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How To Fix 404 Errors: A Simple Guide For Beginners

How To Fix 404 Errors A Simple Guide For Beginners

A 404 error happens when a page on your website can’t be found. It’s like looking for a book in the library, but it’s missing from the shelf.

This can make visitors upset and hurt your site’s ranking on search engines. A study shows that 74% of people leave a website after seeing a 404 error.

Fixing these errors is super important to keep visitors happy and ensure search engines can find all your pages.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to fix 404 errors easily and keep your website running smoothly.

What is a 404 Error?

A 404 error means a webpage cannot be found. It is an HTTP status code.

When you type a URL or click a link and see a “404 Page Not Found” message, it means the page is missing. 

This could happen because the page was deleted, the URL is wrong, or the link is broken. These errors can frustrate visitors and hurt your website’s SEO. Fixing 404 errors helps keep your site user-friendly and ensures search engines can find your pages.

HTTP status codes

Hard 404 vs. Soft 404 Errors

Hard 404 Errors: A hard 404 error occurs when a webpage truly does not exist on the server, and the server correctly returns a 404 HTTP status code. This clearly indicates to both users and search engines that the page cannot be found.

Soft 404 Errors: A soft 404 error happens when a page is missing or provides no useful content, but the server returns a 200 OK status code instead of a 404 status code. 

In easy words, when the Server returns an HTTP code other than “Page not found”, but the user can’t find that page or sees a “page not found error”.

  1. Thin or No Content:
    • Pages with very little or no content, such as empty category or product pages.
    • These pages fail to provide value to users and are often flagged as soft 404 errors by search engines​​​​​​.
  2. Incorrect Redirects:
    • Pages that redirect to irrelevant content or to the homepage instead of a relevant page.
    • Misconfigured redirects can confuse search engines, leading to soft 404 errors​​​​.
  3. Improper Error Handling:
    • Pages that should return a 404 or 410 status code but instead return a 200 OK status code with a “not found” message.
    • This improper handling causes search engines to think the page exists when it doesn’t​​​​​​.

Why It Matters: Soft 404 errors can waste your crawl budget, as search engines might index these non-valuable pages, which can hurt your site’s overall SEO performance. Fixing these errors helps ensure search engines only index relevant and valuable content, improving your search rankings​​​​​​.

Quick Fixes for 404 Errors

Let’s dive into some quick fixes for those pesky 404 errors. We’ll start with what you can do as a user and then move on to what website admins can do to keep things running smoothly.

Fixes as a User:

  1. Check the URL: Sometimes, it’s just a simple typo. Double-check the URL for any mistakes.
  2. Refresh the Page: Give the page a quick refresh. It might just be a temporary glitch.
  3. Use the Website’s Search Bar: Can’t find what you’re looking for? Try using the search bar on the website to locate the page.
  4. Navigate from the Homepage: If the direct link isn’t working, go to the homepage and use the menus or links to find the page.

Fixes as a Website Admin:

Now, let’s talk about what you can do behind the scenes to fix 404 errors and keep your website user-friendly and SEO-friendly.

  1. Restore Deleted Pages: Sometimes, pages get deleted by mistake. If they’re still needed, re-upload or recreate them.
  2. Update Broken Links: Regular audits are key. Use tools like Google Search Console, Screaming Frog, or Ahrefs to find and fix broken links.
  3. Implement 301 Redirects: When pages move, set up 301 redirects to guide users from the old URL to the new one. This keeps your SEO intact.
  4. Create a Custom 404 Page: A friendly 404 page can turn a bad experience into a helpful one. Include links to popular pages, a search bar, and a positive message.
  5. Improve Content on Thin Pages: Pages with very little content can be flagged as soft 404 errors. Beef up these pages with more valuable content.
  6. Configure Proper Error Codes: Make sure pages that no longer exist return a 404 or 410 status code, not a 200. This helps search engines understand the true status of the page.
  7. Redirect Non-Relevant Pages: Avoid redirecting all deleted pages to the homepage. Instead, redirect them to the most relevant pages to provide a better user experience.

By following these tips, you can quickly fix 404 errors and ensure your website stays in tip-top shape for both users and search engines.

Step-by-Step Guide to Fixing 404 Errors

Step-by-Step Guide to Fixing 404 Errors

We’ll break this down step by step, starting with identifying the errors. Let’s focus on each step in detail.

Step 1: Identify 404 Errors

There are various tools for detecting broken links. Talking about free tools, we have Google Search Console (GSC), which is highly effective and user-friendly. For more advanced options, consider tools like Screaming Frog and Ahrefs.

