Web Design SEO

What is a 404 Error?

Mali Gorovoy Jun 8, 2022

Illustration of a 404 website page with a broken light bulb in the background

Learn about 404 errors and how to handle them. Find out the pros and cons of 404 errors and how you can use them to your advantage.

Best ways to deal with 404 errors

404 errors are unfortunately common on the internet, but don't let them get you down! There's a few things that can be done in order to make sure this does not happen again.

What is a 404 error?

A 404 error is commonly reached when a page was moved to a different URL, deleted, or because the user typed the URL incorrectly. In a nutshell, it indicates that the webpage that the user is trying to reach can not be found on the server.

Hard 404 vs. Soft 404 Errors

There are two types of 404 errors, a soft 404 and a hard 404. A hard 404 is just a regular 404 error. This is what the user will come across when they land on a page that no longer exists. In contrast, soft 404s occur when the server sends a 200 OK status code for a page that the search engine thinks should return a 404 instead. The most common reasons for this is that the page has little to no content or that there is a loading issue.

Hard 404 errors and how to fix them

You’ve identified your page’s error as a hard 404. What do you do now? There is a lot of information out there as to what the best approach is. Below are a few routes you can take to resolve a 404 error:

The first option is to redirect the 404 error to another page. Redirecting users to a relevant page is the simplest and easiest way to fix 404 errors. It’s important to ensure that the page the user is being redirected to is something relevant to the content that they were searching for. Sending users back to the homepage for every 404 error isn’t the best user experience.

Some SEO specialists claim that redirecting users from a 404 to a relevant page can be problematic because it tells search engines that there’s a real page at that specific URL. Therefore, that URL may be crawled and the content from that page may be indexed. The time that is spent crawling these non-existent pages can negatively impact the speed at which the entire site can be crawled. Lower crawl coverage may lead to lower rankings.

Creating a custom 404 error page that users will land on is therefore a safer option. Doing so leads to a better user experience then if the user were to land on a generic 404 page. This page could feature a brief message and some additional links for the user to click on that are relevant to what they were looking for when they landed on the page.

Experts recommend not having too many 404 pages as this can start negatively impacting a site’s SEO. In order to avoid too many 404 pages, choosing to restore the page is also an option. It is also a good idea to restore the page if it has high demand and there isn’t a relevant page for the user to be redirected to.

Soft 404 errors and how to fix them

Soft 404 errors result in ‘dead links’ and can seriously harm a website’s SEO. Therefore, they need to be fixed in order for a site’s SEO to not be adversely affected. Here are a couple of options:

If the page exists but is still getting a soft 404 error, it means that when search engines were crawling it, they deemed the page’s content as being too ‘thin’. Bulk up the content to show search engines that the page has value to the user.

If the page doesn’t exist anymore, give it a 404 or 410. If the page has moved to a different URL, redirect the page with a 301 redirect.

Deleting a 404 page completely

Is deleting a 404 page completely an option? The short answer is yes. You can send the HTTP header: a ‘410 content deleted’ instead of the 404 ‘content not found’.

When a URL returns a 410 error, Google, Bing, and other search engines know for sure that the URL was removed on purpose and requested to be cleared from the cache and no longer indexed.

SEO Specialists don’t recommend a 410 for high traffic pages, but for a page that had little to no traffic, a 410 can easily remove a page from a search engine’s index.

. . .

Insight by Mali Gorovoy

Account Manager

Mali is a skilled Account Manager who excels at digital marketing. She loves to share her insights with LaPraim clients, and will be your main point of contact throughout your transformation.

Connect in 3 simple steps

Let's connect.

We want to hear from you and learn how we can make technology work for your organization.