How To Spot & Fix "404 Page Not Found" Error For Better SEO

How To Spot & Fix “404 Page Not Found” Error For Better SEO

  • Author
    Neha
  • Date
    June 25, 2024
  • Read Time
    10 Min
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

    • What Does a 404 Error Look Like?
    • ‘Hard’ vs. ‘Soft’ 404 Errors
    • Why a 404 HTTP Status Code Error Occurs?
    • How to Identify 404 Error Pages Using Google Search Console
    • Impact of 404 error pages on Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    • Checkpoints on possible solutions and practices to resolve and avoid 404 error pages in website
    • How to Fix Error 404 Not Found?
    • Process to Fix 404 Error for WordPress
    • Process to Fix 404 Error for Shopify
    • Process to Fix 404 Error for Magento
    • Conclusion

A 404 error, also known as the “Page Not Found” error, is a specific instance of HTTP status codes, which are used by web servers to indicate different types of HTTP responses. This error occurs when a user attempts to access a web page or resource that cannot be located by the web server. Among the various HTTP status codes, the 404 code is particularly significant, indicating that the requested URL does not exist or has been moved without a proper redirect. HTTP status codes include a wide range of responses, from ‘HTTP 400 – Bad Request’ to ‘404 Not Found’, each representing a different type of error code. When a user encounters a 404 error, they typically see a browser message stating “404 Not Found” or a custom error page designed by the website owner. The ‘404’ is an example of an error code indicating a specific issue that can occur for various reasons, such as a mistyped or dead link, a deleted or moved page, or a server configuration issue. The 404 error is one of the most common errors encountered on the internet, and it can negatively impact the user experience, Search platforms visibility, and if not handled properly, ultimately it leads to wastage of the crawl budget as the overall website performance.

What Does a 404 Error Look Like?

A 404 error typically appears as a web page with the error code “404” and a message indicating that the requested page or resource could not be found on the server. The page may also include an explanation, such as “404 Not Found” or “The requested URL was not found on this server.” The appearance of the 404 error page can vary depending on the website or server configuration, but it generally has a plain or minimalistic design with the error code prominently displayed.

‘Hard’ vs. ‘Soft’ 404 Errors

A “hard” 404 error, also known as a “true” or “permanent” 404, occurs when a web page or resource has been permanently removed or deleted from the server. This is typically the result of website restructuring, content pruning, or a link that has not been redirected. Web spider treat hard 404 errors as a signal that the page no longer exists, and they will eventually remove the URL from their index.

On the other hand, a “soft” 404 error, or a “temporary” 404, is often caused by a server-side or coding issue that prevents a valid page from being served correctly. This could be due to a misconfiguration, a plugin conflict, or a temporary server overload. Soft 404 errors can be problematic because browsers may interpret them as hard 404s, leading to the unintended removal of valid pages from their indexes.

From an SEO perspective, it’s crucial to address both hard and soft 404 errors promptly. Hard 404s should be properly redirected to relevant pages or the homepage, ensuring that users and search engines are seamlessly guided to the correct destination. Soft 404s, on the other hand, require troubleshooting and resolving the underlying issues to prevent valid pages from being improperly deindexed.

Why a 404 HTTP Status Code Error Occurs?

404 errors are among various status codes used by Internet server to communicate the status of a request to the client.

  • Broken or Outdated Links: Links within a website can become broken or outdated due to changes in the website structure, content reorganization, or the removal of pages. External links pointing to the website may also break if the target page is moved or deleted.
  • Mistyped URLs: Users may accidentally mistype a URL, resulting in a non-existent address that triggers a 404 Not Found.
  • Moved or Deleted Content: If a webpage or resource is moved to a different location or deleted entirely without implementing proper redirects, visitors attempting to access the old URL will encounter a 404 Not Found.
  • Server Configuration Issues: Incorrect server configurations, such as misconfigured virtual hosts or rewrite rules, can lead to 404 errors even when the requested resource exists.
  • Content Management System (CMS) Inconsistencies: In content management systems like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla, issues with permalink structures, post slugs, or plugin conflicts can sometimes cause 404 errors.
  • Development Environments: During the development or staging phase of a website, temporary URLs or test pages may result in 404 errors if not properly handled before going live.
  • Case Sensitivity: Some Internet server are case-sensitive, meaning that capitalization in URLs matters. If a user enters a URL with incorrect capitalization, it may lead to a 404 error.
  • Crawling Errors: Search engines and web crawlers may encounter 404 errors when attempting to access pages or resources that no longer exist or have been moved without proper redirects.
  • File Permissions: Misconfigured file permissions on the server can lead to 404 errors. It’s crucial to ensure that file and folder permissions are correctly set to facilitate the smooth functioning of the website and prevent such errors.

