’t find a title (which is usually not hard), then it would say “404 Page Not Found.”
Why should you care about error 404 messages?
I’m sure most of you have used the internet before. I’m pretty sure that none of you enjoy getting an error 404 message. These messages mean that webpage you’re looking for isn’t available in some way. It’s a real bummer when this happens, because it means that the page’s content is gone forever.
But why should you care? Well, it’s important to remember that all of the information on the internet is stored somewhere on a bunch of servers out there in the world. These servers are essentially computers with a lot of different files stored on them. Most of these files are safe and sound, but some of them get deleted by accident or can otherwise be lost forever.
When this happens, we see an error 404 message. The website that was hosting the information tells us it can’t find what we want to see, because it’s gone forever. You should care about these messages because they show us valuable information being lost forever!
Why should you fix your 404 page?
Imagine your website has 100 visitors per day. If your conversion rate is 1%, that’s one sale per day. Now imagine that 10% of your traffic hits an error page, and those visitors leave immediately instead of trying to find the thing they wanted. That’s 10 people leaving immediately instead of trying their luck at converting. You just lost 10% of your sales!
OK, so you want to fix your 404 errors. How do you even know what they are? Google Search Console shows you all the 404s it knows about:
But there are two problems with this list: (1) Google only knows about URLs that were visited by Googlebot, and (2) if you remove a broken link from your site and replace it with a working one, Google will keep showing you the old broken link in its 404 report until it visits the page again.
How to find your 404 errors
Make use of a Free Broken Link Checker to find broken links.
An increasing number of websites offer free tools for locating broken links. The only thing you have to do using tools like Broken Link Check, Ahrefs Broken Link Checker (as shown below), and Dead Link Checker is plug in your website URL and wait for the website to scan the site for you.
Make use of the WordPress Plugin for Broken Link Checking.
For those of you who have a WordPress website, you are probably already aware that there is a plugin for almost everything. That, of course, involves identifying broken hyperlinks. The free Broken Link Checker plugin will monitor the links on your website, produce a list of the ones that aren’t working, and make it simple for you to amend or remove any one that isn’t functioning properly.
One disadvantage of utilizing a plugin such as Broken Link Checker is that it can momentarily slow down your website while it is in use, so keep this in mind when picking which plugin to use and which features to include.
SEO Spider can be used to identify broken links.
The SEO Spider tool from Screaming Frog will crawl your website and assist you detect a variety of issues, including broken links, in an automated manner. Furthermore, it is completely free for websites with fewer than 500 pages. To use SEO Spider to discover broken links, you must first download and install the software. Once you’ve downloaded it, all you have to do is enter your URL and hit the Start button. It may take a few minutes for Google to crawl the entirety of your website.
By selecting Client Error from the Response Codes drop-down menu, you’ll be able to discover which links are broken. By selecting Inlinks from the drop-down menu after clicking on the link, you can see where the link is located on your website. Bulk Export, Response Codes, and Client Errors are all options for getting a list of all your broken links in spreadsheet form (which can make tackling the chore of resolving them easier), respectively. Inlinks.
How to fix your 404 errors
Once you’ve compiled your list of broken links, it’s time to tackle the more difficult task. You must go into each and every one of them and make the necessary repairs. Determine which of the links needs to be updated and which links should be simply removed from the site. Keep track of your progress as you go to ensure that you don’t miss any, and view each web page to double-check that the link has been updated before moving on to the next.
This will take some time, but it will ensure that your website visitors have a better experience while on your site. To ensure that any new broken links that appear are fixed as fast as possible, it is recommended that you perform this procedure once every three months or so. And the more regularly you do it, the less labor it will be each time you sit down to do it. With luck, you’ll be able to identify the broken links before any visitors do.
Make changes to your 404 page.
Even if you check for broken links on a regular basis, there will inevitably be occasions when you don’t notice one in time, and other times when visitors enter a URL incorrectly. Regardless of what you do, some of your visitors will almost surely end up on your 404 page no matter what. So make the most of the opportunity when it presents itself.
Best Practices for 404 Error Pages
Consider some of the most important 404 page best practices in order to make your 404 page more useful.
- Make sure it’s consistent with the brand.
404 pages should inform users that they are still on your website, since this will help to reduce uncertainty and frustration. The majority of brands continue to use generic 404 pages that lack any sort of branding and have no visual connection to the rest of the website.
The standard 404 error page
A page like this pushes a visitor further away from your website mentally, and it almost certainly results in them leaving your website entirely by clicking away.
Instead, you want people to know that they’re still with you, so that they can support you. Make certain that the page manages to remain consistent with the overall branding style and messaging you wish to convey. NASA does this with a page that showcases the grandeur of the night sky while also includes the NASA emblem and the website’s primary navigation menu.
Nasa 404 error page:
In all likelihood, if you land on that page rather than the one immediately above, you will stay longer.
- Make it useful to the reader.
The visitor who visits on your website was trying to travel to another location when he or she arrived. You don’t want people to give up on attempting to find the page they were looking for, so do everything you can to make it as simple as possible for them.
Make sure to include a search box and suggested links to help people get back to the primary portions of your site where the majority of your visitors want to be.
In addition to a hamburger menu and search bar at the top of the page, ModCloth’s 404 page includes links to some of the most important sites on the site that they want visitors to see, such as New Arrivals and Bestsellers. In addition, it contains a corny pun, which earns it extra points.
404 Not Found page for modcloth:
The good news for those who find themselves caught on a 404 page on their website is that it does not have to signal the end of their journey; they may easily navigate their way back to a more relevant page.
- Inject some individuality into the mix.
404 pages are frequently technical and uninteresting. Instead of making the user’s experience worse by displaying something other than what they were looking for, make it better by being interesting and injecting some genuine personality into the website.
Both of the examples above do an excellent job of representing the personality of the business while also adding something a little more interesting to the experience of landing on the page when the user first visits the site.
Business owners put forth a great deal of effort to attract customers to their websites; the last thing they want is for all of that effort to be for naught when a customer bounces after landing on a generic 404 page. If 404 pages are unavoidable (as we stated at the outset, they are almost always unavoidable), you may use them to your advantage by making them more useful to both your brand and your users.