As a webmaster, you have to be across a lot of different elements to ensure your website is practical, functional and aesthetically pleasing. At the end of the day, almost everything you do is aimed at optimising your website for users – side benefits of that include a better presence in search results and, hopefully, achieving business goals. One of the common things you may need to troubleshoot is 404 errors.
Ok, so what is a 404 error?
Basically, a 404 error is what happens when a given URL can’t be matched with the correct web page. This may occur because the URL was typed incorrectly by a user or because the original page was moved or taken down and the URL was not adjusted or redirected to reflect the change.
And…why do I care?
Well, it means that someone is trying to access a page on your website and can’t view the content they wanted to. Imagine seeing something in your search results, thinking it is exactly what you’re looking for, clicking on it and being given an error message. What’s your next step?
Chances are you’re not going to stay on the website and try and find what you were looking for – you’ll probably go back to your search results and try the next link on the page. That doesn’t indicate a high-quality website, and could affect rankings for other search terms, as well as just being plain inconvenient for users!
Right. So how can I fix it?
The best way to prevent 404 errors from showing on pages you’ve removed or moved is to implement a 301 redirect. This permanent redirect will send users to a page of your choosing – ideally it will be a page that offers the same (or superior) information they were originally looking for – and it will pass on most of the authority from the previous URL, meaning Google is more likely to list the new/better page in search results.
The method you use to implement 301 redirects will depend on your CMS and whether or not you have a developer available to help you out. If you’re unsure, it’s best to speak to a professional who can ensure the redirects are active and accurate.
Of course, if the error is showing because a user is simply mistyping a URL, there isn’t much you can do about that!
Probably the best part of 404 pages is that they’re customisable. They present an opportunity for you to get creative and show off your brand personality (and direct readers somewhere else)! Get punny, funny or serious, and use the chance to send them somewhere genuinely helpful to prevent them smashing that ‘back’ button.
Feeling a little overwhelmed by this? Don’t make any errors – let me redirect you to our SEO page.