Tools to Use:

  • Google Search Console
  • Screaming Frog
  • Ahrefs

How to Use Google Search Console:

  1. Navigate to Coverage Report:
  • Open Google Search Console and select your property.

Google Search Console for 404 errors-step1

  • Go to the “pages” section under “Indexing.”

Google Search Console for 404 errors-step2

  • Here, you’ll find a list of errors, including 404 errors.

Google Search Console for 404 errors-step3

2. Inspect URLs:

  • Click on the error to see the affected URLs.
  • Note down the URLs for further action.

Google Search Console for 404 errors

How to Use Screaming Frog:

1. Crawl Your Website:

  • Open Screaming Frog and enter your website URL.

seo-spider-crawl-analysis-start-seo-content-audit

  • Start the crawl to find all URLs.

2. Filter 404 Errors:

  • After the crawl is complete, go to the “Response Codes” tab.

screamingfrog-response-codes

  • Filter by “Client Error (4xx)” to see all 404 errors.

response-codes-404-errors screaming frog

How to Use Ahrefs:

1. Site Audit Tool:

  • Open Ahrefs and use the “Site Audit” tool.

404 errors using Ahrefs-step1

  • Run a new audit or review an existing one for 404 errors.

404 errors using ahrefs-step2

2. Review Issues:

  • Check the “Internal Pages” report to find 404 errors.

404 pages using Ahref tool

Check Server Logs:

1. Access Server Logs:

  • Log in to your server and access the error logs.

server access-log

Look for entries that indicate 404 errors. These logs often provide the URL requested, the referrer, and the time of the request.

404-Apache-Web-Log

2. Analyze Log Data:

  • Note down the URLs and refer to them while fixing the errors. Server logs can give insights into how often and why these errors occur.

By using these tools, you can effectively identify all the 404 errors on your site. Next, we’ll move on to analyzing the causes of these errors.

Step 2: Analyze the Cause

Now that you have identified the 404 errors, the next step is to analyze why these errors are occurring. This will help you determine the best way to fix them.

Common Causes of 404 Errors:

  1. Deleted Pages: Sometimes, pages are deleted intentionally or by mistake. Identify if any of the 404 errors are due to deleted pages.
  2. Broken Links: Links pointing to incorrect or non-existent URLs can cause 404 errors. This often happens when URLs are changed without updating the links pointing to them.
  3. Typos in URLs: Simple typing mistakes in URLs can lead to 404 errors. Double-check the URLs to ensure they are correct.

How to Analyze the Cause:

  1. Review Deleted Pages: Check your website’s content management system (CMS) or backup logs to see if any pages were deleted. Determine if these pages should be restored or permanently removed.
  2. Inspect Broken Links: Use the reports from your tools (Google Search Console, Screaming Frog, Ahrefs) to identify broken links. Note down these links for correction.
  3. Check for Typos: Manually review the URLs that are returning 404 errors to see if there are any typos. Correct any mistakes you find.

By analyzing the causes of 404 errors, you can determine the appropriate actions to take to fix them. Next, we’ll move on to fixing these errors effectively.

Step 3: Fix the Errors

Now, let’s move on to the practical steps of fixing these 404 errors. This involves restoring pages, updating links, setting up redirects, and creating a helpful 404 page.

1. Implement 301 Redirects:

Purpose: Redirect old URLs to relevant new pages to preserve link equity and guide users correctly.

How to Set Up:

  • Use an SEO plugin like Yoast SEO for WordPress.
  • In the “Redirects” section, enter the old URL and the new destination URL.
  • Example: Redirect example.com/old-page to example.com/new-page.

2. Update Links:

Purpose: Ensure all links on your site point to the correct URLs.

How to Update:

  • Manually update broken links found in your site audit.
  • Use a tool like “Broken Link Checker” for WordPress to automate the process.
  • Example: Fix a link pointing to example.com/missing-page to example.com/correct-page.

3. Restore Pages:

Purpose: Re-upload or recreate pages that were deleted by mistake or are still needed.

How to Restore:

  • Check your CMS or website backups for the deleted content.
  • Re-publish the content to its original URL.
  • Example: Restore example.com/important-page from a backup.

4. Create a Custom 404 Page:

custom 404 page - pixar

Purpose: Provide a helpful user experience even when they hit a 404 error.

