A 404 error is an important part of the web user experience, as it informs users when they have arrived at a page that doesn't exist, or is 'broken' in some way. It stands for the numerical response code generated by a server when a requested page doesn't exist. If you visit the internet and enter a website address (URL) and it returns a 404 error, it means that the web server is running and at the address there is nothing available.
First, it's important to understand what constitutes a 404 error. Generally speaking, a 404 error page is a page that the browser displays when a visitor attempts to visit a page on a website that does not exist. It is an HTTP status code – an error code identifying that the server cannot find the requested page, or URL
A 404 error occurs when the web server finds a request for a missing page, or something similar. In other scenarios, a 404 error is sent when a user visits a web page that cannot be found, or if the website has been moved or deleted. The 404 error message is one of the most common HTTP codes returned, and is used to let a user know that there is an issue with the page they are attempting to access, and it does not exist.
When a 404 error occurs, a browser typically displays a message that details the location of the error: "The requested URL was not found on this server." At the same time, the web server also returns an HTTP status code of 404, letting you know that the page was not found.
What Causes 404 Errors?
There are a number of reasons why a 404 error can occur. Common causes can include broken links, typos in the URL, URLs that are too long, outdated URLs, website structure changes and missing pages. Additionally, if a website helps to improve user experience and navigation, the website structure can change, which can lead to 404 errors.
How to Troubleshoot and Fix 404 Errors
There are several steps website owners, marketers and developers can take to prevent and fix 404 errors.
Firstly, it is important to update any links that direct users to pages that no longer exist on a website. This can be done in several ways, such as redirecting any broken or missing page to a page related to the original, or to the website homepage. Additionally, website owners should monitor and maintain their website, fixing any broken links or pages as soon as possible.
It is also important to review the website's server and hosting providers to ensure that 404 errors are not occurring as a result of invalid server configurations.
For marketers and developers, it is crucial to understand the user experience and journey, with the aim of fixing any broken links that the user may follow. This can be achieved through hours of testing and ensuring that links are not broken, or creating custom 404 pages to manage the user experience.
How to Customise a 404 Page
It is possible to customise the 404 error page on a website. It is beneficial to customise the 404 error page due to the fact that a removed page is no longer part of the user journey. As such, custom 404 pages should be an extension of the website user experience journey, informing the user that the page no longer exists, whilst offering alternative links, or an opportunity to search keywords.
To create a custom page, the page should be created and published to the web server on which the website exists. It is also beneficial to include branding elements on a 404 page to reduce visitor confusion. Additionally, website owners should test their custom 404 page to ensure it is working correctly.