Four Oh What? Server Response Codes
One of the most common errors you’ll see while navigating the web is the 404 – Not Found error. When you visit a webpage the server responds with some content and a code. If everything is as it should be, you’ll see a fully functioning site and the browser gets a 200 code. The 200 code is the server equivalent to a thumbs up. Servers can respond with many different codes. The first digit in the response code gives you a general idea of what’s going on. Codes in the four hundreds refer to a client (it’s a you problem) issue.
What is a 404 Code Exactly?
We’ve all seen a webpage look like this:
This means you either typed in an address that doesn’t exist or clicked on a link to website that doesn’t exist. This URL may have once existed and doesn’t anymore or it never existed at all. Either way, when you see a page like this that means the server doesn’t know what to show you.
You don’t see really basic 404 pages much anymore. It’s pretty lazy for a website/web designer to let the server show something like that.
Nowadays you’ll see something more like this:
This is clearly better because it gives the users options from here. They can navigate to pages that do exist. In the former example. the user could only click the back button to return from where they came from or take another swing at the real URL.
We use WordPress to build our websites and like other content management systems, it can handle 404s more gracefully than a server by itself. By default, WordPress includes at the very least, the header and the footer of the site. The body can contain whatever makes sense for your website. It can, for example, show blog posts they may relate to what the user was trying to find.
There isn’t a direct impact on your SEO score by having 404s. When search engines identify results that don’t exist, they just stop including those pages when they crawl your site.
The indirect impact is, of course, that your site has fewer indexed pages than it should and THAT can impact your SEO score with engines.
Custom 404 Pages
Using a custom 404 page like the one described at the end of the section above will actually improve your SEO score. Having a tailored 404 page with several internal links will engage the user and stop some of them from bouncing off your site, thus increasing your onsite time and lowering your bounce rate.
Finding Your 404s
Fixing broken links is easy. Identifying them, on the other hand, can be more difficult. There are two ways to find 404s. The first is to manually find them, but opening up the inspector for a page on your site and viewing the “Network” tab. There you can see all of the assets that page is trying to access. If you order by status you can see your 404 statuses.
From there you just need to make that page or file exist at that location or you need to change the location the page is pointing to.
Broken Link Checker
If you’re using WordPress you can use a plugin like Broken Link Checker to find broken links for you. The plugin will identify and create a list of all broken links on the site.
Overall, 404 errors are not uncommon and are easy to repair. If your website links out to other sites or assets it is something that you’ll have to monitor. You can’t control what other websites do with their URLs and files so a link out could become broken at any time. That is what makes plugins like the Broken Link Checker, so helpful. It is constantly monitoring for broken connections.
Does your website need some love? Let’s talk.