What is a 404 error?
When someone visits your website and your hosting server can’t find the page requested, a 404 event takes place and an error message is generated by your hosting server.
Wikipedia defines it as:
“The 404 or Not Found error message is a HTTP standard response code indicating that the client was able to communicate with a given server, but the server could not find what was requested.”
404 errors arguably do not happen that often, but they do occur and for a variety of reasons. Some 404 errors are legitimate mistakes (nobody is perfect!), but most are either an oversight, a result of cutting corners, not paying attention, or just poor website management.
404 errors are problematic primarily for three reasons.
First, error messages create a poor visitor-experience at your website. A poor visitor-experience hurts your brand, website conversion, and leads to visitor bail-out.
Second, it creates a poor impression on your business. Sure, it may be subtle, but still it creates a situation that you can easily avoid and want to.
Third, 404 errors are highly likely to hurt your rankings and visibility at Google.
Google looks at your website and sees a 404 error as sloppy website management. And since Google HEAVILY weighs user-experience you definitely want to avoid hosting server 404 error messages.
Bottom line: a 404 error is NOT A GOOD THING at your website, for your business or for your visibility and rankings at Google.
Why do 404 errors occur? In most cases a 404 error is the result of:
- Deleting a page at your website without using a redirect.
- Moving a page
- Renaming a page URL
- Changing a permalink (if you are using WordPress)
- Programming errors (typos or similar mistakes)
- Webmaster laziness
- Website redesign
Talk to your webmaster or hosting company for more details about handling 404 error messages. Make sure that if people experience a 404 error at your website they are given options to easily get to other pages. This is commonly referred to as a “404 Catch Page.”
Visit your website and see what users currently experience if they are trying to find a missing, moved, or non-existent page:
Using the Google Search Console will help you to identify missing pages at your website – and keep Google happy!
For WordPress Users
If your website was built using WordPress you can install a free plugin that allows you to redirect 404 errors to a custom 404 Catch Page.
I recommend the 404 to 301 Redirect WordPress plugin by Joel James.
Examples of Error Messages
This first 404 error message isn’t very user-friendly. It really doesn’t say anything other than an error has occurred.
The second is a customized 404 error page and a much friendly message, with easy to click options for the user.