How to Create:

  • Design a custom 404 page with helpful links, a search bar, and a friendly message.
  • Use your CMS’s theme settings to set this custom page.
  • Example: A custom 404 page saying, “Oops! This page doesn’t exist. Try these links instead.”

By following these steps and utilizing the right tools, you can effectively fix 404 errors, improve user experience, and maintain your website’s SEO health. 

Impact of 404 Errors on SEO

404 errors can have a significant impact on your website’s SEO and overall user experience. Here’s why fixing them is crucial:

1. User Experience

When users encounter 404 errors, it can be frustrating. Imagine clicking a link expecting useful information, only to find a “page not found” message. This can lead users to leave your site quickly, increasing your bounce rate. High bounce rates signal to search engines that your site may not be providing a good user experience, which can negatively affect your rankings.

2. Crawl Budget

Search engines allocate a specific amount of resources to crawl each site, known as the crawl budget. When search engines spend time crawling 404 error pages, they waste part of this budget that could have been used to index your valuable content. According to Google, excessive 404 errors can reduce the efficiency of their crawling.

3. Link Equity

404 errors can cause a loss of link equity. Link equity (or “link juice”) refers to the value passed from one page to another through hyperlinks. If external sites link to a page that returns a 404 error, the value of those backlinks is lost. This can harm your site’s authority and search engine rankings.

4. Search Engine Indexing

When search engines encounter 404 errors, they might deindex the pages, thinking they are no longer relevant or available. This means that any existing rankings for those pages can be lost. Sites like Moz emphasize the importance of keeping your site free from 404 errors to ensure all valuable pages remain indexed.

5. User Trust

Repeatedly encountering 404 errors can erode user trust. Visitors may think the site is poorly maintained or unreliable, which can deter them from returning. Trust is a critical factor for both user retention and conversion rates.

404 errors can harm your site’s SEO by affecting user experience, wasting crawl budget, losing link equity, and risking deindexing by search engines. Fixing these errors helps maintain a smooth, reliable, and SEO-friendly website.

Preventing 404 Errors

“Prevention is better than cure”, right? Let’s check out how we can prevent “404 Page Not Found Errors”:

1. Regular Audits

  • Schedule Audits: Conduct monthly or quarterly audits using tools like Google Search Console, Screaming Frog, and Ahrefs.
  • Review Reports: Regularly review and address any issues found in the audit reports.

2. Consistent URL Structure

  • Use Clear URLs: Implement clear and descriptive URLs that are easy to read.
  • Standardize Formats: Use a standard format for URLs, employing hyphens to separate words and keeping them lowercase.

3. Proper Redirects

  • Implement 301 redirects: Set up 301 redirects for moved or deleted pages to maintain SEO value and guide users correctly.
  • Avoid Irrelevant Redirects: Do not redirect all pages to the homepage; ensure redirects point to relevant content.

4. User Feedback

  • Feedback Mechanism: Encourage users to report broken links or missing pages through a feedback form.

5. Sitemap Updates

  • Regular Updates: Keep your XML sitemap updated and submit it to search engines to aid in proper indexing.

By following these strategies, you can proactively prevent 404 errors and maintain a smooth, user-friendly website.

Conclusion

404 errors can harm your website’s user experience and SEO.

Make sure to conduct regular site audits, check your links, keep your sitemap updated, and create custom 404 pages that are truly helpful. These steps are absolutely crucial for maintaining a top-notch website!

Take Action Now

Boost your website’s authority and traffic with Outreach Monks’ top-notch link-building services. Contact us today to learn how our strategies can improve your online presence. Visit our Guest Posting Services to get started.

By staying proactive and following these tips, you can keep your website user-friendly and your SEO strong.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can 404 errors affect my site's load time?

Yes, too many 404 errors can slow down your site's performance.

Is there a tool to automate 404 error fixes?

Yes, tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush can help automate finding and fixing 404 errors.

Can 404 errors impact my website's bounce rate?

Yes, frequent 404 errors can increase your site's bounce rate.

How often should I check for 404 errors?

It's best to check for 404 errors at least once a month.

Do 404 errors affect mobile SEO differently than desktop SEO?

Yes, 404 errors can negatively impact both mobile and desktop SEO, but the user experience on mobile might suffer more.

Keyword Stemming and Google Search: Understanding the Evolution of SEO

Keyword Stemming and Google Search

Have you ever wondered how Google knows what you mean even when you use different variations of a word? 

For example, if you type “hike boot” instead of “hiking boots,” Google still shows the right results. This is because of a feature called keyword stemming.

