How to Handle 404 Errors
A 404 (Not Found) occurs when a user attempts to go to a web page but it does not exist. The number 404 comes from the status code that the server responds back to the user’s browser during HTTP. A 200 (OK) response means that it was successful. For more information about status codes, visit this wiki page.
As web administrators, a user getting a 404 page is a bad thing. They are on your website but are not finding what they are looking for. There are three reasons why a user might get a 404 page:
- There is a link on your website that links to a page that does not exist.
- The user incorrectly typed the URL.
- The user clicked on a third party link (another website, e-mail) that was incorrect.
Link Rot – process by which hyperlinks become useless overtime because they point to addresses no longer available.
How to Handle 404 Errors
Web administrators have a few different ways they like to handle 404 errors.
- Some just redirect any 404 errors back to the home page… terrible idea.
- Others let any erroneous URL 404 page with some quick content… getting better.
- I prefer mix of redirects and 404 page. By tracking the URLs, you’ll be able to see trends to keep a healthy website.
The idea being if users are going to a specific page and you have content for that page some place else, redirect them. If you renamed a page or condensed a page with another one, then it’s a good idea to add the redirect. If you have a keyword that’s difficult to spell in the URL, then maybe put a redirect on the misspelled word.
Quick note, when adding any type of redirect, always make sure it’s a 301 redirect. That means it’s permanent where as a 302 is temporary.
Why 404 Errors are Bad
The first and main reason they are bad is because it’s a terrible user experience. Users will loose faith with your site quickly and move on to your competitor.
404s are a natural part of the internet. Having them doesn’t mean you’ll get penalized with search engines. Having many of them will though. Think of it this way, a search engines job is to provide users with the best websites for their search terms. So they won’t want to provide a site that’s littered with 404 errors.
Now that you know how to handle 404 errors, it’s time to learn how to track 404 errors on your site.
What do you think? How do you like to handle 404 errors? Leave a comment below. Also check back for future posts about what content can be put on a 404 page.