As a web surfer, you’ve probably come across 404 errors more than you would like to. If you own a website, chances are you have seen them pop up even more often. Our previous post already provided some fundamental info about these errors, so I’ll dedicate this post to looking at different ways you can fix them.
1. How to check for 404 errors on your site
First and foremost, before deciding whether you even need to worry about this issue, you need to check your site for any potential 404 errors. There are tons of tools out there you could use, but why not stick to the all-rounder checker Google Search Console (GSC)? After all, SEO has a lot to do with Google itself.
In your GSC, follow the path ‘Crawl > Crawl Errors‘ to check for any URL errors detected on your site (example below).
If lots of errors pop up, don’t freak out! Some of these errors may have already been fixed and should drop off the list after the next time Google crawls your site. Just make sure you do fix them before the next crawl.
Extra tip: Check your GSC for crawl errors regularly (recommended once a week) to keep them at a manageable level.
2. How to fix 404 errors
If you can identify a suitable alternative page for each of these crawl errors, consider creating 301 redirects. This is especially important if the error pages have valuable inbound links from external sources. Redirection will help reserve the value of these backlinks and prevent poor user experience for those arriving on the page through these backlinks.
While redirecting is often the best and most beneficial way to deal with 404s, it might be unrealistic to do this for every single URL on your list if you have 200 or more. If particular pages receive hardly any organic traffic and have no backlinks, it may not be worth your time and effort finding a page to redirect to.
Updating your sitemap(s)
Monitoring your sitemap(s) regularly can help ensure that no invalid URLs are kept and new valid URLs are present. Regular monitoring is important if you remove/add pages on a regular basis, especially for e-commerce websites where products frequently rotate.
There are a few tools that allow you to keep your sitemap(s) up to date without the exhaustion of manual updating. But if you want to DIY, here’s a guide on building a sitemap from Google. Once again, GSC makes a good tool; it can help you keep track of your sitemap(s) by detecting and reporting any potential errors or warnings.
Ignoring the errors
Yes, you read it right. You can actually ignore these errors, but only if they don’t have any valuable backlinks nor a substantive amount of organic traffic. If you leave them be long enough, they’ll drop off the report eventually.
If you decide that your time is better spent on something other than fixing most of these pages, it’s a good strategy to develop a custom 404 page. You may have come across a few 404 pages that look nothing like the same old oh-so-boring “Not Found” pages. These are custom 404 pages.
3. Is a custom 404 error page really that necessary?
Though not mandatory, a custom 404 error page is extremely useful, for both users and SEO.
For users, it helps explain that something has gone wrong, but in a better way using design that fits your brand, sending out some good vibes (often humorous) while providing them with links and options to continue their journey.
For SEO, it often helps retain visitors, preventing poor user experience, providing search engines’ crawlers with direction of where to go next, or even offering an opportunity for lead generation (example below). Get creative!
4. How to create a customised 404 error page
A great custom 404 page should:
- Inform users that the page they’re trying to reach cannot be found
- Offer users with links to other important pages and/or homepage
- Include a search box for users to seek alternative solutions
- Include a HTML sitemap if you have one
- Have a high loading speed (imaging having to wait a decade for a page to load, only to end up with a 404 error!)
These rules are to make sure we use our custom 404 page strategically to retain visitors without losing focus of its purpose: to inform them that the page cannot be found.
5. To sum it up
- Check for 404 errors using GSC.
- Fix them by 301 redirecting to an appropriate and valid URL; only ignore them if the page has no backlinks or traffic.
- Update and monitor sitemap(s) regularly using GSC to keep them in check.
- Create a custom 404 error page to retain visitors.