How to Identify 404 Error Pages Using Google Search Console

Identifying 404 (Page Not Found) error pages on your own website is crucial for maintaining a seamless user experience and improving your site’s SEO. Site administrators should prioritize finding and fixing these errors using various tools and methods, such as:

  1. Browser Indication: When you try to access a non-existent page on your website, most modern browsers will display a “404 Not Found” error message in the browser window.
  2. HTTP Status Code: The server responds with an HTTP status code of 404 when a requested page or resource is not found on your own domain. You can check the status code in your browser’s developer tools (usually by opening the Network tab and inspecting the response headers).
  3. Server Log Files: HTTP server typically log all incoming requests, including those that result in 404 errors. Analyzing the server log files (e.g., Apache’s access.log or Nginx’s access.log) helps identify 404 errors and the requested URLs that caused them on your own website.
  4. Web Crawling/Scanning Tools: Various web crawling and scanning tools, such as Screaming Frog SEO Spider, can be used to crawl your website and identify 404 error pages. These tools will report the URLs that returned a 404 status code.
  5. Google Search Console: If you have your website registered with Google Search Console, you can check the “Crawl Errors” report, which lists the URLs on your own site that returned 404 errors when crawled by Google’s bots.
  6. Site Search: Some websites have a built-in search functionality. Attempting to search for a non-existent page or term on your own website can sometimes trigger a 404 error page.
  7. Broken Link Checkers: There are online tools and browser extensions (e.g., Broken Link Checker for Chrome, Ahref Broken Link Checker) that can scan your website or specific page for dead links, which often result in 404 errors.

Checkout SEMRush Reference for detailed understanding to 404 error page: Semrush blog- What does error 404 not found mean

Impact of 404 error pages on Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Well, It becomes  a normal part of a website when an old content dies and a new content is placed with URL change, but 404 errors can have a significant impact on a website’s SEO performance. Website owners play a crucial role in mitigating the SEO impact of 404 errors by implementing the strategies discussed to ensure their site remains user-friendly and Search portals compliant. Here are some of the major implications:

  • Poor User Experience: When users encounter a 404 error, they are likely to become frustrated and leave the website, resulting in a higher bounce rate. Search engines prioritize websites with a good user experience, and a high bounce rate can negatively affect rankings.
  • Crawling and Indexing Issues: Web crawlers rely on links to discover and index new pages. If they encounter too many 404 errors, they may assume that the website has a high number of dead links, leading to reduced crawl efficiency and potentially fewer pages being indexed.
  • Link Equity Loss: Expired links can lead to the loss of link equity, which is the value and authority passed from one page to another via links. When a page with high link equity returns a 404 error, that value is essentially lost, potentially impacting the rankings of other pages on the site.
  • Wasted Crawl Budget: Search engine crawlers have limited resources, and if they spend too much time crawling and processing 404 errors, it can waste the crawl budget allocated to a website, resulting in fewer pages being crawled and indexed.
  • Negative Brand Perception: A website with frequent 404 errors can create a negative perception of the brand, potentially leading to a loss of trust and credibility with both users and search engines.
  • Reduced Rankings and Traffic: Ultimately, the combination of poor user experience, indexing issues, link equity loss, and other factors can lead to a decline in search engine rankings and organic traffic for the affected website.

A guide from Google for 404 Error Pages: Do 404 errors hurt my site?

Checkpoints on possible solutions and practices to resolve and avoid 404 error pages in website

Conduct a Website Audit: Perform a comprehensive audit of your website to identify all existing 404 errors. This can be done manually or with the help of tools like Screaming Frog, DeepCrawl, or Google Search Console.

Implement Redirects: For pages or resources that have been moved or renamed, implement proper redirects (301 permanent redirects or 302 temporary redirects) to seamlessly guide users and search engines to the new location.

Update Internal Links: Identify and fix any broken internal links within your website content, ensuring that all links point to the correct and existing pages.

