When was the last time you clicked on a link, and instead of getting to the desired webpage, you ended up with an error that said the page does not exist? Maybe you got a message that read, “Error 404 Not Found”.
What is Error 404?
What does error 404 mean? A 404 error is nothing more than a standardized Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) status code, which you get to see in the form of a message sent from a server. The error message comes in response to an HTTP request sent through a web browser. It basically works in indicating that a user is successful in connecting to a server, but the server is unable to find the requested information.
A 404 error happens when users try to follow dead or broken links, and they get 404 error messages in return. These errors are among the most commonly encountered on the internet. You may come across them in different forms, which include:
- 404 error
- Error 404
- 404 not found
- HTTP error 404
- 404 error page not found
- Error 404 not found
- HTTP 404 not found
- Error code 404
Causes of Error 404 Not Found
The most common reason you get to see a 404 error page is when a website deletes content or moves it to a different URL. Other reasons that 404 error not found messages appear include:
- A URL or its content has been moved or deleted without making suitable adjustments to internal links.
- A URL is not written correctly during development, it is typed incorrectly by a user, or it is linked incorrectly.
- The requested domain name is no longer in use.
- The domain name system (DNS) cannot convert the requested domain name to an Internet Protocol (IP) address.
- The server that hosts a website suffers from a broken connection or is not running.
It is not uncommon for dead links to hover around for long periods because not all webmasters know that their linked content has moved or been deleted. There are numerous instances of websites continuing to appear in search engine results pages (SERPs) despite not being available anymore, either at all or at the specified URL.
Other websites that are linked to dead or broken links are usually not informed that the website in question no longer exists or has moved to a new URL. Several webmasters don’t run regular checks with the external links, which is why they can end up sitting on dead links for a while before taking any action.
What Problems Can 404 Errors Cause?
Popular perception is that 404 errors have a negative impact on the indexing of websites and their positions in search results. However, this is not entirely true in most scenarios. What do you think happens to a missing page when a bot is looking for it? If the bot finds a trace of the page, it removes it from the index. If it does not find it, there’s simply nothing to scan.
What you need to remain wary about is soft 404 errors. These error messages are not sent by servers. Instead, they function as tags assigned by search engines to specific pages after a crawl. Soft 404 errors have an adverse effect because, in some cases, they are indicative of pages with little to no content. They come with redirections to pages, which usually do not meet user expectations. In addition, the non-existent page does not come with a 404 or 410 server message.
Checking and Tracking 404 Errors
Now that you know what an error 404 means, you may move toward what you can do to track them on your website. You may find various online tools that crawl through websites and find pages that come up with 404 error codes. You may use such tools to good effect when it comes to finding links within a given website. However, they tend to ignore 404 error messages that arise because of links on other websites. An easy way to overcome this problem is by running a periodical analysis of all external links.
Some of the more popular online tools that let you find dead and broken links include:
- Google Search Console. All you need to get started is register your website with Google. The crawler that is part of the Google Search Console displays all found 404 errors in an easy to use online tool. You get to mark the errors as done once they are fixed. You may use this tool to find errors in robots.txt files. It also lets you check how often Google crawlers crawl your website.
- W3C Link Checker. W3C Link Checker is an easy to use online tool that you may turn to without registering as a user. Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), this tool tests all individual pages with great detail, which is why the process takes longer than most other similar tools. All you need to do, though, is enter you URL, and then wait for the link checker to do the rest.
- Deal Link Checker. Dead Link Checker is a simple and quick online tool that lets you find internal and externally linked pages with 404 errors. Like W3C Link Checker, using this tool requires that you enter your URL and sit back. The results come in the form of a list with all the error pages and their corresponding URLs and status codes.
Custom Error Pages
It is fairly easy to configure web servers to display customized error 404 pages. Customized pages that you get designed can take from your website’s branding and they can come with natural descriptions. They may also include search boxes and site maps to make for aetter user experience.
The size of a custom error page plays in role in whether or not it is indexed by search engines. For instance, if a page is less than 512 bytes in size, Google Chrome replaces that page with an alternative page that is suggested by Google’s algorithms. Internet Explorer functions in a similar way, replacing pages less than 512 bytes in size with friendly error pages.
In paying attention to the importance of creating great user experiences, some websites have focused on injecting humor into their 404 error pages. Examples in case include Pixar, 20th Century Fox, Marvel, Airbnb, Lego, iMDb, DropBox, and MailChimp.
Providing additional information through an error 404 page in the form of a search box or a link to the homepage is fairly common. Some websites take it a step further, by trying to locate the page that the user was looking for originally. Depending on the content management system (CMS) you use, you may be able to find extensions to do this for you.