Want to know four of the most frightening words when you run a blog?
404 Site Not Found
This means that someone came to pay your blog a visit and was turned away at the door. They couldn’t find the content they were looking for and likely experienced massive disappointment.
Okay, maybe it’s not that dramatic but 404’s are definitely something you do not want to ignore! They can affect your site’s ranking in Google and, most of the time, they are pretty ugly to look at.
Finding and fixing 404 errors, as well as creating your own custom 404 page, is quite simple to do and definitely should be done on a regular basis. This ensures that your site is running at peak performance.
Ready to learn more? Keep reading and I’ll show you why you should care about your 404’s and broken links as well as how you can find them and fix them!
What Are 404’s?
When you run into a 404 error code, it means that the page you were trying to get to could not be found. This is one of many response status codes that describes the origin of the error. Codes in the 400’s mean that there was a client error – nothing is wrong with the backend of your site.
There are two types of 404 Site Not Found error codes: Hard 404’s and Soft 404’s:
- Soft 404’s: You won’t see a soft 404 error code unless something pops up on your Google Search Console. This happens when a page on your site does not exist but when its status on search engines is okay. This tells Google that there’s a page at that URL but Google knows better than to index a false page.
- Hard 404’s: These errors pop up when the site does not exist and you land on the page telling you just that.
So, what causes 404 Site Not Found errors?
These errors mainly show up when you’ve deleted or removed pages and posts from your page without redirecting their URLs. It can also happen if you change the permalink without redirecting the old one to the new one.
Keep reading to find out how to find and fix 404 errors. But first, let’s talk about whether or not 404’s can hurt your site.
Do 404 Site Not Found Errors Hurt My Site?
While a 404 here and there may not spell doom for your site, having a large number of them can be a bad thing. When a reader continually runs into 404 errors when browsing your site, they’re going to peace out because of the terrible user experience.
That being said, even one 404 Site Not Found message can send them running.
Because gaining traffic to your blog is the name of the game, and a huge part of that relies on repeat visitors, you want to make sure each and every reader has a pleasant experience so they are more likely to share your content and come back for more.
Having 404’s on your site can also harm your overall SEO. When Google crawls your site to determine where it should rank in search results, it doesn’t like seeing a bunch of broken links. This tells Google that your site is unreliable.
This is why it’s important to keep track of any 404 errors on your site and fix them immediately. Here’s how:
How to Find and Fix 404 Errors
Finding 404 Site Not Found Errors
You can use a site crawler to find broken links on your site that lead to 404 errors. This is called a site audit and you can use free services like AHref Broken Link Checker to do so.
Just type in your site’s URL into the search box and click on “Check broken links”. You will then be brought to a page that shows you any broken links on your site:
While this will only show you broken links, you can use Google Search Console to check for every 404 error on your site. Googlebot will show you both hard and soft 404s.
Log in to the Search Console, click on “Coverage”, and select the “Excluded” tab:
Don’t judge me yet, because we need to look on the list to see how many pages are showing 404 errors.
Ha ha! Two for two!
If you do have 404s, click on this item and you will get a list of the URLs that are 404-ing.
Fixing 404 Site Not Found Errors
Obviously, I don’t have any 404’s to fix on my site but maybe you do. Hey! It happens!
(Trust me, I’ve had to fix many 404 error issues on my other sites so I’m not as perfect as I may seem.)
In order to fix 404 site not found errors, there are four ways to go about it:
- Redirect the 404 Error: There are free plugins available that will allow you to easily redirect your 404’s to the address they should be automatically pointed to. It’s the easiest way to fix them and I’ll get into how in just a sec.
- Restore the Page: If you’re finding a lot of traffic heading toward a 404 page but you have nothing to redirect it to, consider bringing that page back to life! Just recreate a new post/page with the same permalink as the one that is 404-ing.
- Correct the Link: If it’s a matter of having a broken link on your site, edit the link to point to the correct URL.
- Create a 404 Page: Hold your horses! I’ve got a whole section on this coming up!
If you have a ton of 404 errors to address, start with major and popular pages such as high-traffic posts, contact pages, about pages, and service/product pages.
How to Redirect URLs in WordPress
As promised, I’m going to walk you through how you can use URL redirects to quickly fix your 404 errors. This is going to involve setting up a 301 redirect for each page that is generating a 404 error. WordPress tries its best to do this automatically but sometimes you need to take the bull by the horns.
Start by downloading the plugin “301 Redirects – Easy Redirect Manager” by going to the left-hand menu of your WordPress dashboard, hovering over “Plugins” and clicking “Add New”. In the search bar to the right, type in “301 Redirects” and install the plugin “301 Redirects – Easy Redirect Manager”:
I already have it, so my button says “Update Now”. If you don’t already have this plugin, the button will say “Install Now”. Click on it, let it install, and then activate it.
You will now find this plugin under the “Settings” menu of your dashboard under “301 Redirects”. Click on it.
You’ll see a little table that allows you to enter the old URL (minus your domain) and redirect it to a custom URL – i.e., the new one.
Click save and you now have a 301 redirect! Whenever someone lands on the 404 page, they will be automatically sent to the new URL.
Web Design: Create a Custom 404 Page
As much as you want to avoid 404’s at all costs, every now and then someone is going to get a 404 site not found error on your blog. It could be that someone else linked to your page using the wrong URL or the visitor typed the URL in wrong.
In these cases, you want to maintain a good user experience even when someone gets a 404 error. Through WordPress, you can actually design your own custom 404 page!
The magic of web design!
What to Include on Your 404 Error Page
Before I show you how, let’s go over what you should include on this page:
- Your brand: Make sure your 404 page matches the look and feel of the rest of your site. This means including your logo, brand colors, etc.
- An error message: Let your visitors know what’s happening by displaying an error message. It could be something simple like, “Oops! We couldn’t find that page!”.
- Some humor: You can lighten the mood by adding a little comic relief to your 404 page. My personal favorite is the World Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s 404 page – you can check it out along with other humorous error pages here.
- Your best content: Add in 3-4 links to direct the visitor to your blog’s best content in order to keep their interest and avoid losing traffic.
- A search box: Help your visitors find what they were looking for by giving them an opportunity to search through your content.
- A call-to-action: Ask the visitor to do something like download a freebie or sign up to your email list.
Try to keep it simple. Your 404 page doesn’t have to be wordy or super informative – just give the visitor a reason to stay on your site!
How to Create a 404 Error Page
Creating your 404 error page in WordPress can be super simple or involve using some PHP code (which is not as terrifying as it sounds).
Let’s start by looking at the easy route:
There, done. Just install the zip file via WordPress’s plugin page and follow the instructions to set it up.
Now, the involved route does require some knowledge of coding. Even though I can easily code a 404 page for my site, I choose not to because I
‘m lazy don’t have the time – so there’s nothing wrong with using a plugin!
If you are curious to know how to do it via PHP and want to get your hands dirty in some web design, this article will tell you everything you need to know.
404 Not Found – Found!
There you have it! Now you know why it’s important to avoid having 404 errors on your site and how you can ensure your readers will land on your amazing content every time they visit your blog!
Because as much as we all love blogging, gaining traffic is the name of the game.
Before you skedaddle, make sure you check out my other articles about layout and design!