Manage External Links: Monitor and update external links pointing to your website. Reach out to websites linking to your outdated or broken URLs and request that they update their links.

Understand Error Messages: Pay close attention to the error messages displayed by the server when encountering a 404 error. These messages can provide crucial clues for troubleshooting, guiding the process of identifying and fixing the underlying issues causing the errors.

Create a Custom 404 Page: Design a user-friendly and informative custom 404 page that provides guidance and alternative navigation options for visitors, rather than displaying a generic error message.

Implement Link Monitoring: Set up a system or use tools to continuously monitor your website for dead links, enabling you to address them promptly.

Optimize Redirects: Ensure that your redirects are set up correctly and avoid redirect chains or loops, which can negatively impact user experience and search engine crawling.

Consolidate and Remove Duplicate Content: Identify and consolidate duplicate content onto a single canonical URL, using appropriate redirection or canonical tags to avoid duplicate content issues.

Update Sitemaps: Regenerate and submit updated sitemaps to search engines after fixing 404 errors and implementing redirects, ensuring that search engines can efficiently crawl and index your website.

Improve Website Structure and Navigation: Review your website’s architecture and navigation to ensure a logical and user-friendly structure, minimizing the likelihood of users encountering 404 errors.

Implement Regular Maintenance: Establish a regular maintenance routine to audit and address any new 404 errors that may arise due to content updates, website restructuring, or other changes.

Monitor and Analyze Analytics: Continuously monitor website analytics to identify pages with high bounce rates or exit rates, which may indicate the presence of 404 errors or other user experience issues.

How to Fix Error 404 Not Found?

There are several effective strategies to address and resolve 404 errors, ensuring a seamless browsing experience for visitors and maintaining a healthy online presence. By implementing the following steps, website owners and SEO practitioners can mitigate the impact of 404 errors and optimize their websites for better search engine performance. Below we will describe different techniques for fixing error 404 not found message.

Process to Fix 404 Error for WordPress

WordPress:

  • Install a Redirection Plugin: Install and activate a redirection plugin like Rankmath, Yoast, Redirection or Simple 301 Redirects to easily manage and implement redirects for moved or deleted pages.
  • Check Permalink Settings: Ensure that your permalink settings are correctly configured. Go to Settings > Permalinks and select the desired permalink structure, then save changes.
  • Update Broken Links: Use a plugin like dead Link Checker or a third-party tool like Screaming Frog to scan your website for dead links. Update or remove any outdated Intra-site links.
    Check Broken Links free at: Broken Link Checker Tool
  • Create a Custom 404 Page: Navigate to Settings > Permalinks and scroll down to the “Error Page” section. Here, you can create a custom 404 page template by adding code or using a plugin like Custom 404 Pro.
  • Check for Plugin Conflicts: Deactivate and reactivate plugins one by one to identify if any plugin is causing 404 errors due to conflicts or improper configurations.
  • Update .htaccess File: If you have access to the server, you can manually update the .htaccess file to add or modify redirects for specific URLs.

Process to Fix 404 Error for Shopify

  • Identify 404 Errors: Use Shopify’s built-in reports or third-party apps like Rewind Backup to identify pages or resources returning 404 errors, or tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, screamingfrog will help to identify 404 error pages.
  • Create URL Redirects: In the Shopify admin panel, go to Online Store > Navigation and select the “URL Redirects” option. Here, you can create 301 or 302 redirects for moved or deleted pages.

Visit for Reference:Shopify URL redirect tutorial

  • Update Theme Links: If the 404 errors are caused by broken links within your theme files, navigate to Online Store > Themes and edit the relevant theme files to update or remove the broken links.
  • Enable Custom 404 Page: In the Shopify admin panel, go to Online Store > Themes > Customize and select the “404.liquid” template to create a custom 404 page design.
  • Check App Integrations: Ensure that any third-party apps or integrations are not causing conflicts or introducing broken links to your Shopify store.

Process to Fix 404 Error for Magento

Check Magento Configuration: Ensure that your Magento installation is properly configured, including web server settings, URL rewrite rules, and .htaccess file configurations.

Implement Redirects: In the Magento admin panel, navigate to System > Configuration > Web > URL Rewrites and create the necessary redirects for moved or deleted pages using the “Add URL Rewrite” option.

