When a user attempts to access a webpage, the server that the webpage is hosted on will respond with an HTTP status code. The 404 Not Found HTTP status code indicates that the server could not find the requested page or resource. The 404 status code is typically returned when the server cannot find the requested page or resource, usually because the URL is incorrect or the page has been removed or moved.
When a user’s browser receives a 404 status code in response to a request, it typically displays a “404 Not Found” error message and a default browser error page. Some websites also have customized 404 error pages with more user-friendly messages that might have a search bar or link to the homepage.
It is vital for website owners to handle and diagnose 404 errors correctly, as it can harm user experience if it is not appropriately addressed.
How the 404 Error Occurs
There are several ways in which a 404 error can occur:
- Broken links: Occur when a link on a website points to a page or resource that no longer exists. This can happen if the page is deleted or moved or the link is mistyped.
- Mistyped URLs: When a user types in the wrong URL, the server will not be able to find the requested page or resource and will return a 404 error.
- Resources that have been moved or deleted: If a website owner decides to change the location of a page or resource or delete it altogether, any links pointing to the old location will result in a 404 error.
- Incorrect URL redirects: Sometimes, when a page is moved or deleted, website owners will set up redirects; however, if the redirect is incorrect or broken, it will result in 404 errors.
- Server Configuration issue: Some misconfigurations in server settings can cause 404 errors to occur even though the page exists and is accessible.
- Changing domain name or website structure: If a website’s domain name or structure is changed, any links to the old structure will result in 404 errors.
It is essential to keep track of all internal and external links on a website and to check for broken links to minimize 404 errors regularly. Setting up monitoring tools and regular checks can help to detect and fix 404 errors quickly.
Impact of 404 Errors on User Experience
404 errors can negatively impact the user experience in several ways:
- Confusion: When users encounter a 404 error, they may become confused about why they cannot access the requested page or resource. This can lead to frustration, as they may not understand why they see an error message instead of the expected content.
- Frustration: The 404 error message can be frustrating for users, as it may not provide any helpful information about why the error occurred or what they can do to fix it. This can result in users giving up on accessing the page or resource or leaving the website altogether.
- Poor brand perception: A 404 error can give users a poor perception of a website, as it may appear unprofessional or poorly maintained. In addition, if a user encounters a 404 error multiple times on the same website, it can lead to a poor overall impression of the website.
- Loss of conversion or revenue: 404 errors can negatively impact a website’s business objectives by losing conversions, such as e-commerce sales or lead generation forms. In addition, a poor user experience can result in losing returning visitors.
- Search engine optimization (SEO): 404 errors can also affect how a website is indexed by search engines, which can negatively impact the website’s rankings and visibility.
To minimize the negative impact of 404 errors on user experience, website owners must handle 404 errors correctly and provide helpful guidance on what to do next. This can be achieved by creating a custom 404 page with helpful information, links to other pages on the website, or providing a search bar. In addition, implementing tools for monitoring and troubleshooting 404 errors can help to detect and fix the problem quickly.
Best Practices for Handling 404 Errors
There are several best practices that website owners can implement to handle 404 errors correctly and minimize their negative impact on user experience:
- Implement a custom 404 page: Create a 404 error page that provides helpful information and guidance to users. This page should have a clear message that the page is not found and should include links to other pages on the website, a search bar, or a contact form.
- Redirect URLs that have changed: When a page or resource is moved or deleted, it’s essential to redirect the old URL to the new location. This can be done using a 301 redirect, which tells the browser and search engines that the page has permanently moved to a new location.
- Monitor broken links: Regularly check for broken links on the website, both internal and external. This can be done manually or using tools such as Google Search Console, Ahrefs, or SEMrush, which can help detect broken links and other 404 errors.
- Log file analysis: Analyzing log files of your web server can help in identifying 404 errors that are missed by other monitoring methods. You can use logging software like log analyzers to provide detailed information on which pages result in 404 errors.
- Improve Navigation: Make sure the website navigation is user-friendly and intuitive, as this can help users quickly find the page or resource they are looking for, even if they mistyped the URL or clicked on a broken link.
- Test your 404 page: Check your custom 404 page for functionality and design on the web and mobile. Ensure the custom 404 page is accessible, the links on the page are working, and the design is user-friendly.
- Test your redirects: Test redirects and make sure they are working correctly and pointing to the correct location.
By implementing these best practices, website owners can help to reduce the occurrence of 404 errors, provide a better user experience, and maintain a positive brand image.
Tools for Monitoring and Troubleshooting 404 Errors
There are several tools that website owners can use to monitor and troubleshoot 404 errors:
- Google Search Console: This is a free tool provided by Google that allows website owners to monitor their website’s performance in Google search results. It can also be used to detect 404 errors and other issues with the website.
- Ahrefs: This is a powerful tool that can be used to monitor and analyze a website’s backlinks and organic search traffic. It also provides information about broken links, 404 errors, and more.
- SEMrush: This is an all-in-one digital marketing tool that can research, monitor, and analyze a website’s SEO and SEM performance. It can also provide information about broken links and 404 errors.
- Log File Analyzer: This tool is specifically designed for analyzing log files, which can provide detailed information on which pages result in 404 errors.
- Web analytics tool: This includes tools like Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics, which can provide information about website traffic, user behavior, and any error or issues encountered on the website.
- Broken Link Checker: This is an online tool that can be used to detect broken links on a website. It scans all pages of your website and will show the broken links so you can fix them.
- Redirect Checker: This online tool can check if redirects are set up correctly; it allows you to check if a URL is being redirected to the correct location.
By using these tools to monitor and troubleshoot 404 errors, website owners can quickly detect and fix the problem, which will help to improve the user experience and maintain a positive brand image.
This article discussed the 404 Not Found HTTP status code and its significance. The 404 status code indicates that the server could not find the requested page or resource. We explained the different ways the 404 error can occur, such as broken links, mistyped URLs, or resources that have been moved or deleted.
We also discussed the negative impact that 404 errors can have on user experience, including confusion, frustration, poor brand perception, loss of conversion or revenue, and SEO issues. To address these issues, We provided some best practices for handling 404 errors, including implementing a custom 404 page, redirecting URLs that have changed, monitoring broken links, log file analysis, and improving navigation.
We also mentioned various tools that can be used to monitor and troubleshoot 404 errors, such as Google Search Console, Ahrefs, SEMrush, Log File Analyzer, Web analytics tools, Broken Link Checker and Redirect Checker.
In conclusion, addressing 404 errors is crucial to maintaining a website and providing a positive user experience. By implementing the best practices and using the appropriate tools, website owners can quickly detect and fix 404 errors, improving the user experience and maintaining a positive brand image.
Extra note: You can also include some examples of 404 pages on a few well know websites, some attractive 404-page designs, or interesting articles linked to 404 pages.