SEO Basics: 404 Errors Explained in Plain English
A link is clicked and the web searcher is sent to your blog. Instead of seeing a page they were expecting to see they are shown a page that says “We are sorry we could not find that page” Error 404. In this post, we are going to explain what a 404 error is and how you can avoid them.
404 Errors explained
When something goes wrong a web browser is sent a code from the server. The most common errors are the 404 file not found, 500 server error, and a 301 redirect. A 404 file not found is exactly what it says. The server was unable to find a file, page, or path that the web browser had requested.
Most of the time these occur because a file name or path to a page has changed. The most common occurrence is when a blogger creates a post and publishes it with a misspelling in the title. The title also the URL/path in most cases will have that same misspelling. A few days later the blogger finds the typo and goes back and fixes the issue.
Fixing the error will create an updated correct URL, but the search engines have already indexed the incorrect version. They will have also indexed the new correct version as well. The incorrect version was indexed first allowing web searchers to find and click on the old link. That link will send that 404 error most likely sending them to a 404 page on the blog. Now that the cause of a 404 has been explained how does one fix them?
How to prevent and fix 404 Errors
Prevent hem from the start
The easiest way to make sure you do not end up with errors is to spell checking all of your titles and post URLs before publishing. Also changing the names of files, pages, and posts as little as possible will help keep things in check. If you complete a website redesign or change your site majorly can also cause issues if file names and pages also change. Make sure that you install redirects to point the old files to new ones.
If you do need to make a change make sure that you install a redirect from the old post to the new post. Many systems such as WordPress will allow you to install a redirect plugin to manage your redirects. If you are not using a content management system then talk with your web developer or hosting provider and they will be able to provide you with helpful tips.
Review Crawl Errors
Logging into Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools you are able to see what page, posts, and files that they were unable to find. Using this list you can begin to make updates and changes to your site to help limit the number of 404s that the search engines find. The less 404s your site has the more the search engines will like your site. Adding those redirects from old URLs to the new ones is the best way to ensure that web browsers will be shown what they are looking for.
404 errors are frowned upon by search engines. The more you can correct and keep your blog clean the better. Utilizing plugins or resources to utilize redirects and trying not to make small mistakes that require renaming files, pages, or posts is key.
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