Let’s be honest: there are no joys of getting a 404 page when browsing a website. Whether caused by a mistyped URL or page that no longer exists, a 404 page negatively impacts your business and brand.
This blog explains what 404 error messages are and how to fix them to keep your website safe from the dreaded joys of 404.
What is a 404 error, really?
Most simply, a 404 error is a code that is generated when a requested page cannot be found on the server. More specifically, there are two main types of 404 errors that can occur:
A hard 404 is most common and most noticeable, occurring when a page cannot be found or accessed. The good thing about a hard 404 is that its impact on your SEO is usually minimal since it can occur by a user typing in the web address incorrectly or a host of other human errors.
A soft 404 is more dangerous to your SEO and page performance. A soft 404 occurs when the requested site generates a unique response code that the URL is neither broken nor missing. In other words, the problem exists in the page design or coding, not due to a request error. An abundance of soft 404 errors waste the time of the Googlebots trying to index the pages on your site for unique and valuable content, which leaves your website under-optimized by the time the Googlebot moves onto your next domain.
Finally, a soft 404 creates a negative and even confusing experience for users, which in turn impacts negatively on your Google rating and SEO performance.
Fixing a 404
Fixing a 404 means knowing a 404 exists, which is why our Flight Plan team is continuously monitoring crawl logs and assessing any crawl errors with a portfolio of sophisticated diagnostic tools that we use to conduct a comprehensive site audit. If and when we identify an issue, we immediately deploy 1 of 3 strategies:
- Redirect the 404 error to another relevant page on your site, especially if the page in question is trending toward low demand or outdated in your product or service offerings. We do not recommend redirecting to your homepage, a typical “easy fix” that leaves users confused (“How did I end up back here?”) or frustrated (“How is this information relevant to my search in any way?”). That said, a recent WooRank article reports that redirecting to a homepage is still used in 11.4% of cases.
- Correct and update the code for each of the URLs in question, which is the best choice for pages that continue to show high demand among your users.
- Restore the original page if this strategy can rectify the problem effectively and completely without risk of future 404 errors.
We then complete a set of tests to ensure that Googlebot crawlers read, index, and display your pages correctly. These tests ensure that your pages are fully optimized for SEO.
Creating a Custom 404 Page
Finally, Flight Plan creates a custom 404 page that will help visitors navigate effectively to the information they want or need from your website. Depending on your business and customer base, this page might include navigation options, an explanatory or even humorous error message, and any additional information you want your users to have. As WordPress experts, we can advise on which of the dozens of custom 404 plugins will work best for your business and ensure that your choice integrates seamlessly with your WordPress site.
The benefits of a custom 404 page include:
- Reducing bounce rates.
- Keeping visitors engaged and moving through your sales process.
- Maintaining consistent branding across your website.
- Leave visitors with a positive experience after experiencing a 404 error code.
Curious about what a custom 404 page might look like? Check out these examples of how we have negotiated a potential 404 frustration for some of our clients:
404 error codes are a painful reality of the online world. But being proactive, diligent, and aware of the possibilities available to your business in terms of web design and functionality can mitigate the risk and turn potential frustration into an opportunity. For a full review of your 404 status and for advice on how to avoid the joys of 404 error codes, contact Flight Plan Marketing today and let our team make every landing a great one.