In this article, we’ll explain keyword stemming in simple terms, look at how it started, and see how it helps with Google searches today.

What is Keyword Stemming?

Keyword stemming is Google’s ability to understand different forms of the same word. For example, Google knows that “run,” “running,” and “runner” are connected. This helps Google show the right results even if the exact word isn’t used in the search.

Imagine you search for “running shoes.” Google will also show you results for “run shoes” or “runner shoes.” This is because Google can recognize the root of the word “run” and find related words. This way, Google can give you the best and most relevant results for your search.

keyword stemming example SERP

Stemming is important because it means you don’t have to use the exact word every time. You can use different forms of the word, and Google will still understand what you mean. This makes your writing more natural and easier to read.

In simple terms, keyword stemming helps Google understand what you’re looking for, even if you don’t use the exact words. This makes searches more effective and helps you find what you need quickly.

Origins of Keyword Stemming

The concept of keyword stemming comes from a field called Natural Language Processing (NLP). 

NLP helps computers understand human language. In the early days of search engines, they could only match exact words. This meant that if you searched for “running shoes,” you might miss results that used the word “run” instead of “running.”

Stemming and Lemmatization in NLP

To solve this problem, researchers developed techniques like stemming and lemmatization. Stemming cuts words down to their base form. For example, “running,” “runner,” and “runs” are all cut down to “run.” 

Lemmatization goes a step further. It changes words to their proper dictionary form. So, “better” would become “good,” and “am,” “is,” and “are” would all become ” be.”

These techniques help search engines understand that different forms of a word are related. This understanding allows search engines to show more accurate results. For example, if you search for “running shoes,” the search engine knows that results with “run” or “runner” are also relevant.

Stemming and lemmatization are important parts of NLP. They help make sure that search engines understand the meaning behind the words. This means that users get better search results, even if they don’t use the exact words.

Key Points:

  1. Natural Language Processing (NLP): The field that helps computers understand human language.
  2. Stemming: Cuts words down to their base form (e.g., “running” becomes “run”).
  3. Lemmatization: Changes words to their proper dictionary form (e.g., “better” becomes “good”).
  4. Benefits: Helps search engines understand related words, improving search accuracy.

By using these techniques, search engines like Google can understand and process different forms of words, making searches more effective and accurate for users.

Advancements in Google Search

Google’s search algorithms have evolved significantly over the years. Early search engines relied heavily on exact-match keywords to return relevant results.

Today, advanced models allow Google to understand the context and meaning behind search queries, making search results more accurate and relevant.

BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers)

BERT is a model introduced by Google in 2019. It helps Google understand the context of words in a sentence by looking at the words before and after them.

How BERT Helps

With BERT, Google can understand the intent behind search queries better. For example, if you search for “best way to catch a train,” Google understands you are looking for advice on catching a train, not physically catching one.

RoBERTa (Robustly optimized BERT approach)

RoBERTa is an improved version of BERT. It fine-tunes the understanding of language models by training on more data and for a longer period.

How RoBERTa Helps

This enhancement allows Google to process even more complex queries with higher accuracy, understanding subtle differences in language.

LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications)

LaMDA is designed to understand and generate natural language in conversations. It helps Google handle conversational queries better.

How LaMDA Helps

LaMDA provides more accurate and contextually appropriate responses to conversational queries, making interactions with Google more natural and effective.

Focus Shift in Google Search

Since the inception of Google, the search has evolved tremendously.

From Keywords to Context

These advancements mean that Google no longer relies on exact match keywords. Instead, it understands the context and nuances of words, providing more accurate search results.

For Content Creators

This shift means you should focus on creating high-quality, natural content that answers users’ questions and meets their needs, rather than worrying about keyword stuffing.

These advancements allow Google to provide better search results. Content creators should focus on writing naturally and addressing user needs effectively.

Google’s Current Approach to Keywords

Google’s search algorithms have evolved to understand the meaning behind search queries, rather than just matching exact keywords. This means that keyword stuffing, or overloading your content with exact keywords, is no longer effective and can actually harm your rankings.

Understanding User Intent

Google’s advanced algorithms, like BERT and LaMDA, focus on understanding the user’s intent behind the search query.

What is User Intent?

User intent is what the searcher is really looking for. By understanding the context and purpose behind the search, Google can deliver more relevant and accurate results.

