Understanding 404 Errors: Causes and Fixes

9 MINS
Harlan Dave Tantog

404 not found errors are the most recognizable errors on the web. In fact, because of its popularity, it’s already a cultural reference to anything that doesn’t exist, is inaccessible, or is missing. Sometimes, people also use it as a way to humorously admit or call out mistakes. 

But, more than its familiarity in the online community as a meme or joke, this error code could mean many things. It is a status error code that shouldn’t be taken lightly, it must be diagnosed, and be fixed as soon as possible.

In this article, we’ll dive deep into what a 404 error is and find out how to fix it.

What causes a 404 error message? 

True to its name, 404 error not found, is a standard HTTP status code that’s indicative of a non-existing resource on the server. Although they’re generally the same, the reason for the status code may differ. 

Think of it this way, it’s like typing a query in a search engine. What happens is search engines check every web page on its database and answer the query by providing relevant results. When you do it in a web browser to access a website, the browser will look for the exact page. Thus, whenever the specific page doesn’t exist, the browser returns with a 404 error page.

Let’s take a look at five of the most common causes of this error below:

The URL does not exist

Oftentimes, a 404 error appears whenever a domain or website URL is incorrectly entered. Getting the error can also be frustrating and confusing for web users, especially if they were expecting to find useful or important information. 

Some website owners try to make the 404 error more user-friendly by showing a custom error page instead of the standard one. One example of a non-existent URL that results in a 404 error is https://www.example.com/this-page-does-not-exist. If you check this URL, you will get a standard 404 error page that says, “Not Found” and “The requested URL /this-page-does-not-exist was not found on this server.” 

A better response error code page, or 404 error page, that’s helpful to visitors, might include a link to the website, address bar, domain homepage, a site map, a contact form, or other relevant content on your own site that’s interesting to the user.

The resource is either moved or deleted

Web browsers look up a page based on the URL structure. So, whenever you move files to another folder or remove them, a 404 error is returned by the server since a requested resource or file is not found. When this happens, users may attempt to access it using the old URL or a broken link, resulting in an error. 

Whether the file is removed or moved, it is important to provide an informative custom 404 error page. Doing so helps improve user experience and lessen the frustration whenever users encounter these roadblocks. Thus, resulting in reduced bounce rates and improved overall SEO.

The server is misconfigured

A misconfigured server can also cause a 404 error. This is usually because a web server is not properly set up to handle the requested URL or resource. When the server is unable to handle or load the requested page the 404 error page appears. 

To fix this, reviewing the server configuration is necessary to the client error and make sure that the correct web page loads. Doing so ensures the server can properly handle the requested URL. It’s important that the server is configured and loaded properly to prevent this error from occurring. Thus, providing a positive user experience for better search engine ranking.

A broken link can also result in this error. This happens whenever the link is mistyped, outdated, or incorrect. It then leads the user to a page that does not exist. When you find broken links, update or remove them immediately. 

To find these broken links, you can either use a broken link checker tool or manually check links on the website. Regularly check for broken links to provide a great user experience and avoid a 404 error. Providing website users with correct and up-to-date links helps to improve website credibility and trustworthiness.

Access Restrictions

Access restrictions can occur when a user attempts to access a resource that they are not authorized to access. In this case, the server returns the error to prevent unauthorized resource access. 

It’s important to review access restrictions and adjust them as needed for users to access the appropriate resources. Remember to properly configure access restrictions to prevent unauthorized access and ensure website security.

Why should you fix them?

First, fixing 404 errors improves the user experience. By providing custom error pages with relevant links and context, you can keep visitors on your website. 

Second, fixing website errors, in general, is essential for SEO. Search engine crawlers don’t like broken pages, and neither do visitors. Improving user experience helps increase your search engine ranking. Something that comes naturally when you fix website errors. 

Third, website credibility is a huge factor in online success. A website with frequent errors loses credibility and trustworthiness. 

Finally, regular website maintenance is critical for a website to properly function. Checking for broken links and errors ensures your website works in a way that provides a great user experience.

What Tools to Use in Finding These Errors

If you didn’t notice, there are 4 items mentioned in the previous section: user experience, SEO, website credibility, and website maintenance. Whether you’re an expert or new to online business, it’s good to note that these four are core items to remember if you want to be successful online. 

