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What Does Error 404 Means And How To Use It? (2020)

While surfing the internet, users often come across a 404-error page.

What generally happens is, when the user clicks on any link of a webpage, the error pops up mentioning that the requested page doesn’t exist or is temporarily or permanently unavailable. It reads something like: “404 page not found” or “404, That’s an error”.

A 404 error is a standardized HTTP status code which means that though the server itself is accessible, the specific page that you are trying to reach is unreachable.

This error message is sent from the server having an online presence, as a response to the client browser that sent the HTTP request. The browser then displays the error code. If you see one of the following messages, you will realize that it is a 404-error: 

Error 404: What The Error Page Means And How To Use It? (2020)
  • The requested URL /404 was not found on this server.
  • The page cannot be found
  • 404 Not Found
  • HTTP 404 Not Found
  • 404 File or Directory Not Found
  • HTTP 404
  • 404 Error

404 Error messages can appear on any operating system and browser. Moreover, depending upon the website, this error message is customized regularly. So, you might come across 404 errors in every imaginable way while you are surfing.

In this article, we will discuss in detail about the information on error messages and steps to create your own “404 error” showing page.

Error 404: What The Error Page Means And How To Use It? (2020)

How does the “404 Not Found” error occur?

The 404-error message usually triggers when the website content has been moved to another URL or permanently withdrawn. However there are other reasons as well, that can display 404 error messages. Some of these reasons include:

  • The content (files or images) or URL have been removed or moved to a different address, and the redirection was incorrectly done.
  • The server behind the website responsible is not coordinating, or the connection is not getting established.
  • Domain Name System (DNS) is not able to convert the requested domain name into an IP.
  • The URL was mistyped into the web browser, linked incorrectly or miswritten.
  • Internet connection is down.
  • The entered domain name is no longer in existence.

Inactive links are occasionally left in case operators have no idea if linked content has been moved or deleted. Some websites are not live anymore, (or at least not at the given URL) but still appear in search engine results pages.

While, other linked sites that add new content every day such as news portals, blogs, etc. don’t provide any information if that has been removed or moved to a new address. Most of the website operators do not regularly check their external links, thereby functioning links becoming dead.  

HTTP Status Code 404: What Is a 404 Error "Not Found" Response Code?

How to solve the “404 Not Found” error?

A 404 error message is something that affects not only the website owners but the users as well because if visitors remain deprived of the information that they were looking for, they may turn to some other similar websites.

Although, the display of HTTP 404 page does not always mean that the intended information is not present at all. In most cases, visitors are quickly directed to the target webpage as the solution to original error is quickly found. So, how can one fix 404 errors? Well, try checking out these possible solutions in the order they are mentioned. 

Page reload

404 error messages might appear just because the page you are trying to find has not been appropriately loaded. This can be overcome by hitting the F5 button on your keyboard or by clicking the “refresh” button on the web browser.

Have a look at the error in the URL

The URL address that you have entered may have been directed via a link. Properly check the defined path for the website. It could be possible that you have made a mistake in spelling or mistyped something.

Error 404: What The Error Page Means And How To Use It?

Besides, it could happen that forward slashes have been misplaced or have been imitted. But it should be noted that this can only be checked with simple and ‘clean’ URLs, as they consist of simple words rather than perplexing letters, abbreviations, symbols, and numbers. 

Hover back through the directory levels

Let us assume a URL of the following structure “website.com/directory/directory/directory” is causing a 404-error message. Now, to see if the intended page is linked there, go back to the previous directory level (in our assumption: “website.com/directory/directory”) by deleting the last directory in the URL.

It will show the desired page link on the previous page. If you can’t find it there, again go back to the previous page, i.e. “website.com/directory” until you find the correct link. However, if you are not successful with this method and you end up on the homepage, then the next tip might help. 

Use the website’s ‘Search’ function

Many websites have a search bar on their homepage. By putting several keywords, you might be able to find the desired page you are seeking. 

Use popular search engines

You may have an entirely wrong URL. In this case, you can use different search engines such as Google or Bing, to find the website.

As far as the site that you are looking for exists, you should probably be able to find it by entering its domain or a keyword transcription. Luckily, if you find your intended page, you should favourite or bookmark it to avoid the 404 Not Found error in the future. 

Use popular search engines

Erase browser cookies and cache

When you have any indication that the 404-error message is constrained to just one device while you can access the same on other devices, then the culprit could be your browser.

Clear the browser cache and website cookies (if not all, then at least cookies of the website in question) and check if it works.

Change the DNS servers

Try to change the DNS servers used by your device if an entire website displays 404 Not Found errors, particularly if the same website is available to others on different networks.

