Website Design

Guide to 404 Errors and How To Use Them

Rushik Shah User Icon By: Rushik Shah


404 errors and how to fix themEvery day, business owners like you watch potential customers slip away, unaware of a lurking problem: 404 errors on the website. Imagine a brick-and-mortar store where customers consistently bump into locked doors labeled “This room doesn’t exist.” Frustrating, right? But, that’s what’s happening on your site.

Here’s how this manifests in your digital realm:

  • Losing potential revenue from customers who bounce away.
  • Lower site ranking due to search engines perceiving poor user experience.
  • Time and resources are wasted on non-existing pages.
  • Negative brand image as users perceive you as “unprofessional” or “careless.”
  • Decreased trustworthiness among your visitors.
  • Difficulty diagnosing the problem without the right tools.
  • Increased server load.
  • Annoyance when users share broken links, spreading the issue.
  • SEO efforts undermined.
  • Inability to leverage the potential strategic advantage of 404s.

Now, it’s NOT what you think…

The core issue is NOT:

  • Mere website age or existence duration.
  • The size or complexity of your site.
  • How frequently you update your content.
  • Solely poor design by a web development company.
  • Your hosting service provider.


Most business owners overlook the proper diagnosis and treatment of 404 errors. A link might have been moved, the page might have been deleted, or there might have been a typo when the link was inserted.

Common “solutions” that don’t address the core issue:

Merely deleting old or outdated content.

Constantly changing URLs without proper redirects.

Over-reliance on automated tools without strategic human oversight.

So, what needs to be done?

1. Continuous monitoring of website health.

2. Proper use of redirect strategies.

3. Employing user-friendly 404 pages to navigate lost users.

4. Training your team on SEO best practices.

5. Using reliable tools to identify and rectify 404s.

The Game-Changer:

Forget about weekly URL checks or manual scans. The secret is in the strategic management of 404s, turning potential errors into opportunities.

Here’s the windfall awaiting you:

  • Boosted user trust by addressing and rectifying issues promptly.
  • Enhanced SEO by ensuring healthy link structure.
  • Reduced bounce rate.
  • Opportunities for brand interaction, even on error pages.
  • Efficient resource allocation by focusing on actual problems.
  • Amplified word-of-mouth as users appreciate the streamlined experience.

What is a 404 Error? The Digital Roadblock Explained

Navigating the vast digital highway of the internet, we’ve all occasionally stumbled upon the notorious 404 error. It’s like driving full speed, only to find the road abruptly ending in front of you. But exactly what is a 404 error?

When you request to view a website page by clicking on a link or typing a URL, your browser sends a request to the server that hosts the website. This request is met with a status code, a three-digit number that tells your browser the outcome of its request. Think of these status codes as the secret language between your browser and the server.

Here’s a breakdown:

1. 100s (Informational Responses): These codes, like a friendly traffic cop, signal to your browser to hang on. The server is processing the request and will get back to the browser shortly. It’s essentially saying, “Got your request, give me a moment to fetch that for you.”

2. 200s (Success): These are your green lights. Everything went well, and the content you asked for is on its way to your screen.

3. 300s (Redirection): It’s like a detour sign on a road. The page you’re trying to reach might have moved or changed, but the server will guide you to a new or related destination.

4. 400s (Client Errors): This is where our notorious 404 falls. This group is the digital equivalent of taking a wrong turn. The server understands the request, but it can’t fulfill it. The reason? It could be a typo in the URL or a page that’s been deleted or moved without a redirect setup.

5. 500s (Server Errors): These are less about the destination and more about the journey. There’s something amiss with the server itself. It’s like a road being inaccessible due to a landslide.

Ten years back, the digital scene differed. 404 errors resembled potholes – a common annoyance. Yet, with improved web design and backend systems, smarter approaches emerged. Instead of abrupt 404s, many sites now auto-redirect to meaningful content or the homepage, thanks to the expertise of a leading website design company.

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Common Reasons for 404 Errors:

1. Deleted content without redirection.

2. Misspelled URLs.

3. Broken internal or external links.

4. Site restructuring.

How to Find 404 Errors on Your Site: Your Essential Toolkit

After knowing what is a 404 error and the reason behind it let’s understand how to find a 404 error. Navigating the digital world is a bit like embarking on a treasure hunt. Sometimes, however, instead of discovering gold, you stumble upon obstacles that stand between your website’s visitors and the content they’re seeking. 404 errors are one such stumbling block, but thankfully, there’s a set of handy tools available to help you locate and address these pesky dead ends. Here’s your guide:

1. Google Search Console:

Google Search Console

Often seen as the holy grail for website owners, the Google Search Console is more than just a tool—it’s your portal to how Google views your site. Through this platform, Google offers insights into any crawl errors they encounter, which includes 404s. If a page on your site is returning a 404 error, Google Search Console will list it, allowing you to address the problem right at the source. Remember, if Google can’t access a page, it’s likely your users can’t either. So, addressing these errors is vital for a seamless user experience and for search engine ranking.

