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What is a 404 error, and how do you fix it?

You probably know the situation: you land on a non-existent page while visiting a website. You have landed on a 404 page. This can also happen on your website and impact its usability. So, it is essential to understand what a 404 error is and how to solve it. You can read all about it in this article.

What are 404 errors?

A 404 error is an error code on a website. The 404 error code indicates the page you wanted to visit cannot be found or does not exist. A 404 error is also known as ‘404 not found’, ‘HTTP 404 error’ or ‘404 error code’.

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Types of 404-errors

One 404 error code is not the other error. Several types exist. Below you will find 4 of them.

  1. Soft 404

A soft 404 error occurs when, for example, the server passes a successful 200 status code, but the page or certain content cannot be loaded.

  1. Hard 404

A hard 404 occurs when the server cannot find the page.

  1. DNS error

An error with 404 can also occur if there is a problem with DNS.

  1. Server error

Finally, the error code 404 may occur if there is a server problem.

How does a 404 error occur?

Several reasons exist why a 404 error occurs:

  1. The page does not exist;

The page you are trying to reach has been deleted or never existed.

  1. The URL is wrong;

The URL contains a typo, preventing you from reaching the page. Or a link on a page points to a non-existent page.

  1. The page has been moved;

The page has been moved to a different location on the server. The old URL has not been updated and thus still points to the old location.

  1. The server has a problem;

The server is overloaded or has a technical error.

  1. The domain name does not exist.

For example, the domain name has expired and has not been renewed again.

The impact of a 404-error

The error code 404 seems harmless, but it significantly impacts your website. A 404 error message leads to a lower SEO score and a poor user experience. Read more about it below.

1. Low SEO score

With SEO, you make sure your website ranks high in Google. However, if your website has a lot of 404 errors, Google gets the idea that you do not maintain your website correctly and is, therefore, not user-friendly. As a result, you will end up lower in the search results or, in the worst case, disappear from Google. 

2. Poor user experience

A user-friendly website contributes to a positive visitor experience. However, frustration ensues when they are looking for a page and keep seeing 404 pages. Visitors will drop out and place an order at your competitor’s site. Moreover, as a website, you come across as unreliable if your site shows errors.

Identifying a 404 error

Fortunately, it is easy to identify the 404 error message. You can identify the errors in several ways that we highlight below.

1. Check the URL

Have you entered an URL in your web browser, but it doesn’t work? First of all, check the URL. After all, spelling error is common. To give you an example:





2. Check the server logs

You can also look in the server logs. The logs contain information about the requests sent to the server. So you can identify whether executed page requests are not working. You need technical knowledge to understand the server logs.

3. Use Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a helpful tool for indexing your website in Google. You can also use the tool to detect 404 errors. Through the indexing report, you will find a list of error messages. Click on a non-found URL to get more information, such as on which pages the error 404 was found.

4. Use a 404 checker

The most convenient way to find 404 errors is via a 404 checker. Free tools are available, such as Broken Link Checker or Atomseo. However, these free tools do not always find all 404 error messages. Moreover, there may be a limit on the number of pages you can check. 

A better way is to use the 404 checker of Screaming Frog. You let the software crawl your website, and 404 errors are found automatically. You can read exactly how Screaming Frog works in this documentation.

How do you fix 404 errors?

Have you found 404 errors? Of course, you want to fix them. Below, we give you 7 tips to fix 404 errors.

  1. Check the URL.

The URL needs to be correct and contains no spelling errors. Change the URL if necessary.

  1. Enable a redirect.

Has the page been moved, or have you changed the URL? Create a 301 redirect so the visitor is automatically directed to the new page via the old URL.

  1. Create a page.

Does the page not exist? Create a new page with the correct content and URL.

  1. Delete the page.

Is the page no longer relevant? Please remove it from your website.

  1. Clear all cache and cookie files.

Clear all your web browser’s temporary cache and cookie files to load the new version of a page.

  1. Update the sitemap.

Please create a new sitemap and submit it to search engines. For Google, you upload a new sitemap to Search Console.

  1. Create a custom 404 page.

Create a 404 page containing information about the page the visitor wants to view that does not exist. Also, provide suggestions for other pages.

Creating a 404 page

404 errors can, unfortunately, never be prevented entirely. For instance, you have no influence on a wrong URL on another website to your website. Or when a visitor mistypes the URL in the browser. To still make your website user-friendly when someone encounters a 404 error, it is best to create a custom 404 page. Such a page fits your website’s house style and comes across as professional.

The best guidelines for a custom 404 page:

  1. Clearly indicate the page was not found. Please keep it simple.
  2. Place a search bar on the page.
  3. Place links to your site’s most popular pages.
  4. Put contact details of your customer service on the page. Or place a contact form.
  5. Place a link back to the homepage.
  6. Give the page a good meta title and description.
  7. Don’t put ads on the page.

You can find more valuable tips in our article ‘Create a 404 error page‘.

What is a 404 error in a nutshell

A 404 error is a common problem on websites. If you don’t fix the error message, it can impact your site’s SEO score and usability. Luckily, this article has given you valuable tips on how to get started fixing 404 errors. Good luck!

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