What is 404 Error?
A 404 error is a standard HTTP status code. It is returned by a web server when the server could not find the webpage that was requested by the user.
404 Error Metaphor Example
Imagine walking through the bustling streets of Hong Kong, looking for a specific shop you heard about. You have an address and follow it to the location, but when you arrive, there’s no shop to be found. Maybe it has closed down, moved, or perhaps you have the wrong address. Regardless, you’re left standing in the middle of the street, not finding what you’re looking for.
In this scenario, your journey to the shop is like clicking on a link or typing a URL. The shop itself represents the webpage you want to access. The fact that the shop isn’t there when you arrive is like encountering a 404 error.
Just as the missing shop can be frustrating and confusing, a 404 error can disrupt a user’s experience on a website. And, like a shop owner who might put up a sign redirecting customers to a new address, webmasters can set up redirects from the missing page to a new, relevant page to improve the user’s experience.
Why is 404 Error Important?
A 404 error is significant for several reasons, particularly from a user experience and SEO perspective:
- User Experience (UX): A 404 error can disrupt the user experience. When users encounter a 404 error, they may feel frustrated or confused, and may leave the site, increasing the bounce rate. If your website provides the correct navigation or guidance after a 404 error, it can help retain users and maintain a positive user experience.
- Website Health and SEO: 404 errors can negatively impact your website’s SEO if not managed correctly. Search engines like Google want to provide the best user experience, which means directing users to relevant and working webpages. If a search engine encounters multiple 404 errors on a site, it might consider the site to be poorly maintained, potentially leading to lower rankings.
- Link Juice: If a page that has inbound links from other websites is deleted without a proper 301 redirect, the “link juice” (or SEO value from those links) is wasted. That can impact the overall SEO of your website.
- Crawl Budget: For larger sites, 404 errors can consume the site’s crawl budget, which is the number of pages search engines will crawl on your site within a given time. If the budget is used up crawling non-existent pages, it means less time for search engines to crawl your active, relevant pages.
- Insight into Errors: Lastly, monitoring 404 errors can provide insights into issues with your site. They can help you identify broken links, problems with your site structure, or whether you need to restore or redirect deleted pages.
Managing and minimizing 404 errors should be a part of a website’s ongoing maintenance to ensure a good user experience and to maintain SEO strength.