2. Bing Webmaster Tools:

Bing Webmaster Tools

While Google might be the giant in the room, Bing is still a significant player in the search engine game. If you’re aiming for comprehensive online visibility, you don’t want to neglect the users coming from Bing. Much like its Google counterpart, Bing Webmaster Tools provides insights into the health of your website from Bing’s perspective. This includes listing any 404 errors encountered during their crawls. Diversifying your toolset ensures that you’re not leaving any stone unturned—or in this case, any error unchecked.

3. Screaming Frog:

Screaming Frog

Beyond standard search engines, there are specialized SEO tools designed to offer a deeper, more granular look at your website. Screaming Frog is a prime example. This powerful desktop program scans websites and provides a wealth of data, from meta tags to broken links. When it comes to spotting 404 errors, Screaming Frog is like having a magnifying glass that scans every nook and cranny of your digital domain. It identifies any pages that are returning 404 status codes, allowing you to directly address and rectify them.

4. Broken Link Checker:

While tools like Screaming Frog offer a plethora of details, sometimes you just need a quick, laser-focused scan. Enter the Broken Link Checker. As its name suggests, this tool is designed with one primary purpose: to identify broken links on your site. Simply input your website URL, and within moments, you’ll receive a report highlighting any dead-end links that lead to 404 errors. It’s a straightforward, efficient way to ensure your visitors don’t end up at a frustrating digital dead end.

404 Errors When Browsing Other Sites: Navigating the Web’s Dead Ends

Alright, digital explorers, sometimes the digital journey isn’t always smooth sailing. You’re all set to delve deep into a webpage, and bam! You’re hit with that pesky 404 error. But fear not! Here’s your handy-dandy guide to getting around these little roadblocks when they pop up on someone else’s site:

1. Hit Refresh like a DJ Spinning Tracks

Sometimes, a simple refresh is all you need. Tap F5 and see if the site gets its groove back. Maybe it just had a temporary hiccup.

2. Switch Browsers Like You’d Switch Lanes

Ever noticed how some lanes move faster than others during rush hour? Similarly, if Chrome’s hitting that 404 wall, it might be smooth sailing on Firefox. Give another browser a whirl.

3. Clear Cache Like a Digital Spring Cleaning

Think of this as decluttering your browser’s closet. Head on over to Chrome Settings. Spot those three little dots in the top right? Click ‘em. Navigate to History > Clear browsing data. A tidy browser can sometimes make all the difference.

4. URL Typos: The Digital Equivalent of Stumbling on Shoelaces

Admit it, we’ve all been there. A sneaky typo or an extra space when you’re copying and pasting. Give that URL a once-over to make sure everything’s in tip-top shape.

5. Harness the Power of VPN – Your Digital Passport

Sometimes, the reason for a 404 is a bit more sneaky. Some sites might be blocked in certain regions, either by governments or by the site owners. Whip out a VPN, and it’s like you’ve got a digital passport, ready to teleport to anywhere in the virtual world.

404 Errors on Your Site: Clearing the Digital Cobwebs

Navigating the vast digital expanse is an exciting journey, but every so often, our visitors might bump into those dreaded 404 cul-de-sacs. If you’re a website owner, these bumps can be more than just a mere inconvenience; they can be roadblocks in your visitor’s journey. But fret not! Here’s your step-by-step blueprint to smooth out those digital potholes:

1. The WordPress Wizardry

If your site calls WordPress its home, there’s a nifty tool at your disposal: the Redirection plugin. Install it, and you’re equipped with a wand to cast 301 redirects, magically guiding visitors from a missing page to one that’s alive and kicking. Bonus? You can even set conditions for these redirects, making sure your visitors’ journey remains tailored and delightful.

2. Non-WordPress Wonders

For those steering the ship outside the WordPress realm, the seas might be a bit more turbulent. The .htaccess file on your hosting server becomes your compass. Tweaking it allows for 301 redirects, but beware! Navigating these waters is best left to seasoned sailors. Consider hiring pros, like the crew at Scorpion. Or, cast your SOS signal via your hosting platform’s help chat.

3. Digital Detours to Consider

  • Link Labyrinths: Got a broken link? Patch it up. Think of it as fixing a flat tire on a road trip.
  • Resurrecting Pages: If a page was once the talk of the town but has since vanished, consider bringing it back from the abyss. It’s like reopening a beloved cafe that had temporarily shut down.
  • Embrace the 404 (Sometimes): Occasionally, it’s okay to let a 404 be. If you’ve intentionally removed a page, see if time lets it fade from search results. Even Google gives a nod to ignoring some 404s, assuring they won’t dent your digital reputation.

4. A 404 Page That Woos:

There’ll be times when a 404 is just inevitable. In such cases, charm your visitors with a captivating 404 page. A dash of humor, a sprinkle of creativity, and a clear guide back to your main content can turn an obstacle into an opportunity.