Why User Intent Matters

By focusing on user intent, Google ensures that the content it ranks highest is genuinely useful and relevant to what the searcher wants to find. For example, if someone searches for “best running shoes,” Google looks for content that reviews or lists top running shoes, rather than just pages that repeat the phrase “best running shoes” many times.

Natural and Helpful Content

To improve user experience, Google now prioritizes content that reads naturally and provides valuable information.

Natural Language

Google rewards content that reads naturally and is easy for users to understand. This means writing in a clear, conversational style and avoiding the repetition of the same keywords.

Helpful Information

Content should be informative and useful. Google’s algorithms prioritize pages that answer questions thoroughly and provide valuable information. This is why keyword stemming is important—it allows you to write naturally and still include relevant terms that help Google understand your content.

Avoiding Keyword Stuffing

Overloading your content with exact keywords can actually harm your rankings. Instead, focus on quality content.

What is Keyword Stuffing?

Keyword stuffing is the practice of cramming as many instances of a keyword into your content as possible. This used to be a common SEO tactic but is now discouraged by Google.

Negative Effects of Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing can make your content hard to read and less engaging for users. Google’s algorithms recognize this and can penalize your site, leading to lower search rankings.

By focusing on these principles, you can create content that is both user-friendly and optimized for Google’s advanced search algorithms. This approach helps ensure that your content ranks well and effectively meets the needs of your audience.

Benefits of Using Keyword Stemming and Variations

Using keyword stemming and variations can make your content more effective. Here’s how marketers and content writers can use these techniques to create high-quality, engaging, and SEO-friendly content.

1. Improved Content Relevance

Keyword stemming helps Google understand different forms of a word. This means your content can appear in search results for various keyword variations.

Tip for Writers

Use different forms of a keyword naturally. For example, if your main keyword is “optimize,” also use “optimization,” “optimizes,” and “optimized.”

Example:

  • To improve your site’s performance, focus on SEO optimization. Regularly optimizing your content ensures better search engine ranking.”

2. Enhanced User Experience

Natural-sounding content keeps readers engaged. Keyword stuffing makes content feel forced and unnatural.

Tip for Writers

Write as you would speak. Let keyword variations occur naturally.

Example:

  • Instead of writing, “Our SEO tips are the best SEO tips because these SEO tips will help your SEO,” write, “Our SEO tips are designed to help you improve your site’s ranking. These strategies are proven to be effective in optimizing your content.”

3. Better Search Engine Understanding

Google’s advanced algorithms, like BERT and LaMDA, focus on understanding the context of words in a sentence. By using keyword variations, you help search engines understand your content better.

Tip for Writers

Use synonyms and related terms to enrich your content. For example, if your focus keyword is “running shoes,” also use “jogging sneakers,” “athletic footwear,” and “trainers.”

Example:

  • “When choosing running shoes, consider factors like fit and comfort. High-quality jogging sneakers can enhance your running experience.”

4. Higher Ranking Potential

Using keyword stemming and variations can help your content appear in search results for multiple related queries. This increases your chances of ranking higher and attracting more traffic.

Tip for Writers

Include different keyword forms and related phrases naturally in your content.

Example:

  • “Healthy eating is essential for a balanced lifestyle. A nutritious diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

Key Points:

  1. Use Keyword Variations: Include different forms of your main keyword in your content.
  2. Write Naturally: Make your content easy to read.
  3. Understand Context: Use synonyms and related terms.
  4. Broaden Your Reach: Cover multiple related queries to improve visibility.

By following these tips, you can create content that is SEO-friendly and engaging. This approach ensures your content ranks well on Google and provides a great user experience.

Conclusion

Using keyword stemming and variations can improve your content by making it more natural and helping Google understand it better. This increases your chances of ranking for multiple search queries. While keyword stemming itself is not a ranking factor, it can still be very beneficial when used correctly.

Google focuses on quality, user experience, and searcher intent. Simply using different forms of a keyword naturally helps create engaging content that meets these criteria. Avoid keyword stuffing and write naturally.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can keyword stemming help with long-tail keywords?

Yes, keyword stemming can improve the relevance of long-tail keywords by recognizing variations.

Does Google penalize for using keyword stems incorrectly?

Google may penalize content that appears to be keyword stuffing with forced keyword variations.

Is keyword stemming useful for voice search optimization?

Yes, using natural language and keyword variations can improve voice search results.

How does keyword stemming impact content readability?

It enhances readability by allowing for natural use of different word forms.

Can I see an SEO improvement by focusing on keyword variations?

Yes, using keyword variations naturally can lead to better SEO performance.