It’s a situation familiar to any Internet user. You’re interested in learning more about a specific product or service, so you visit your favorite search engine, enter in your query, then review the links displayed on the results page. You discover a company that looks particularly promising and click on their link, only to receive a message along the lines of “404 Error: Not Found.”
If you’re like most people, you immediately become annoyed, head directly back to the results page, and select the next company on the list without ever giving the first company another thought. This is how your prospects feel when they encounter a 404 error on your webpage. Not only does such an error cause businesses to lose that particular user each time someone gets a 404 error and leaves immediately, but it also increases the site’s bounce rate. Sadly, that means each click and bounce causes Google and other search engines to demote the business’s ranking in the SERPs.
404 Errors Ruin User Experiences
If you think this is not a big deal – think again – 73% of attempted visitors to your webpage will never return after receiving this error. Even if they reach your website and engage with your brand before they hit a 404 error, just the presence of this error code damages your credibility. Every person that views the error forms a negative impression of your brand, and an incredible 79% of them report they are less likely to purchase from you in the future due to your website performance problems. This high bounce rate and loss of engagement will ultimately cause you to lose out on an unbelievable number of sales.
Not only do you lose that specific visitor, but you also prevent others from ever even giving your company a chance. In fact, 44% of online shoppers share their unfavorable experiences with their friends. This means that not only does every 404-error code cost you that conversion, but it also compels the dissatisfied visitor to inform others of the issue. The more of your pages that feature these error codes, the fewer time visitors will spend on your page. The longer they persist without being fixed, the more widespread and long-lasting the impact becomes.
404 Errors Damage Your SEO
Along with creating a negative user experience, 404 errors also harm your marketing campaign’s SEO. Search engines utilize crawlers to analyze the behavior of visitors on your site, so the high bounce rate from this error signals that something is wrong. Every time a visitor attempts to enter a page without interacting with your content or following any links, this informs the search engine that your page does not adequately meet the visitor’s search. Your page will be pushed further down into the results page or even removed altogether.
What Causes 404 Errors?
Also known as a “not found error,” a 404 error indicates that the target webpage cannot be accessed because it could not be located on the server. 404 errors occur for a number of reasons, including an URL that was incorrectly written during its creation, a later modification to the URL, a moved or deleted webpage, a relaunched domain, an issue with the server, or a typing error made by the visitor when entering your URL into their browser.
3 Steps to Take When You Find a 404 Error
If you realize your webpage is 404ing, check out the steps below to handle the issue:
1. Find the Error Using a Site Crawler
Site crawlers allow you to extract data about your webpage and its visitors, audit the data to find SEO issues and optimize your webpage to improve your SEO. One of the best site crawlers is Screaming Frog, and it is extremely easy to operate. Download the tool onto your device, insert your webpage URL, and it will perform the audit. Select “Response Codes” in the top menu, then “Filter for Client Error 404,” and it will display a list of every page with this error.
2. Fix the Error
Fixing an error may seem easier said than done, but you do have options. You have four options for correcting the error:
1) Correct the URL so it directs users to the right place. This solution is easy, straightforward, and solves most errors.
2) Redirect users to a different webpage within your company’s site that is relevant to their initial search. Do not send them to your homepage.
3) Restore the original page. This works best if the error results from a deleted page, but the content is still in high demand, and your website does not contain any relevant page you could redirect users to.
4) Create a customized 404 error page for your website. A custom page allows you to apologize for the issue, instruct visitors on finding the information they’re looking for, create a search bar to aid them or provide links to other pages. You can provide users more valuable information than they would get from a standard 404 error page or help drive them along the conversion path, such as offering them a coupon for your product in exchange for entering in their email address.
3. Monitor Your Website to Avoid Future Errors
Use a site crawler regularly to investigate your pages for dead links and correct them immediately using one of the methods described above.
If your webpage features a 404 error, it negatively impacts user experience, damaging your brand’s reputation and lowering your rankings in search engine results. Knowing how to handle 404 errors is necessary to keep your website running effectively and ensuring you are taking full advantage of your digital marketing campaign.