404 error is not usually common unless your internet service provider or the government censors filter the content. Regardless of the reasons, if it happens, try giving it another set of DNS servers.  

Error 404: What The Error Page Means And How To Use It?

Contact the website owner

In case the page that you are trying to seek all along has been removed from the website, then the 404 error is viable, which the website operator should be able to inform you. Alternatively, if the page is moved and is generating a 404 error instead of directing visitors to a new page address, then they should be happy to hear about your feedback which will help them to fix it.

You can always contact the person responsible for maintaining the website by clicking on the “Contact us" section which will provide you an option to write them an email or else visit their social media support account to report it. 

Have a little patience

When everything that you have tried fails, then your last option is to ‘wait’, particularly, if you are strongly confident that the 404 error should not be happening, which means the page that you are trying to look at should be at the specified URL.

Advanced diagnostics to overcome the ‘HTTP 404 Error’ message

Here are some ways how the webpage owner can overcome this error from their webpage.

Review deleted pages

When a web page is deleted from the website, the search engines can find and index it. Worst that could happen is a page that could have been linked to another website. Because of this, access to the page through an incorrect link causes a 404 error for the visitor.

The search engine may take longer to identify the deleted page depending upon the team and the budget allocated to the project. What you can do about this is redirect the content of your page to a different page. 

Permission issues

“You are not permitted to access….”, if you see this message, then probably the error lies in the authorization of that specific page. Changing the CHMOD of a file through the FTO command might help to overcome the issue.

Error 404: What The Error Page Means And How To Use It?

Memory limit

On your hosting, an error could occur because of memory limit-related incidents. Even though it is not directly related, it is important to enable “Error notification” and then reload the page having the HTTP 404 error. In case, it displays “Fatal error: insufficient memory”, it is advisable to contact the web host to raise the limit of memory available.

Issues with .htaccess files

.htaccess is a configuration file in the root directory used by the Apache webserver. Among other things, it can protect directory, control redirections, and rewrite URLs. Sometimes, 404 errors get resolved by regenerating this file. Manually, one can delete the .htaccess file through the FTP command and can again regenerate it by following this path: Control Panel > Advanced Settings > Performance.

In some cases, the .htaccess file can be automatically regenerated by activating the “Friendly URL” option.

Incorrect configuration of the SSL certificate

If you have installed an SSL certificate on your website, and receive the 404 Not Found error, then it means the certificate is not installed correctly. Check and verify the SSL certificate configuration with your web host. Also, ensure that the SSL version of the webpage URL is correctly connected with the website URL in the .htaccess file.

Incorrect path of “User-Friendly URLs"

When creating a path to “Friendly URLs” in Administration Panel > Preferences > Referencing and URLs, an error may occur, resulting in an incorrect path. This can cause a 404 error message. Hence, make sure you enter the correct path of User-Friendly URLs.

URL rewriting mode is disabled

There is an Apache module that provides a way to perform URL manipulations (the “user-friendly URLs). If you have not enabled URL rewriting mode on the server, you would probably get a 404 error message.

How can HTTP 404 Errors affect the website’s reputation?

You might have an experience that when you are trying to access the web page to search the needed information, you end up getting an HTTP 404 code error. When this happens, you close the tab and start searching for other websites.

Usually, such is the behaviour of the majority of the users on the internet. The more the broken links are on the web page, the lower the time the users spend on the website. Similarly, the longer the 404 Not Found error, the more the unwelcoming experience for users. 

Algorithms on search engines mainly focus on how visitors behave on the website. The behaviour of users on the internet plays a major role in the ranking process of the websites.

How can HTTP 404 Errors affect the website’s reputation?

404 error is among the most frustrating errors that users can come across. As soon as the web page that visitors are trying to seek for desired information is not reachable, they immediately leave the site and turn on to the competitor’s website.

Other than that, user experience and a higher bounce rate can adversely affect SEO (search engine optimization) mainly because of broken links on websites. According to SEMrush, the bounce rate is the 4th most important ranking factor in search engine result pages. 

Although the algorithm of some of the search engines such as Google does not directly consider the bounce rate; however, it can hurt online ranking. For example, if visitors enter the web page but leave without clicking anywhere on the site, then it signals Google that the result does not match the user's desired search intent.

This will drive the ranking of webpages lower in search results. 

How to detect ‘404 Not Found Error’ on the website?

Preventing 404 error pages is of utmost importance for website operators. This applies to both external 404 error pages on other sites and internal 404 error pages on their website.

