404 Page Not Found: What Is It, and How to Fix It?

404 error pink background

Ever typed in a URL and been met with the dreaded “404 Not Found” message? 

It’s like wandering into a shop with no staff, lights off, and doors locked shut. 

Not exactly a welcoming experience.

That’s where your website’s 404 page comes in, and it’s much more important than you might think.

Typically, encountering 404 error codes on your website shouldn’t raise concerns as they often stem from minor issues like a mistyped URL.

However, if 404 errors appear extensively throughout your site, preventing access to content that should be available, it’s crucial to address the issue promptly.

Additionally, it can harm your site’s rankings since it disrupts search engines’ ability to effectively crawl your website.

Understanding 404 Errors

Let’s delve into what they are, why they happen, and how to tackle them head-on for a smoother web experience.

First things first, what exactly is a 404 error? 

Common Causes of 404 Errors?

Let’s shed some light on the common culprits behind those pesky 404s.

Imagine a website with links as its roads. 

If some of those roads are broken, mistyped, or lead nowhere, you’ve got a recipe for 404 chaos. 

These broken links could be internal (within your website) or external (pointing to other sites). 

Regularly checking and fixing them is crucial for a smooth user journey.

    Sometimes, pages get deleted, shuffled around, or renamed. 

    But what if the links to those pages haven’t been updated? You guessed it – a 404 error! 

    Regularly reviewing and updating your internal linking structure is key to keeping things running smoothly.

    Typos in URLs can be a major source of 404 errors. 

    Consider implementing features like auto correction or suggestion tools to help users navigate even if they make a small mistake.

    Sometimes, the problem lies deeper within the website’s infrastructure. 

    Server misconfigurations or issues with content management systems can lead to 404 errors even if everything else seems fine. 

    Regular maintenance and updates can help keep your server running smoothly.

    If certain pages on your website are restricted to specific user groups, make sure the access controls are working correctly. 

    Otherwise, unauthorised users might encounter 404 errors even though the page exists.

    Impact on Performance and SEO:

    Picture this: frustrated visitors bouncing off your site like it’s a trampoline, their patience tested as they encounter dead ends instead of the content. 

    And it’s not just human visitors who feel the sting – search engines, those digital gatekeepers of online visibility, are left scratching their metaphorical heads, wondering where your valuable content disappeared to. 

    This can lead to your site’s bounce rate skyrocketing, leaving a trail of disappointed users in its wake. 

    Meanwhile, search engine crawlers struggle to navigate your site’s labyrinth of broken links and missing pages, hindering their ability to index your content effectively. 

    The outcome? Your website’s former prominent placement in search engine results starts to fade, as competitors who’ve honed seamless browsing experiences take the spotlight.

    In essence, the influence of 404 errors stretches beyond mere inconvenience.

    They undermine user confidence, reduce engagement, and gradually chip away at your site’s SEO credibility, potentially leading to a loss of valuable traffic and missed conversion opportunities.

    While they may appear as minor setbacks, the reality is, 404 errors represent a substantial challenge to your website’s prosperity and online prominence.

    Seeking the help of an SEO consultant can help you to sort through any potential issues with your webpages, as well as looking for ways to optimise your website to improve search engine rankings and attract more organic traffic.

    Tools and Plugins for Managing 404 Errors:

    • Redirection: 

    This plugin lets you set up automatic redirects for 404 errors, ensuring visitors land on relevant pages instead of staring at a blank wall. 

    It even tracks 404 occurrences, helping you identify broken links and potential issues.

    • 404 to 301 – Redirect, Log and Notify: 

    This plugin goes beyond redirects, logging 404 errors for analysis and sending email notifications so you can stay on top of any potential problems.

    • Yoast SEO: 

    This popular SEO plugin also offers a 404 redirect feature, allowing you to seamlessly integrate error management with your overall SEO strategy.

    • Broken Link Checker: 

    This module scans your website for broken links, including internal and external ones, helping you identify potential sources of 404 errors.

    • Redirect: 

    Similar to its WordPress counterpart, this module allows you to set up redirects for 404 errors, ensuring a smooth user experience even when things go astray.

    • Path Autocomplete: 

    This module helps prevent typos in URLs by suggesting relevant paths as users type, reducing the likelihood of 404 errors caused by simple mistakes.

    • ReRep: 

    This plugin identifies and redirects broken links, both internal and external, helping you maintain a clean and accessible website.


    Similar to the plugins mentioned above, this one allows you to set up redirects for 404 errors, ensuring visitors land on relevant pages or even a custom 404 page you’ve created.

    • JSitemap: 

    This plugin generates a sitemap that helps search engines index your website effectively, reducing the chances of users encountering 404 errors for pages that actually exist.

    Remember, the best tool is the one that fits your specific needs and platform. 

    Consider factors like your website’s size, complexity, and technical expertise when choosing the right solution.

    Strategies for Fixing 404 Errors:

    Here are some savvy strategies to keep your website’s traffic flowing smoothly.

