What Does ‘Page 404 Not Found’ Mean?

Written by The Valve+Meter Team / March 14, 2023 / 5 Minute Read
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Explore the meaning and impact of the “Page 404 Not Found” error and learn how to effectively manage it to improve your website’s user experience and SEO.


Introduction to the 404 Error

Every internet user has encountered a “Page 404 Not Found” message. But for business and website owners, this http status code and other error messages impact website visitors.

But don’t worry, it’s not the end of the road.

The 404 error message is a common sight in the digital world, and it’s a signal that the webpage you’re trying to reach is unavailable.

Understanding what a 404 error is and why it occurs can help you build a healthier website and a better user experience.

The Basics of HTTP Status Codes

HTTP status codes are the behind-the-scenes signals that your browser and web servers use to talk to each other.

These numerical codes tell you whether your request for a webpage was successful or if there was a problem.

Most of the time, you won’t even notice these codes working. But if something goes wrong, like a missing page, the server sends a code to your browser explaining the issue.

The well-known “404 Not Found” error is one example, indicating that the server couldn’t locate the page you wanted.

HTTP Status Codes 5
There are 5 classes of HTTP status codes.
Client Error 4xx
The class 4xx refers to client error – the request contains bad syntax or cannot be fulfilled.

Understanding the 404 Error Page

The 404 error is more than just a roadblock for website visitors. It is a signal that a web page is missing and may indicate that something is broken with a website.

This error pops up when a user attempts to reach a web page that cannot be found on the server.

The reasons behind a 404 error can vary, but they all lead to the same outcome: a page that’s nowhere to be found.

How Does A 404 Error Impact Search Engine Optimization?

Most websites will experience broken links and deleted pages that lead to the 404 error message.

A few 404 errors likely won’t hurt SEO, but many can. In fact, Google has stated that 30-40% of urls in Search Console may not impact performance.

Broken internal links and inbound links are signs of neglect.

Google wants to give users better recommendations. If your website is plagued by a poor user experience, then your website’s ranking is likely to suffer.

Why would Google recommend a website riddled with site errors with a high search engine ranking?

Let’s explore the reasons the error code appears.

What Triggers a 404 Error?

There are three primary reasons a 404 error can be triggered:

  1. Typos: Sometimes, it’s as simple as a typo in the URL—someone misspelling the webpage name.
  2. Broken Link: Other times, it could be due to a broken link, where the destination page has been moved or deleted. It’s a reminder to double-check your spelling and to keep your site’s links up to date.
  3. Deleted Page: When web pages are removed from a website, anyone navigating to that address will see the error code.

The Impact of 404 Errors on User Experience

Stumbling upon a 404 error can be a jarring experience for users.

The standard error page is a dead end.

This can lead to frustration, a loss of trust, and ultimately, a higher chance of users leaving your site.

That’s why it’s crucial to handle these errors gracefully and guide users back to the right path.

How to Identify 404 Errors on Your Website

Keeping an eye out for 404 errors on your website is like playing detective. You want to catch these errors before they lead your visitors astray.

Regular checks and the right tools can help you stay on top of any issues and ensure a smooth journey for your users.

Tools for Detecting Broken Links

Tools like Google Search Console and various website crawlers check the health of your website domain.

They can help you scan your website for broken links that lead to 404 errors.

In Google Search Console, you can view errors within the “index” section of reporting. 404 errors are labeled “Not Found (404).”

By identifying these links early, you can fix them before they cause any trouble for your visitors.

Analyzing Web Server Logs

Your web server logs are like a detailed map of your website’s traffic.

By analyzing these logs, you can spot any 404 errors that users encounter.

This can give you insights into which pages are missing and how users are trying to reach them. For example, if multiple visitors are making the same typo, you can create a 404 redirect for that typo to land on the correct web page.

With this information, you can make the necessary fixes and keep your site running smoothly.

404 Errors 30-40%
30-40% of urls in google search console are acceptable.
4xx 29
There are a 29 total 4xx client error codes.

Fixing 404 Errors

If ignored, dealing with 404 errors can feel like untangling a web. As an SEO agency, our team consistently encounters client websites in dire need of help.

Creating a systematic approach, you can clear the path to better maintenance and enrich your users’ experiences.

The key is to identify the errors, understand their origin, and apply the right fix. Whether it’s a typo, a moved page, or a broken link, each error can be addressed to restore the flow of your website.

Redirecting Broken Links

When you move a page or delete an outdated page, using a 301 redirect seamlessly guides users from the old, unavailable page to the correct one.

This same practice can be used for most broken links you find.

404 redirects improve user experience and help maintain your website’s SEO value.

Updating Internal and External Links

A proactive approach to website maintenance prevents 404 errors.

Regularly review and update your internal and external links to ensure they’re accurate. Fixing broken links on your own site is a top priority, but you also do not want to link to broken pages on third party sites.

Best Practices for Handling 404 Errors

Navigating the realm of 404 errors requires a blend of foresight and adaptability.

By adhering to best practices, you can transform these errors from roadblocks into opportunities for enhancing your website’s usability and reputation.

Customizing Your 404 Error Page

If the standard 404 error is a roadblock, then a custom 404 error page is like a friendly signpost in an unfamiliar area.

Developing a custom error page can provide clear guidance on how to return to the main path, perhaps with links to your homepage or popular sections, and even a search bar to help users find what they need.

Monitoring Your Site for New 404 Errors

Regularly monitor your site for new 404 errors using tools like Google Search Console.

This ongoing vigilance is like keeping a lookout for new obstacles on a trail, allowing you to address them promptly and keep the path clear for your users.

Common Misconceptions About 404 Errors

There are a few myths surrounding 404 errors that may cause businesses to overcorrect:

  1. All 404 errors are disastrous for SEO. A few 404 errors are normal, but a large number can indicate neglected site maintenance. It’s more important to fix broken links and redirect outdated URLs to preserve link value with search engine crawlers.
  2. Redirecting every 404 to the homepage is a solution. The proper use of a redirect is to send users to the new page or the most similar page on your website. Rerouting to your homepage creates a frustrating user experience.
  3. Custom 404 pages don’t impact SEO. While not a direct ranking factor, a helpful custom 404 page enhances user experience, reduces bounce rates, and can encourage visitors to stay on your site – all positive signals to search engines.
  4. Search engines will eventually stop indexing 404 pages. If the URL still exists, search engines may continue to try and crawl it, wasting valuable crawl budget. A 404 redirect can improve how new website content is indexed.
  5. You can ignore 404 errors for deleted content. If another website still links to the deleted page, you’re missing out on valuable link equity. Redirect the old URL to a relevant page on your site to capture that value.

Conclusion: Improving Web Pages

404 errors are inevitable, but they don’t have to be dead ends.

By understanding their causes, fixing them efficiently, and employing best practices, you can transform these errors into opportunities for improving your website’s user experience and SEO.

Remember, a well-handled 404 error can be a sign of a well-maintained website for your visitors and search engines.

FAQs: Addressing Common Questions About 404 Errors

The “404 Not Found” error is an HTTP status code indicating that the server couldn’t find the webpage you requested. It’s a standard response when a web page is missing or has been removed, and it helps users understand that the content they’re looking for is not available.

No, a 404 error does not mean you were blocked. It simply indicates that the webpage you’re trying to access is not available on the server. This could be due to a broken link, a removed page, or a typo in the URL.

A 404 error can be caused by various factors, including a typo in the URL, a broken link, or a page that has been moved or deleted. It’s a signal that the browser was able to communicate with the server, but the server couldn’t find the requested page.