Have you ever clicked a link from somewhere and brought to a page that doesn’t exist? It can be really frustrating especially if you are interested in the information that should hypothetically be on that page. So what exactly is going on? Why does this happen? How can you as a website owner prevent it from happening to people visiting your website? Our technical SEO experts at Zola Media are here to break down the dreaded 404 Error.
What is a 404 Error?
According to Wikipedia, a 404 error is a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) standard response code, in computer network communications, to indicate that the client was able to communicate with a given server, but the server could not find what was requested. In layman’s terms, you are asking the internet to give you something, but the internet can’t find it for you.
There are many ways that a 404 error can be displayed on a website. Here are some common ways:
- “404 Error”
- “404 Not Found”
- “Error 404”
- “HTTP 404”
- “Error 404 Not Found”
Why do 404 Errors Happen?
There are many reasons for getting a 404 error. One common reason for a 404 error is when a page is removed from a website. For example, if a product goes out of stock or a law firm loses a partner, the website owner might delete the page from the website. If anyone tries to go to this page, they will be given the 404 error.
Another reason for a 404 error is that the link people clicked to get to the website was wrong. For example, people are looking at an attorney’s profile on Avvo and go to visit the website. However, when the link was placed in Avvo, there was a typo. The link goes to a page that never existed so the user will be directed to a page on your website with a 404 error.
How Can I Check If My Site Has 404s?
There are many tools out there to check to see if your website responds with a proper 404 pages. Google Webmaster Tools and Screaming Frog are free tools that check your website for HTTP response codes like 404s. In the event that you find a 404 error, the best course of action is to fix it, to ensure that all of your users are having a good experience.
It’s also important to make sure that any links that you have within your website to third party websites are also not going to 404 pages.
How to Fix a 404 Error
The recommended way to repair a 404 error is by performing a 301 redirect. A 301 redirect will tell your web browser that the old URL is no longer in service. Then, the visitor will be automatically sent to the new page. By using a 301 redirect, the user never sees the 404 error page. The rationale behind this is to improve the user-friendliness of your website. If the user gets directed to an error page, they are more likely to leave your website than stay.
The main goal of a 301 redirect is to move information from page A → page B. In terms of SEO, 301 redirects are the best method because they keep the most link equity or ranking power of the page. A 301 redirect carries over 90% of link equity when done correctly. In other words, a page will not lose it’s ranking value when the URL is redirected. If you use a different method, there is a greater chance of the page losing value.
To continue on the example previously mentioned, if your law firm loses a partner, rather than bringing users to a 404 page, you can bring users to a different partner or the attorney overview page instead.
Why Is This Important?
For anyone who wants their website to perform well in the search engines, setting the foundation is imperative. Making sure that your site doesn’t have 404s, providing your users with good user experience and other technical SEO aspects such as submitting your sitemap to Google and optimizing site speed will improve your website’s performance in the search engines.
For more information on Zola Media’s legal web development and client generation services and to receive a free SEO audit, please visit our search engine optimization page. If you’d like to have one of the experts analyze your site and get a quote, feel free to give us a call at 877.284.4406.