    Think of website audits like regular check-ups for your digital domain. 

    Use tools like Google Search Console or Screaming Frog to scan for broken links, both internal and external. 

    Fix them promptly – it’s like patching up those cracked roads, ensuring a smooth journey for everyone.

    Sometimes, streets get renamed, and your website is no different. 

    When you move or delete a page, use 301 redirects to send visitors to the new location. 

    This not only avoids 404 errors but also preserves SEO value, ensuring search engines can still find your content. 

    Think of it as setting up helpful detours so no one gets lost.

    A basic “404 Not Found” message is like a cold, impersonal signpost. 

    Craft a custom error page that’s informative, engaging, and even a little bit fun!

    Include relevant links to other pages, a search bar, or even a humorous message to lighten the mood. 

    (We’ll go into this more a little later)

    Stay Vigilant: Monitor 404 Errors with Tracking Tools

    Don’t wait for users to complain. 

    Use tools like Google Analytics or Hotjar to track 404 errors in real-time. 

    This allows you to identify and fix issues before they impact your visitors’ experience.

    Tips for Preventing Future 404 Errors:

    Resolving 404 errors is often easier than you think. Give these simple steps a try first!

      Sometimes, all it takes is a basic refresh. 

      Close the current browser window and open a new one. 

        Did your fingers fumble? 

        Carefully re-enter the web address, paying close attention to spelling and punctuation. 

        Even a tiny typo can trigger a 404.

        Your browser might be clinging to an outdated version of the page. 

        Clear your browsing cache and history. 

        If you’re unsure, most browsers offer a “Clear Browsing Data” option.

          Try accessing the website in a private or incognito window. 

          This bypasses cached data and cookies, offering a fresh look at the page.

            Does the website work on another device (phone, tablet, etc.) or using a different web browser? 

            If so, it might be an issue with your original device or browser configuration. 

            Try clearing cache and cookies there as well.

            Remember, these steps are listed in a generally recommended order, but you can adapt them based on your specific situation and comfort level.

            Three key strategies to minimise 404s:

            If none of suggestions above are working, it may require a little more behind the scenes work.

            1. Craft a Consistent URL Structure

            2. Manage Links with Care

            3. Regularly Update Your Content

            Custom 404 Pages:

            While “404 Not Found” errors might seem like minor inconveniences, they can significantly impact your website’s user experience and overall effectiveness.

            The Importance of Custom 404 Pages:

                A custom 404 page, however, provides an opportunity to explain the situation clearly and offer helpful options. 

                This can include:

                • Offering a search bar to help users find the content they need.
                • Providing links to popular or relevant content on your website.
                • Displaying a call to action (CTA) to encourage further engagement (e.g., subscribing to a newsletter or contacting support).

                Bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors who leave your website after viewing only one page. 

                By providing helpful resources and retaining users on your site through a custom 404 page, you can significantly reduce bounce rates and improve overall user engagement.

                A custom 404 page allows you to maintain your brand voice and personality even in the face of an error. 

                This ensures a consistent experience for your visitors and strengthens your brand image.

                Crafting User-Friendly 404 Pages: Five Essential Elements

                A well-designed 404 page can still offer a positive user experience, guiding you back on track and helping you find what you need.

                1. Clear Messaging

                Explain the error in a concise and easy-to-understand manner. 

                Avoid technical jargon and opt for clear, friendly language. 

                Examples: “Oops! We can’t seem to find the page you’re looking for.” or “The page you requested is currently unavailable.”

                1. Navigation Links

                Include links to important sections of your website. 

                This can help users navigate to essential areas like the homepage, search bar, contact information, or frequently asked questions (FAQs). 

                Prioritise linking to high-traffic or relevant pages based on the website’s overall structure.

                1. Search Bar

                Provide a search bar to allow users to actively seek the information they require. 

                This empowers them to take control and potentially find the content they were originally seeking.

                1. Contact Information | Offering Assistance 

                If users need further help finding what they need, offer clear contact information for customer support. 

                You can include email addresses, phone numbers, or a link to a dedicated support section on your website.

                1. Brand Consistency

                Ensure your 404 page aligns visually and tonally with your website’s overall design. 

                This includes using consistent colour schemes, fonts, and messaging to maintain a familiar and trustworthy environment for visitors.

                By incorporating these elements, you can transform your 404 page from a frustration point into an opportunity to engage with users and enhance their overall experience on your website. 

                You can even add a touch of humour or creativity to further personalise the page and leave a lasting positive impression.


                While “404 Not Found” errors might seem like minor inconveniences, they can significantly impact your website’s user experience and overall effectiveness. 

                By addressing these errors proactively and implementing the strategies outlined in this guide, you can turn them into opportunities for positive interactions and improved user satisfaction!

                So, take the initiative, implement these strategies, and watch your 404 errors transform from roadblocks to stepping stones towards a more user-friendly and successful website.

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