While browsing online, you’ve no doubt already come across a 404 error page while trying to navigate a website. As a visitor, it’s irritating, but if you’re the owner of the website, it could be costing you both your SEO ranking and revenue from potential customers.
That being said, 404 errors are incredibly common, and fixing them on WordPress is simple. In this guide, we’re going to go over everything you need to know about 404 error pages: why they matter, why you need to fix them, and a couple of methods to use if they pop up on your website. Let’s take a look!
What causes 404 error pages?
404 error pages are a incredibly common, and tend to occur for one or more of the following reasons:
- URL errors. If you’ve misspelt a word or phrase in your URL, you’ll be greeted with a 404 error page. This is most likely the cause of your error pages, so make sure to take a look closely at the URL before fixing anything.
- Changes to your Domain Name System. If you’ve recently modified your domain name system, it might take a day or so for these changes to show up on your website.
- Permalink errors. Problems with permalinking can cause 404 error pages.
- Incompatible plugins or themes. If you’ve recently installed a new plugin or theme on your WordPress site, this can create problems with your URLs, resulting in broken links and 404 error pages.
Why do 404 pages matter?
From both a UX perspective and an SEO perspective, 404 error pages are a net negative. Here’s why:
Dissuading visitors and potential customers
As alluded to above, you’ve probably encountered a number of 404 error pages yourself while browsing on various websites. If so, you’ll know how irritating it can be – if you’re unable to find the page or product that you’re looking for, you’re most likely going to end up clicking off the site and opting for a competitor instead.
This is where 404 error pages can harm your business: not only can they increase your bounce rate (which can lower your SEO ranking) but you’ll also give your customers the impression that your website is unorganised and unreliable, dissuading them from making a transaction or revisiting.
Having a lot of 404 error pages is also bad for your SEO performance: Google’s bots aren’t going to register and index the pages as they would normally, as the crawler system will operate as if they don’t exist.
This can mean hours of carefully SEO-optimised content not being seen by neither Google nor your customers – and you may even end up being penalised by Google for having a faulty or unreliable website. If your website is struggling with a lot of broken links or 404 error pages, it might be a good idea to hire a WordPress SEO consultant, as they’ll be able to ensure you don’t ruin your off-site backlink campaign while you remove 404 error pages.
How to fix 404 errors in WordPress
Luckily, it’s fairly easy to fix 404 errors in WordPress. Here are just a couple of effective methods you can employ if you’re dealing with numerous error pages or broken links:
(Pro tip: we’d recommend saving a current version of your website so you can restore it fully if you end up making any unwanted errors.)
Reset your website’s permalinks
The first thing you should try is to reset your permalinks. You can find this option easily by opening your WordPress dashboard and finding > Settings > Permalinks. You don’t need to click or modify anything – just click on the button that says ‘save changes’, and your permalinks will be reset.
Now, head back to your website and try loading the pages again. If the 404 error page is no longer there, it was simply a permalinking problem. If the 404 error page persists, you’ll need to try another option.
Deactivate themes and plugins
As mentioned above, broken links and 404 error pages can often be caused by incompatibilities with a new WordPress theme or plugins. To be fully comprehensive, we’d recommend deactivating all your plugins and your WordPress theme to see if this makes a difference. If not, a plugin incompatibility isn’t the problem.
Redirect your error pages
If your error pages are occurring because they used to link to a defunct product or sold-out item, the best way to get rid of them is by redirecting them elsewhere. This prevents you from ruining any backlink campaigns, and will reduce the possibility that visitors bounce directly after coming across a 404 error page on your site.
You can do this by installing a WordPress plugin, for example the ‘Redirection’ plugin. It’s also a good idea to use a plugin to create a custom 404 error page: a fun, engaging page with some humour is less likely to turn off visiting customers.