There are several tools available that can help to find broken links easily. Here is a list of some of the most popular tools:

W3C Link Checker
  • Dead Link Checker - It is among the fastest and simplest tools for identifying both internal and external linked 404 error creating pages. With this web application, all you need to do is enter the URL of the webpage that you want to inspect and then start the check. This checker also provides a choice of checking a single web page or the whole site. The result lists error pages along with status codes and URLs. 
  • Dead Link Checker - When it comes to testing a single website page in great detail, this online tool developed by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the perfect tool. That is why its process of verifying the links takes a bit longer than other similar websites. This 404-error page checker works similarly as Dead Link Checker: enter the URL address and allow the tool to run the test. W3C Link Checker also provides a feature to enter additional details of checking. 
  • Google Search Console - Formerly, Google Search Console was recognized as ‘Google Webmaster Tools’. You should use this tool when you already have a Google account and have your website registered through it. Any 404 errors found with the help of Google Crawler are shown in this web tool and can also be marked as corrected. Other features include finding an error in robots.txt file and crawling statistics which help to determine how often the website is crawled by Google Crawlers. 
Google Search Console
  • Bing Webmaster - To seek HTTP 404 Error using Bing Webmaster, follow this path Bing Webmaster Tool > Reports & Data > Crawl Information. There, you will be able to see all the information related to any outstanding 404 errors for your websites.
  • Yandex Webmaster - Follow this path to find 404 errors with the help of Yandex Webmaster: Webmaster.Yandex > Indexing > Searchable Pages > Excluded Pages. Using the “Error HTTP: 404” filter, users can also select the pages that display 404 errors. 
  • Screaming Frog - Screaming Frog checker can help analyze the website by providing plenty of meaningful insights. Just download this tool from their website on your computer, paste the URL link of the website which you want to analyze and start checking the issues.
Screaming Fog

How to create an HTTP 404 Error page?

Various content management systems (CSM) such as Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal automatically create a ‘404 Not Found’ error page when the URL isn’t found. Being just a simple standard error, HTTP 404 error messages can be customized using special CMS extensions.

When your CMS doesn’t provide the option of changing or creating the 404-error page or if the website is completely based on PHP, HTML, etc. then it is somewhat a complicated task. Here are steps to create a 404 error page:

  • First of all, if there isn’t an existing ‘404 error’ page then create one (either ‘404.php’ or ‘404.html’) in the root directory.
  • Now, if you don’t have a .htaccess file then create one and open it in the root directory. Enter “ErrorDocument404/404.html” and save it. This will lead to the generation of error pages along with the code.
  • Check out if you can access the unavailable webpage. Hopefully, your browser will display the 404-error page.

Reasons to have a customized 404 Error page

It is good to have a standardized 404 error page rather than not having it at all, although a tailored page is more favourable for many reasons.

On one hand, you can provide the website users with a specially designed 404 error page having links related to its content (for example, the links of subpages or homepages where the content overlaps.)

Additionally, adding a search bar on the homepage of the website can also help visitors to stay put.

Reasons to have a customized 404 Error page

On the other hand, you should ensure that your site users receive an accurate HTTP status code: for instance, if the visitors’ desired content is no longer available on the site, then it should be conveyed with some message.

This informs the website users to know that the content that they are seeking has been removed permanently. These extra measures ensure that your site visitors do not leave your site directly after seeing the 404-error code.  

Usually, visitors get disappointed when they do not find the content they are looking for, but with a creative message, they are more forgiving. Creating and putting funny or original error pages does have some potential to prevent the user’s dissatisfaction. 

It is better to design a 404-error page corresponding with the style of your website, as it makes the foundation of your error page considerably strong. When you inform your visitors in a light-hearted and funny way about the unavailability of their desired content on your website, you will hopefully get forgiving expressions instead of a dissatisfactory one. 

Wrap up

It is usually unavoidable to prevent a 404 error message on your website. To avoid low user engagement and SEO issues, ensure that you actively keep track of the performance of the website. Besides posting high-quality and unique content, it is also important to regularly check for HTTP 404 error code. 

If you have a website with meaningful content then it is advisable to check for a 404 error once a week, otherwise once a month will do. It is vital to allocate some time to perform technical testing and keep the website up to date to stay ahead in market competition and keep your visitors engaging.

Piyush

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About the Author

Piyush Kashyap is a Ph.D student at Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering and Technology, Sangrur. He is a budding editor/ writer and has been working as a part-time reviewer for online content. He loves to read tech-based articles and has a knack for reviewing such articles He likes to stay updated about the latest trends in technology. He has also been working as a reviewer for many scientific journals. He also writes articles based on science. Know More About Piyush


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