How to avoid 404 Page not found errors on your website
Before we start off, let me explain 2 related terms, in case you are not aware:
Bounce Rate: When a visitor arrives at your website through normal search or any referral link, post viewing the page if the visitor instantly leaves the website without exploring the rest of your website, it’s called a Bounced Visit. (Here the landing page and leaving page are the same).
To calculate a website’s bounce rate for a given period, you divide the number of bounces by the total number of site visits during the period, and multiply by 100. Most of the Analytic tools like Google analytics have a tab or a metric that shows you the bounce rate. A healthy Bounce rate is always less than 30 – 40%, the lower the better. You can learn more about how to reduce bounce rates.
404 Pages Not Found Error:
The 404 or Not Found error message is a HTTP standard response code indicating that the client was able to communicate with the server, but the server could not find what was requested.
How to identify and reduce 404 error messages:
The best method to identify 404 error messages is with the help of the Google Webmasters Tool. You need to add and verify your website in the tool’s dashboard to proceed. Once you have your website added to the webmaster tool, there is a section called as “Crawl Errors”.
The Crawl Error page provides you with the information about pages that throw a 404 error to the users and the search engine bots. The 3 details given by this page are:
- URL that gave a 404 page not found error.
- Error Code
- Time and date of the error last reported.
It is a best practice that could be followed to regularly check your craw errors to keep your website in good shape and reduce the bounce rates. I was surprised to see that there were 600 Page not found errors in the last 3 days! This information helped me identify the links that were linking to literally nowhere and I proactively rectified them to reduce my bounce rates.
How to fix huge number of broken links
In my case, there were so many broken links mainly because I recently moved my old forum location to a different one as part of an upgrade to vBulletin, hence I knew the reason and could quickly rectify the issue.
If you are using a WordPress blog and you are not sure where exactly all the broken links are, the best method you could adopt is using a plugin that automatically identifies and locates your broken links
Major reasons for High Bounce Rates:
- The visitor has got an Error 404 Page not found error.
- The visitor found that content inappropriate.
- The content was not that great.
Provided you have great content and run a superb website, you should not lose out by not fixing your 404 error issue. Follow the steps and find out the pages that are throwing the error and serve your readers better.
A simple hack to create a custom 404 error page
Now there is a bonus trick of playing the game in a smarter way. Even though you cannot completely control the 404 errors, you can still control the error pages.
Create a custom designed 404 error page and tell the user in a different way. You could include a blog or website search feature within your 404 error page so that they could give it a second shot to find the content they were looking for.
How to create a custom 404 error page:
All you will have to do is simply add a new line to the .htaccess file on the root of your web page. If you want to learn all about .htaccess files you can read my earlier tutorial here.
- Design your 404 error page and upload it to the root of the website.
- Add the below line to the htaccess file in the root of your website.
ErrorDocument 404 /errorpage.html
Take Home: Proactively identify and fix the broken links on your websites and improve the user experience. This practice will also help improve your traffic and reduce bounce rates. Hope i have helped you to learn on how to avoid 404 page not found errors on your website