Fix 404 Errors and Create the Best 404 Pages

by | Last updated Jun 12, 2020 | Published on Mar 10, 2020 | SEO

We know it by many names: HTTP 404, Error 404, 404 Not Found, and Page Not Found. It’s a status code that every internet user has likely seen in their browser at least once while browsing the web. In this post, we’ll learn more about 404 errors – what they are, how they happen, why they are essential, and what you can do to fix them.

What is a 404 error?

A 404 error occurs when a person or search engine crawler cannot access a page on a website because it doesn’t exist. For example, if I type in “wikipedia.org/404”, I get a Page Not Found error from their website.

404 Not Found errors occur when people or search engine crawlers try to access a page on a website from a link that is broken. For example, if a website linked to the Google Pixel Phone with a typo in the link URL like this:

https://store.google.com/product/pixedl_4

Anyone who clicked on the link would encounter a 404 Error on the Google Store website.

Google Error

Page Not Found errors also happen when pages that have existed for a long time suddenly disappear. For example, when a site goes through a major redesign, sometimes the URLs get changed. If the old URLs aren’t appropriately redirected to the new URLs, an Error 404 Not Found appears.

Bing Error Webpage

Why do 404 error messages matter?

As a website owner, you want to give visitors a positive experience. If a website visitors encounter a Page Not Found Error on their first visit, it might not make a good first impression. It would mean the content they were seeking wasn’t available.

In addition, search engines don’t want their crawlers to waste time running into pages that don’t exist. This is why Google offers guidance on the following.

How do I find 404 errors on my websites?

Google’s free Search Console allows you to see the inbound links to your website causing 404 errors for people and search engine crawlers. Once you have connected your website to Search Console, you can submit your sitemap.

After Search Console has had time to review your website, you can visit the Coverage section to see if you have any URLs that have been Excluded. This section will show you your 404 errors, categorized as Soft 404 and Not found (404) errors.

Google Search Console Screenshot

You can click on each one to see the specific URLs that triggered each 404 error.

What is the difference between Soft 404 errors vs Not found (404) errors in Google Search Console?

Soft 404 errors in Google Search Console are URLs that Google has classified as Not Found because they may or may not always return a 200 (success) HTTP status code. They may also be URLs that Google deems have too little content to be indexed.

Not found (404) errors are URLs that return the Page Not Found 404 HTTP status code.

How do I fix Soft 404 errors?

As you review your Soft 404 error URLs, you will have to determine the following.

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Are the URLs actually leading to missing pages due to bad links or pages that should be published but are not for some reason? If the answer is yes, you will need to redirect the URL properly or publish the missing page.

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Are the URLs leading to pages with little content, and can be grouped with other pages with little content? Consolidate and create a page with in-depth content. Forward your Soft 404 error URLs to your new page.

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Are the URLs leading to pages with little content, and can be grouped with other pages with little content? Consolidate and create a page with in-depth content. Forward your Soft 404 error URLs to your new page.

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Are URLs leading to pages with little content, and you want those pages to be re-indexed? Add additional, unique content to those pages.

How do I fix Not found (404) errors?

If the URLs actually leading to missing pages due to bad links, you will need to redirect the URL to a relevant replacement page on your website.

What are 404 pages?

Unfortunately, you can’t ensure that every visitor successfully makes it to a page on your website. This is where 404 pages come into action. A 404 page is the page that visitors receive when another page they were trying to access wasn’t found.

Zoho Error Screenshot

It’s simply a generic page/template on your website that appears any time a website visitor or search engine crawler unsuccessfully attempts to access a bad URL, broken link, bad re-direct, or other missing content.

How do I create a custom 404 page?

The job of your 404 page is to help visitors who can’t find the content they want to find something else so they don’t leave your website. Or, at the very least, your 404 page should alleviate the frustration your website visitor feels when they don’t find what they’re looking for.

Page Error

To create a custom 404 page, you will need to find your website’s 404 page template. This will be accessible in a variety of ways, depending on the platform your website uses.

Code Screenshot

For example:

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WordPress users can use the Theme Editor to edit their WordPress theme’s 404 page, as shown in the image above.

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Wix users can go to their Settings and find their 404 page template.

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Shopify has a 404 Custom Page app if you’re uncomfortable coding your theme’s 404 templates.

Your 404 page should let visitors know who you are, what you do, and where to go next without having to scroll or read through an excessive amount of information. After all, the goal is to attempt to save a visit to content that is no longer there.

What are some examples of the best 404 pages?

If you’re Amazon, you don’t have to worry about people leaving your website without knowing who you are or what you do. When you have a large, well-known brand, you can make your custom 404 page as cute or empty as you want to make it.

Amazon Page Error

Other brands, like Intel, prefer to use their custom 404 page to get website visitors to the right place. Even if their original destination isn’t available.

Intel Page Error

Toyota also goes with a direct approach, letting website visitors know they can direct them to the proper channel from their custom 404 page.

Toyota Page Not Found

While Hostgator’s custom 404 page graphics are stunning, the link options given to website visitors (below the fold) are not the best. If you think about it, going back from a bad link may website visitors away from your website and back to search engine results, social media, etc.

Hostgator 404 Error

Disney’s use of animation and a simple search box adds amusement and functionality to their custom 404 page.

Disney Page Error

Pillsbury uses their mascot, a search box, their most popular links, and a pretty thorough footer menu to ensure custom 404 page visitors get where they need to be.

Pillsbury Webpage Error

Companies like Hootsuite use a little mixture of humor and direction to get website visitors to the right place on their website on their custom 404 page.

Hootsuite 404 Error

Do you need help auditing your website’s content, fixing hard page not found 404 errors, and expanding thin content to fix soft 404 errors? Contact us – we can help!

Stephen Gagnon
Stephen Gagnon

I have been working within the world wide web as a digital marketer for several years now. My favourite service is SEO. I’m continually learning better ways to rank websites within reputable search engines! When I’m not working or studying, I’m spending time with my family exploring random activities.

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Fix 404 Errors and Create the Best 404 Pages

by Stephen Gagnon time to read: 56 min
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