Broken links and 404 errors are the bane of every webmaster’s existence. This post defines each and provides a few options to correct them.
404 Errors Explained
A 404, or Page Not Found error, is an http response code. 404 errors occur when a web browser communicates with a server and requests to view a particular webpage, but the server cannot find the page – thus Page Not Found.
Typically, either a non-branded 404 page, like the one to the right, or a custom 404 page is displayed. A custom 404 page can better serve users (visitors) by providing a “did you mean” message within a branded page followed by links to several active pages pages on your website. This approach increases usability and reduces user frustration.
Alternate methods of handling 404 errors include temporarily displaying a 404 message, five to ten seconds, and then redirecting the user to the website’s home page. This approach is okay for simple sites, but may not be a good choice for more complex websites with multiple levels. With bigger sites, sending visitors back to the homepage is like sending a marathon runner back to the starting line just as the finish line comes in to view.
An additional way to handle 404 errors is to permanantly redirect requests for the missing page to your homepage or a specific category-level page using a 301 redirect. This approach is good if a website don’t you control attempts to link to your site, but misspells the URL. If their intent is easily understood, the best approach is to redirect the misspelled URL to the intended URL. 301 redirects have an added benefit, they “save” link juice, which helps your SEO efforts.
As a final thought, it’s important to say that not all 404 errors need to be corrected. If the incoming link is not important from an SEO standpoint, the error does not appear often (as indicated within Google Webmaster Tools), or the intended URL is not clearly understood, just let well enough alone.
Broken Links Explained
Why are broken links bad? They frustrate users; and in today’s busy and competitive world frustrating potential customers is not a good idea. In the symbiotic B2B world of manufacturers and distributors, broken links are common. A typical scenario leading to the generation of broken links occurs when a distributor links to a manufacturer’s website with the goal of proving users access to PDF files, data sheets, product videos or other important content. Then later, the manufacture removes or renames the file or page and suddenly the distributor’s website contains a broken link.
Fixing broken links is not hard, but depending on whether your site is built in a content management system, you may need the assistance of a developer to fix them.