Error 404: What Does the Error Mean?

Error 404

You know it: you click on a link, but a web page appears telling you that the requested page is not available. Often error messages like “404 Not Found” or “404 (Page) not found” are displayed on this. Error 404 is a standardized HTTP status code . It is sent from the web server of an online presence to the web browser (generally: the client) that made the HTTP request. The browser displays this code as an error page.

We have put together useful information about the error message and show you how to create a 404 page yourself. fact

The link that runs nowhere is called “Dead Link” (dead link) or “Broken Link” (broken link). The actual HTTP status code 404 is often abbreviated as “Error 404”, “HTTP 404” or “404 Code”.

How does the message “404 not found” come about?

The classic trigger for an Error 404 is when website content has been removed or relocated to a different URL. However, other reasons can also lead to a 404 HTTP page appearing in your browser – here are some typical ones at a glance:

  • The URL and its content (such as files or images) have either been deleted or swapped out (without the internal links of the website having been adjusted accordingly).
  • The URL was created incorrectly (e.g. due to lack of care when creating or redesigning), incorrectly linked (e.g. due to incorrect labeling) or incorrectly entered in the browser bar .
  • The web server responsible for the website is not in operation or the connection is interrupted .
  • The domain name called up can not be converted into an IP in the domain name system .
  • The called up domain name does not exist (anymore).

Dead links often remain in place for a longer period of time because the operators of the linked online offer simply do not know that the linked content has been deleted or moved. This applies in particular to search engines – the search results often contain websites that are no longer available online (at least not under the specified URL). However, other linked websites such as blogs, news portals, etc. are also often not informed that a website has been removed or a new URL has been added. Since by far not all website operators regularly check their external links , an intact link quickly becomes a dead link without being noticed.

Fixing Error 404: How Do Website Visitors Do It?

An error 404 is rarely a cause for joy – after all, you as a website visitor did not get the desired content. However, the appearance of the 404 page does not necessarily mean that the information you are looking for is no longer available on the page: Sometimes the actual error can be found quickly and the hoped-for webpage can be called up. So how can you possibly resolve the “404 Not Found” error? It is best to try these solutions one after the other in the order given:

  • Reload the webpage : The 404 code may appear for the simple reason that the page did not load correctly. You can check this very quickly by e.g. B. reload the page via the corresponding button in your browser or via the F5 key.
  • Check the URL : Regardless of whether you have entered the web address manually in the URL bar or accessed via a link – errors can quickly creep in here. Therefore you should check the specified path of the website. You or the person who set the link may have made a mistake in the URL. In addition to the spelling, incorrect or unset slashes can also cause the error message. However, this can only be clearly understood with orderly clean URLs (also called “speaking URLs”), since these use legible words instead of incomprehensible abbreviations for the path specification.
  • Go back in the folder structure of the website : If, for example, a URL with the structure example.com/folder1/folder2/folder3 outputs a 404 error page, you can use the upstream folder (in our example: example.com/folder1/folder2) check whether the desired page is linked there – simply remove the last specified folder in the URL bar. The website you are looking for may have been provided with a new link that you can find on the higher-level page. If you cannot find what you are looking for there, you can again search the folder or folders above for information and links to the desired webpage. If you are unsuccessful here and finally end up on the homepage, try the next method.
  • Use the website’s search function : Many websites offer a search function on the home page. You can also find the website you are looking for by entering one or more keywords.
  • Use a search engine : You also have the option of using your trusted search engine to search for the website. If the page you want still exists, you can often find it by entering the website domain and a keyword description of the topic you are looking for.
  • Delete the browser’s cache and cookies : If you can access the website from another device and the HTTP 404 error only appears again and again on a certain computer, the error may be related to your browser. If you delete the browser cache and all cookies for the website you are visiting, the page could be found on this device.
  • Contact the website : If the aforementioned procedures are unsuccessful, you almost only have the option of contacting the person responsible for the website directly (you can usually find the contact in the imprint or under the service page of the website). The website operator should be able to provide you with information as to whether the subpage you are looking for still exists. If this has been moved to a new URL, you are also giving the webmasters an important note: They can then fix the 404 error by setting up a domain forwarding that will automatically redirect visitors from the old to the new address.

