What Is an error code 404?
Error 404 is a standard HTTP status code (also known as response code). Whenever an effort is made to access a URL or a server, the server returns a status code to indicate how the operation went. When the client can establish a connection with the server but cannot find the resource requested, it pulls out an error 404 status code. It essentially means that the page or whatever resource was requested cannot be found at that specific address. This is how a typical 404 error looks like:
What goes behind a 404 error?
A Web server returns an HTTP code 404 when asked to access a resource that does not exist. It can have multiple causes:
- A URL that formerly existed was permanently deleted and no redirection has been made.
- A URL where the Webmaster has made an error while entering the internal or external link, so it does not exist.
- Misconfiguration of the automated URL’s has been made by the content management system which can generate false URLs.
- Redesigning of Websites.
- Product pages which have been altered, removed or discontinued which results in changing or deletion.
- Errors in spellings within links; whether internal or external.
- Shifting a website or page from HTTP to https (or vice-versa)
How 404 errors impact user experience?
As a website manager, you should be more worried about the reaction humans have to 404 errors, because it is often a much severer response than Google’s. The cause of a 404 error is of no relevance to the visitors.
When user experience is disrupted, particularly by an un-customized 404 error, it reflects poorly on the website and brand. Many visitors will leave the website to find another source of information, products, or services instead of 404s.
Do 404 error pages Hurt SEO?
Answering this question in a Yes or No is tricky because there exist no extremities but to state in simple words, 404 error pages are not enemies to SEO, but it is definitely not a good idea to have an extended list of 404 pages on your website. The foremost concern with 404 pages is the poor user-experience that they generate. With search engine optimization being all about offering a good user experience, this is a subject that should be given due attention. Let us try to understand this in detail.
Google is quite forgiving when it comes to 404 errors. It will not de-index a website owing to these errors, and probably will not even directly decrease rankings.
It is not so much the actual 404 error pages that hurt SEO, but the links that contain URLs redirecting to the 404s cause a problem. These links create a bad user experience. They’re known as broken links.
404 errors are inevitable, and Google seems to realize the same. However, it’s important to remember that Google’s main priority in organic search is to deliver quality results. Google bots crawl a website via its internal links. If it recurrently finds links to non-existent pages on a site, Google will ultimately piece together that the owner of the website is not concerned with upholding a healthy user experience. If Google cannot crawl your website, it simply won’t. And your website is likely to suffer from a lack of traffic and have a big technical SEO impact.
Overall, 404 have errors are not disadvantageous to SEO if their proportion is rational.
However, there are 3 scenarios which might be troublesome:
- If one of the important pages of your website returns a 404 code by mistake (e.g. following a technical error): This point must be immediately fixed because not only Google thinks this page has vanished, but the visitors who want to access the page are also frustrated.
- If an interesting external website has created a backlink towards an URL of your site by using a wrong URL: It is advised to contact the webmaster and report the error. This is a good chance to recover an interesting backlink, which is good for search engine optimization.
- you have too many 404 errors on your site: The user experience and the analytical work of search engines could be hindered, which could ultimately have an adverse impact on the SEO of your website.
Typically, as far as the search engine optimization is concerned, Google gives priority to quality websites that provide useful content and are accessible to Internet users and search engines. And to meet this level of quality requirements linked to SEO, it’s a good practice to frequently correct 404 errors.
What can be done about 404 errors?
As mentioned above, 404 errors are inevitable and although keeping a check on them is always a good practice, however, they cannot be evaded altogether. There are certain ways in which you can make 404 user experience better to not reflect poorly in your brand.
- Customize your 404 error message: 404 error is a technical term that people outside the digital marketing space and web development industries might not understand. In its place, a simple “Sorry, we couldn’t find the page you were looking for” or if appropriate for your industry, making your 404 messages funny can help a great deal.
- Keep your 404 messages with the same template layout or site navigation as of your website.
- Make sure that your contact information is clearly displayed, and if possible, include a quick contact form.
- Include internal links of your most popular pages, for example, the Home Page and Product/Service pages or a list similar to your Sitemap.
- If you have a Blog, and every company should, you can include links to recent or featured posts.
404 error pages don’t really hurt your SEO, but you will definitely miss out on a lot if you don’t fix them. If you have backlinks pointing to pages on your website that return a 404, try to fix those backlinks and 301 redirect your broken URLs to the relevant location. If you have links on your site that point to broken pages, make sure you fix those as soon as possible, to maximize the link equity flow and UX.