While the internet is filled with endless opportunities for falling down rabbit-holes or wandering from interest to interest and site to site, there is one end-of-the-road block that can stop your online browsing – the “Error: 404 – Page Not Found” message. This can be incredibly frustrating when shopping, looking for help, or searching for services. If your page is the one that has the error, this is a serious issue that negatively impacts your site’s search engine optimization and significantly reduces traffic to your website. In short, 404 errors mean lost revenue.
What Is the Cause of 404 Errors?
If users see a 404-error message on your webpage even after they refresh and double-check the link address, most will assume that the site has been taken down for some reason. However, there are several different reasons why the page is not available. While this error could be occurring because of a critical mistake in your site’s code, several other potential causes are much likelier. The error could be from:
- Relocating the page
- Editing the page directory
- Moving the entire website
- Not including 301 web directs
If the error is due to one or more of these issues, there is an easy step-by-step process to follow so you can find and address the root of the problem.
1. Have You Moved the Page?
There are a handful of things that can go wrong when you move pages around on your website. The most common, which is almost always the root of a 404 message, is when the page has been added to the wrong folder.
Investigate the page location by comparing the pathway to the page you are visiting and check that it matches your content management system or FTP. If your page is in the incorrect location, attempt to move it into the right place, and refresh the browser. If the issue persists, it may be necessary to contact the website host to investigate the matter.
2. Has the Page Directory Been Moved?
Pages within a folder that have recently been moved can result in a 404 message as well. When a page directory is moved, the URL is automatically altered as well.
In this situation, moving the container folder or page directory will likely resolve the issue. You may only need to move it back unless the initial movement was intentional. In this case, you’ll need to look through your site and update any links affected. Mismatched URLs will continue to result in the error message, so double-check that the folder’s name matches the names in your CMS or FTP service listing.
3. Has the Whole Site Been Moved?
If you have decided to rehost your entire site, your pages could also be displaying Error: 404 messages. When you move your site to a new hosting platform, the website host should ensure that everything is working smoothly, but some problems may occur during the adjustment period.
In this situation, you will probably need to wait until the issue gets resolved. For most website moves, only a few minutes are needed before the problems sort themselves out. If you are unsuccessful, then you may need to look into the next option.
4. Have 301 Redirects Been Properly Added?
The last diagnosable cause of a 404 error is luckily an easy fix as well. When moving pages, directories, or your entire site, it is imperative to add effective 301 redirects. If you have failed to do this step, this is likely the source of your “page not found” errors.
Moving site elements and changing URLs requires a 301 redirect to let website visitors know that your page has moved to a different address. If you have not already included these redirects, then you are missing out on important updates for Google and other search engines and losing crucial website traffic along the way.
If the movement of your page is a temporary situation, then you can use a 302 redirect instead. This type of redirect does not have any value carried over for SEO and should only be used in these temporary move situations. Otherwise, use a 301 redirect.
Issues Caused with Redirection
You might experience some issues from using 301 redirects, and understandably, you may be concerned about its effect on your SEO strategy. Redirects can be helpful under the right circumstances, but they may become frustrating for user experience and undermine SEO in other cases. Poor user experience (or UX) is one main reason visitors bounce from your page. The best practice in this situation is typically to rid your web pages of any existing 301 codes as soon as you finish with them. Then, search engines can crawl your sitemap with greater ease.
Long-lasting 301 redirect pages create more serious obstacles within the indexing process. Without updating or removing them, search engines like Google will visit your old pages instead of the updated URLs, and over time, this will wear away your crawl budget.
Addressing Further Issues
We hope to never encounter error messages in our web browsing or for users who drive traffic to our web pages. Whenever an issue is not easy to fix, you should contact your website host for additional assistance. Investing in a quality developer helps you avoid most issues that arise with website development.
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