HTTP 404 errors can damage the ranking and reputation of the website

Google, Bing and Co. rate 404 errors negatively if a page has many of them. As soon as the search engine crawlers discover that the checking of the links on a website is frequently answered with the 404 code, they conclude that the website is not being well maintained . Dead links have a correspondingly bad effect on the ranking of the site, since online presences with many error 404 pages are graded within the hit list of a search engine or even no longer indexed at all. This can mean considerable losses in terms of the number of visitors to the linked website .

Additional amenities at a site with several broken links or dead  Landing Page (page that is called from the search engine) the confidence of users to the online presence on the brink. Many people then no longer bother to search for the desired content on the website – after all, in the event of an Error 404 message, users cannot be sure whether this content is still available.

Tip : Would you like to know how well your website is found by search engines? Test it right here with the free website checker:Website checkCheck Website 

Identify Error 404 on your own website

It is therefore important for website operators to prevent any HTTP 404 pages. This applies to avoiding 404 errors on your own website ( internal error 404 ) as well as to linking to 404 pages of other online offers ( external error 404 page ). There are various free tools that make it much easier for you to find broken links. Three of the best and most famous are:

  • Google Search Console (formerly “Google Webmaster Tools”): If you have a Google account and your website has been registered there, the Google Search Console is a very good option. The 404 errors found by the Google crawler are displayed in the web tool displayed by Google and can also be marked as corrected here. The scope includes other functions – among others. you can see errors in the robots.txt file and use crawl statistics to see how often the Google crawler has searched the website.
  • Dead Link Checker : One of the easiest and fastest tools for searching for internally and externally linked 404 pages is the Dead Link Checker . With this web app , you simply enter the Internet address of the website to be checked in the input line and activate the check. You can choose to have a single website or the entire website checked. The application lists all detected error pages with status code and URL.
  • W3C Link Checker : The online tool of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) goes into great detail when testing the individual pages of a website. Accordingly, the control process also takes longer than with other web apps for link checking. The W3C Link Checker works very similarly to the Dead Link Checker: You enter the URL to be checked in the field provided and let the tool do the rest. You can also provide some other details when you inspect the website.

Create an error 404 page

Some content management systems is a 404 error page automatically generated as soon as the URL of a site can not be found. These are standard pages for marking an HTTP 404 error that are not very original in design. In most cases, however, they can also be individually designed using special CMS extensions .

If your CMS does not offer a function with which you can create or change a 404 page, or if your website is based solely on HTML, PHP etc., things get a little more complicated. Then you can create an error page like this:

  • Create an error page (” 404.html ” or ” 404.php “) in the root directory (root directory) – if it does not already exist .
  • Open the .htaccess file (or create one if it doesn’t exist yet) in the root directory, enter “ ErrorDocument 404 /404.html ” in it and save the change. This code is used to generate the error page.
  • To check, call up a website that does not exist under your website domain – the Error 404 should now appear in the browser window.

Why should you create a custom 404 page?

A standard 404 error page is undoubtedly better than none at all. However, a tailor-made page for the Error 404 is useful for several reasons. On the one hand, you can use this to ensure that an appropriate HTTP status code is issued to the visitors : For example, if the requested content is no longer available on the website, this should be explicitly identified with the identifier ” 410 Gone ” – this code says that the searched content has been permanently deleted.

On the other hand, you can offer further links via a specially prepared error page (for example to your home page or to sub-pages that have content overlaps with the originally requested request). A search function for your website can also be provided here. Such offers may prevent visitors from leaving your site immediately after receiving the 404 code. Instead, you create incentives to stay on the website despite the lack of content.

You can even forgive some visitors with a creative 404 message . Of course, users will still be disappointed not to find the promised content on your website. However, an original and / or amusing 404 website can make up for this disappointment. Thus, error pages even offer a certain potential.

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If you make sure that the design of the error message matches the style of your website , you have already laid the foundation for a good error 404 page. If you also communicate in a fancy, humorous way that the requested content is not available, many visitors will certainly smile and show forbearance. Sources of inspiration for the imaginative decoration of the Error 404 can be found in our advanced article on creative and tasteful 404 pages .

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