According to bittranslators, a 404 error page is a page that is displayed when the requested page is not available. It is not uncommon for messages such as “404 Not Found”, “Error” or “404 Page Not Available” to be found on these pages. The 404 on such pages stands for a standardized HTTP status code. The HTTP status code 404 Not Found comes from the area of client errors. The message or the appearance of a 404 error page is intended to show the user that the requested resource could not be found on the server.
What is the HTTP status code 404?
The status code 404 is a code that the web server sends back to the web browser (client) that sent the HTTP request. The code itself is a standardized HTTP status code and tells the browser that this is an error page. A link that returns the status code 404 is called a “dead link” or a “broken link”.
What are the reasons for a 404 error page to appear?
If a server cannot process or call up the request for a specific URL from a web browser, a 404 error page is returned. The most common reason for a 404 error page to appear is removing content from the website or relocating it to a different URL. There are other reasons for a 404 error page to appear. Below we provide an overview of the most common reasons:
- The URL structure of the page was changed and the links were not automatically forwarded.
- The URL was deleted without the internal links being adjusted.
- The URL was entered incorrectly in the browser bar.
- The responsible web server cannot be reached or the connection has been interrupted.
- There was a page move and not all URLs were forwarded to the new domain via 301 redirect.
404 error pages often go unnoticed for a longer period of time because the website operator has not been informed about the deletion or relocation of the content to another URL. Even other web offers such as news portals and blogs that set an external link to a specific article or offer cannot check every day to what extent they still exist or have been removed. In this way, links are created quickly and without being noticed.
What happens if I have not configured a 404 error page for my domain?
If no 404 error page has been stored, the server cannot send a suitable response back to the requesting client. As a result, the web browser or the user making the request has a negative experience. This is because it does not know why the requested URL cannot reproduce the expected content. Even the Google bot, which crawls all pages at certain intervals, cannot access an expected resource and does not receive the correct HTTP status code 404 as a response.
Both cases lead to a negative signal that is sent to Google and can affect the ranking of the page. Many CMS systems have an automatic 404 error page that is displayed when a resource is no longer available, but these are often not user-friendly. You will learn how to design a user-friendly 404 error page and integrate it on your page in the further course of this article.
What is a soft 404 error?
A soft 404 error occurs when a URL requested by the client is no longer available on the server and the server returns a different status code from the one expected. The status code 404 or a displayed 404 error page has no negative influence on the ranking of the website. A soft 404 error, on the other hand, can do exactly that: The reason for this is Google’s interpretation, as there is a suspicion that the page content was misled. In addition, a soft 404 error can double index URLs or prevent Googlebot from crawling.
By the way: URLs that are no longer available on the server and that are redirected to the start page via 301 redirect are also rated by Google as soft 404 errors.
How do I design a user-friendly 404 error page?
As already mentioned, many CMS systems have a standard 404 error page. A standard error page is undoubtedly better than having none at all, but these are rarely optimally geared towards the user. In the following, you will therefore learn how you could design your individual error page so that your page visitors feel that they are in good hands in the event of a non-existent page.
1. Your 404 error page should match your page layout
If the domain does not have a standardized 404 error page, it can happen that a white page opens with the text “404 Not Found” – without further navigation options being available. At first glance, such a page does not seem trustworthy – which inevitably leads to an increased bounce rate.
As soon as a page tailored to the website has been configured, the main navigation is usually also stored on it.
2. Link to the home page
A link to the home page should be created so that the page visitors stay on the website in the event of an error page.
3. Offer a search function
To make it easier for site visitors to search for specific content, a search function (if available) should be offered on the 404 error page.
4. Combination of a link to the home page and a search function
Of course, several navigation options can be stored on the individual 404 error page. In addition to the general main navigation, a link to the home page, a link to offers and the internal search function can be implemented.
How do I embed a created 404 error page on my website?
The most common CMS systems offer a function that can be used to create and change a 404 page. However, if the website is based on PHP or HTML, you have to go a slightly different way – which ultimately leads to the same result. We have summarized this path in the following:
- First you create an error page and store it in the root directory. In the case of an HTML-based page, this should be titled “404.html”. With PHP this would be “404.php”.
- Then open the.htaccess file. This can also be found in the root directory. The following text is entered here: “ErrorDocument 404 /404.html” or “ErrorDocument 404 / 404.php”. After the change has been saved, the page knows which file / page should be displayed if a URL is not available.
- Last but not least, you check whether the 404 error page is stored and displayed on the respective website. The easiest solution to this is to go to a URL that doesn’t exist on the page.
What impact do 404 errors have on a site’s SEO development?
If a URL was accessible in the past and Google had already indexed it, relevant rankings and user signals were collected. To ensure that these rankings are not lost, the website should be checked for undetected 404 error pages at regular intervals. It is important at this point that the content relevant to the ranking must continue to be accessible to the user and to Google via a suitable equivalent. So that the collected rankings are not lost and the user receives the expected content, the no longer existing pages should be redirected to a suitable alternative using 301.