Now, when fixing 404 errors, it’s equally important to use tools that lighten up the workload for efficiency. If you want to avoid 404 errors on your website without doing the manual work, here are tools available at your disposal: 

  • Google Search Console lets you discover URLs that are causing problems and how to fix them. 
  • Screaming Frog scans your website and finds pages with 404 errors, along with useful information like page titles and HTTP status codes. 
  • SEM Rush crawls your website and detects any errors, including 404 errors, and provides a list of URLs that need your attention. 
  • You can also use other tools like Ahrefs, Moz, and Broken Link Checker to identify and resolve broken links. 
  • For a quick and easy way to check links on a page, you can use Chrome extensions like Check My Links and LinkMiner, which highlight 404 errors with a single click. With these tools, you can keep your website error-free and running smoothly.

Fixing the ‘404 not found’ Error

Everyone already tried browsing a website and suddenly came across a “404 not found” error page, right? Aside from it being frustrating, it can also negatively impact the website’s credibility. Fortunately, there are ways to fix this error. We’ve mentioned them already but, just maybe, we need to put more emphasis on them here. 

Add custom error pages

A custom error page is a good solution for a “404 not found” error. It should tell the user that the page they want is not there and give them useful options for where to go next on the website. 

For example, a search bar or a navigation menu can help users find what they need and keep browsing without feeling annoyed.

Another way to fix the “404 not found” error is by checking for broken links on your website. Broken links are links that point to pages that no longer exist or have been moved. When a user clicks on a broken link, they will see a 404 error page instead of the intended content. 

To prevent this from happening, you should regularly monitor your website for broken internal and external links and fix them as soon as possible. Adding a link that redirects any user attempts to a relevant new URL from a non-existing request URL will improve your website’s user experience and SEO ranking.

Fix file permissions

Incorrect file permissions can cause the server to be unable to access the file or resource, resulting in a 404 error. This error can harm your website’s image and frustrate users. To fix file permissions, ensure that the server can access the file or resource and return the requested content to the user. 

It’s critical to resolve this issue to ensure a smooth and seamless user experience.

Disable the .htaccess file

Disabling the .htaccess file is recommended action, too. The file contains directives that sometimes cause conflicts with the server which lead to the 404 error. Disabling it can temporarily help you identify what causes the error messages. 

Should this work, it’s a good idea to double-check the file further and fix any problematic directives. By doing so, you don’t only find potential solutions for the same error, but you also get to test other website issues that result in a negative impression.

Restore website backup

Restoring a website backup is a great way to fix 404 errors. First, find a backup from before the errors occurred. Then, restore the backup using your web hosting control panel or FTP client. 

Make sure to follow the instructions closely. Once the backup is restored, check your website carefully to make sure the 404 errors are fixed. If they’re not, you may need to try a different solution.

How HTTP 404 Errors Damage a Website’s Ranking and Reputation

HTTP 404 errors occur when a web page is not found by the server. They can damage a website’s SEO ranking and reputation in several ways. 

First, they can reduce user experience and satisfaction, leading to higher bounce rates and lower conversions. 

Second, they can affect the crawl budget and indexation of the website, making it harder for search engines to discover and rank the relevant pages. 

Third, they can harm the website’s authority and trustworthiness, especially if they are caused by broken links or outdated content. 

Tips for Your 404 Pages

A 404 page is what a user sees when they try to access a web page that does not exist. It can be frustrating for the user and bad for your website’s reputation. 

But it doesn’t have to be always that way. Custom error pages are great for addressing poor user experience caused by missing pages or by not found errors. Here are some quick tips for creating a good 404 page:

  • Explain what happened and why the page is not available to website visitors.
  • Apologize for the inconvenience and show empathy for the user.
  • Provide a search function or a list of links to help the user find what they are looking for.
  • Use humor or creativity to make web pages like these more engaging and less boring.
  • Keep the design consistent with your own website branding and style.
  • Track and analyze the 404 errors to identify and fix a broken link or missing page.

Engage with the User Through a Custom 404 Error Page

The 404 error is more than just a popular joke; it indicates a significant issue that shouldn’t be overlooked. Ignoring it could lead to more severe consequences, such as loss of traffic or search engine rankings. Diagnose and fix the problem promptly to ensure a smooth user experience. 

Creating an engaging custom 404 error page helps turn a frustrating experience into a positive one. Use humor or creative visuals to entertain users while providing helpful links to navigate to other relevant pages. It can lead to improved user engagement and even a positive reputation for your website.

Ultimately, maintaining a well-functioning website can lead to increased traffic, better user engagement, and a positive reputation.

  • Harlan Dave Tantog

    As a Technical Writer at Web.com, Harlan creates content that any reader can understand. With his background in technical and customer support, he incorporates his technical knowledge and deconstructs complex ideas and concepts into easy to digest texts. Outside work, you'll see him playing volleyball, jumping off cliffs, and drinking coffee at cafes.

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