We’ve all stumbled upon 404 errors, also known as broken links, either by exploring the world wide web or by skimming through our very own website, and it can be incredibly frustrating. The problem is that it can also have a huge impact on your site usage and performance.
A user can stumble upon a 404 error for a number of reasons. Some of the most common are:
A page from the site was removed
The URL of a page was updated
An internal link on the website is misspelled or input incorrectly
A site (ACTUALLY) no longer exists
A user misspells a URL while typing it in
Do 404 errors really matter?
You may think having 404 errors on your site is no big deal, but it can have some major effects on your visitors and site usage.
Visitors can get frustrated and leave your site altogether. If they cannot easily find what they are looking for on your site, they will go to a competitor's site, and this will cause your bounce rate to go up and your traffic to go down.
As search engines crawl broken links, your website will lose its brand authority — and search engines will determine that your site is not well-maintained or reliable. This may result in your pages no longer being shown on the SERPs (search engine results pages).
But, all is not lost!
The great thing about 404 errors is that they can be fixed!
If you are recreating a current page on your site, make sure to keep the URL the same if possible. If you MUST modify your URL structure, it is important to set up a 301 redirect to ensure users get to the new URL and website page.
Additionally, when removing a page from your site, you should also set up a 301 redirect to a complementary page so that a user may still find the information they are looking for.
Depending on the platform that your website is built on there are different ways to set up a 301 redirect. If you have a WordPress site you can use a plugin like Redirection. If your site is built on HubSpot, this article can help walk you through the steps.
Another great way to combat 404 errors is to have some fun with your 404 error page by creating a custom one. Provide an easy way for users to get to some of your top-visited pages by including buttons or links on the page. Here is one that our client, Weld.com created with quick link buttons and a funny video to go along with it.
There are also a number of tools to help you pinpoint and fix 404 errors:
Google Analytics: You can track visitor behavior in Google Analytics to see how often users are viewing 404 errors. You can find this under Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.
Google Search Console: Register your account with Google and set up Google Search Console to crawl your site for 404 errors. This will help you pinpoint the pages, making it easy to resolve problems. Additionally, once the pages are fixed you can resubmit your sitemap to be crawled immediately.
Screaming Frog: This tool will crawl your site and inspect pages and URLs for errors. With this tool you can easily create a report of issues and use it to fix errors over time.
W3C Link Checker: This tool will run a scan of your site and show you any broken links (internal or external). All you need to do is plug in your domain and the tool does the rest.
So, what are you waiting for? Check out the infographic below and start fixing those 404 errors!