Visit for Reference: Magento URL redirection tutorial

Update Links in CMS Pages: If the 404 errors are caused by broken links in your CMS pages or blocks, edit the respective pages and update or remove the broken links.

Check for Extension Conflicts: Deactivate and reactivate third-party extensions one by one to identify if any extension is causing 404 errors due to conflicts or improper configurations.

Customize 404 Page: In the Magento admin panel, navigate to System > Configuration > Web > Default Pages and customize the content for the 404 Page.

Use a 404 Monitoring Extension: Install a third-party extension like “404 Monitor” or “404 Viewer” to monitor and identify 404 errors on your Magento store.

Regenerate URL Rewrites: If you’ve made changes to your product or category URLs, regenerate the URL rewrites by navigating to System > Tools > URL Rewrite Management and running the URL Rewrite process.

Check for Database Inconsistencies: Use the Magento database repair tool or consult an expert to identify and fix any database inconsistencies that may be causing 404 errors.

Conclusion

It’s important to note that the specific steps may vary depending on your CMS version and customizations. The removal of 404 errors is not just about tidying up broken links, it’s about enhancing user experience, maintaining search engine visibility, and safeguarding the credibility of your website. By implementing the checkpoints and processes outlined in this guide, you can effectively resolve 404 errors, mitigate their impact on SEO, and ensure a seamless browsing experience for your audience. Remember, a website free from 404 errors is a website that’s optimized for success in the digital realm.

 

FAQ

 

  • How to fix 404 page not found?
    To fix a 404 error, first identify the URLs triggering the error using website crawling tools or server logs. Then, implement 301 redirects for pages that have moved, create a custom user-friendly 404 page, fix broken internal/external links, remove/consolidate thin content, and regularly monitor for new 404s.

  • Does 404 error mean I was blocked?
    No, a 404 error does not necessarily mean you were blocked from accessing a website. It simply means that the specific page or resource you tried to access could not be found on the server.

  • What is the meaning of 404 not found?
    The 404 not found error indicates that the server was unable to find the requested website, page, or resource. This could be due to a broken or outdated link, the page being moved or deleted, or a typing error in the URL.

  • How do I fix a 404 app not found?
    To fix a 404 app not found error, ensure that the app is installed correctly and compatible with your device/operating system. Clear the app cache, update the app, or reinstall it. If the issue persists, contact the app developer for further assistance.

  • What causes a 404 server error?
    A 404 server error can be caused by various factors, including broken links, deleted or moved pages, mistyped URLs, server configuration issues, or website restructuring without proper redirects in place.

  • What is 404 reason error?
    The 404 reason error is typically accompanied by a more specific message explaining why the Desired content could not be found, such as “File not found” or “Page does not exist.”

  • What is 404 and 500 status code?
    404 and 500 are HTTP status codes. 404 indicates a client-side error where the desired content could not be found, while 500 indicates a server-side error, meaning the server encountered an unexpected condition that prevented it from fulfilling the request.

  • What is the HTTP code 404?
    The HTTP 404 code is a client error status code indicating that the solicited data, such as a webpage, image, or file, could not be found on the server.

  • What does 404 error mean?
    A 404 error means that the webpage or resource you tried to access could not be found on the server. This error is commonly displayed with the message “404 Not Found.”

  • What is 404 method error?
    A 404 method error occurs when the server cannot find the requested resource and the HTTP method used in the request, such as GET or POST, is not allowed or supported for that resource.

  • What is the best way to handle 404 error?
    The best way to handle 404 errors is to implement 301 redirects, create a user-friendly custom 404 page, fix broken links, remove or consolidate thin content, and regularly monitor and maintain your website to prevent new 404 errors from occurring.

  • How do I remove a Google 404 error?
    To remove a 404 error from Google, log in to your Google Search Console account, navigate to the Coverage report, and request Google to remove the affected URLs from their index. Additionally, fix the underlying issues causing the 404 errors on your website.

  • How to fix soft 404 errors
    To fix soft 404 errors, which occur when a valid page is not served correctly due to server-side or coding issues, you need to troubleshoot and resolve the underlying problems. This may involve updating plugins, fixing server configurations, or addressing any coding conflicts preventing the page from loading properly.

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How To Spot & Fix "404 Page Not Found" Error For Better SEO