404 errors might not be as commonly seen on the modern web as they once were, but they’re still around – and they’re still something that every web site owner and administrator needs to know about!
We’ll tell you what you need to know about 404 errors with our handy guide!
What Does A 404 Error Mean?
A 404 error is one of the more common error messages that people might see when browsing the web.
It’s actually not as common to see a straight, unaltered 404 error message in the wild as it was even just 10 years ago, but they definitely still exist.
If you see a 404 error when you’re browsing web pages, it means that essentially you’ve tried to visit a webpage that doesn’t exist, or isn’t reachable at that web address.
These types of errors can be sometimes confusing to the end user, as they might not be aware of exactly what they mean.
They can also lead users to believe that they’ve done something wrong to cause the 404 error to pop up!
And, while it’s certainly possible for a user of a website to reach a 404 error page through a mistake that they made, the far more likely explanation for a user seeing a 404 error is due to the administrator of the site.
With that in mind, what exactly causes a 404 error to happen? And how can website owners and administrators fix and prevent 404 errors?
Well, don’t worry, as we’ll tell you what a site owner or admin needs to know about fixing and preventing 404 errors on their websites!
When Would You See A 404 Error?
You’re nowhere near as likely to see a 404 error nowadays as you were in the past, but they still exist.
Actually, with modern web standards, it’s possible that you might not even realize a 404 error has occurred!
A 404 error will occur when a user tries to visit a part of the website that for some reason, can’t be reached.
This doesn’t mean that the server running the website is down, as the server needs to still be reachable to generate the 404 error and message page for the user of the website.
So, in this instance, a p[age that isn’t reachable essentially means it doesn’t exist at the address you’re trying to find it at.
Essentially, this means that the link you followed is either wrong, or the content has been moved from the original location.
This doesn’t mean that the content has been deleted from the server, necessarily – although it can mean that.
It’s normally more like the address linking to the content has been changed, without some of the pages that link to that content being changed.
SO, if you find yourself following a link on your website that leads only to a 404 error page, it’s a sure sign that there’s either some orphaned or deleted content on your website.
How To Fix 404 Errors
404 errors are more than just a frustration, they can actually put users off your website. A 404 error is often accompanied by a whole load more 404 errors, in fact!
If users are having trouble getting to a resource or page on your website, it’s often the case that there are many other things that are missing, orphaned, or deleted.
A 404 error is a sign of a website that’s in need of some basic maintenance.
It shouldn’t be possible to reach a 404 page on your website from any of the internal links, or from any external links either. This includes search engine pages.
This means that it’s really important to make sure your internal linking is always up to date, and that if you change the address of any page that you also update any links you have to that page.
Of course, with the sheer age of some websites, it can be really hard to make sure that every single page going back into history stays at the same link. It’s particularly hard to make sure every link is accurate by hand!
This is why many people use automated tools to help them find any dead or orphaned links and content on their website.
Using tools like Google Search Console or Dead Link Checker can make finding potential sources of 404 errors on your website a lot easier.
What Else To Do?
404 errors are a bad thing to many users. In fact, they’re something that can really put users off from coming back to your site.
Not only do they frustrate anyone who’s trying to find the content that your links promised, but they’re also a sign of a site that’s either not finished yet, or is falling apart at the seams.
To say the least, they inspire a lack of confidence in your website!
So, prevention is the best thing to do in many cases. Simply make sure that you’re careful when you move or delete content or change web addresses.
Don’t do things like this without considering how it will affect every single link that’s ever been made to that page, as if you change the address, none of them will work!
You can mitigate against this by setting up redirects on your web server.
These can make it so that anybody who visits the outdated link will have their browser automatically forwarded to the content they’re looking for at its new address.
This is far better for the end user than simply receiving a 404 page which does nothing to help them find the content.
In fact, it’s for this reason that many owners and administrators of websites prefer to use 404 error pages a lot less, as they’re essentially a brick wall that completely stops the user navigating to where they want to be on your site.
So, when making any changes to your website, make sure that you’ve checked for any orphaned and dead links, and consider using redirects whenever you change a page address on your site.
Hopefully this article has helped you learn how to manage and fix 404 errors on your own website!