Designing an Outstanding 404 Error Page: Captivating the Astray with Humor, Branding, and Navigation

Designing an Outstanding 404 Error Page

Inevitably, every website encounters a 404 error page. Yet, this isn’t merely a misstep; it’s a chance to captivate visitors in a fresh, unexpected manner. Let’s delve deeper into crafting an exceptional 404 error page, even when dealing with WordPress development errors:

1. 404 Error Message

  • Clear & Understandable: It’s essential to state that the page the user was looking for doesn’t exist. Use straightforward language like “Oops! The page you’re looking for can’t be found.”
  • Inject Personality: While you’re conveying the error, it’s an opportunity to introduce some humor or brand voice. For instance, “The page took a day off!” or “We’re as lost as you are.”

2. Links to Other Interesting Pages

  • Guide Back to Familiarity: Consider incorporating links back to your homepage, blog, or product sections. These are areas most visitors might find valuable.
  • Personalized Suggestions: Highlight sections or articles based on the visitor’s past interactions or popular trends.

3. Call to Action (CTA)

  • Strong and Clear: Whether it’s encouraging the user to go back to the homepage, check out a new product, or read the latest blog post, make sure your CTA stands out and is intuitive.
  • Bonus Offers: To further entice visitors to stay, consider offering discounts or exclusive content. A simple “Sorry for the inconvenience, here’s 10% off your next purchase!” can turn an error into a win.

4. Engaging Design Elements

  • A Dash of Humor: From playful graphics to pun-laden messages, humor can help reduce the sting of a missing page.
  • Brand Consistency: While the 404 page can be unique, it should still feel like a part of your website. Maintaining brand colors, fonts, and style is essential.

5. Avoid Overwhelming the User

  • Simplicity is Key: While you want to provide options and information, avoid making the page too cluttered. A clean design ensures users can quickly decide their next step.
  • Focus on the Essentials: Prioritize the most critical elements: the error message, a few key navigation options, and your CTA. Avoid the temptation to add too many bells and whistles.

6. Special Offers or Popups

  • Soft Engagement: Consider using a subtle popup that offers something of value. Maybe it’s a newsletter sign-up in exchange for a discount or an exclusive eBook.
  • Strike a Balance: Ensure that your popup doesn’t come off as too aggressive. It’s essential to strike the right tone, especially when the visitor is already experiencing an inconvenience.

Use an Exit-Intent Popup

An exit-intent popup is a proactive web tool designed to detect when a visitor is about to leave your website and present them with a final message or offer. This tool can be invaluable in retaining potential customers, re-engaging wavering users, or gathering crucial data. Let’s delve deeper into the intricacies of this strategy:

How Does It Work?

  • Behavior Analysis: By tracking the mouse movements and velocity of a user, the exit-intent technology can predict when someone is likely heading towards the ‘close’ button or the address bar – essentially when they’re about to leave.
  • Timely Intervention: Right before the visitor departs, a popup window appears with a targeted message or offer.

Benefits of Using Exit-Intent Popups:

  • Reduce Cart Abandonment: Online stores can offer special discounts or incentives to encourage users to complete their purchases.
  • Capture Email Addresses: Entice departing visitors with a freebie or newsletter subscription, helping you grow your email list.
  • Feedback Collection: Ask leaving visitors why they’re departing without making a purchase or taking action. This can provide insights into areas of improvement.
  • Increase Engagement: Offer related articles, products, or services that the visitor might have missed, keeping them engaged for longer.

Understanding Common Website Errors and Their Implications

While the 404 error is perhaps the most well-known of website error codes, there are many others that users might encounter. Each has its specific cause and potential remedies. Let’s break down these common errors:

1. 403 Forbidden

  • Description: This error occurs when a user tries to access a restricted web page but isn’t authorized to view it. Unlike a 401 error where authentication is requested and denied, a 403 error simply denotes that access is forbidden, regardless of authentication.
  • Common Causes: Incorrect file or directory permissions, IP blocking, or incorrect configuration rules.
  • Possible Fixes: Adjusting file permissions, reviewing IP blacklists, or altering web server configuration settings.

2. 500 Internal Server Error

  • Description: This is a catch-all error message for server-side issues, indicating that something has gone wrong but without specifying what exactly.
  • Common Causes: Corrupted .htaccess files, PHP memory limits, or incompatible plugins/themes in CMS platforms like WordPress.
  • Possible Fixes: Checking the .htaccess file for errors, increasing PHP memory limits, or disabling recently installed plugins/themes to identify conflicts.

3. 502 Bad Gateway

  • Description: The server, while acting as a gateway or proxy, received an invalid response from an upstream server. Essentially, one server received an invalid response from another.
  • Common Causes: Network errors between servers, server downtime, or configuration inconsistencies.
  • Possible Fixes: Refreshing the webpage, restarting your router, or checking the server’s configuration. On the server side, checking error logs can often identify the root cause.

4. 503 Service Unavailable

  • Description: The server cannot handle the HTTP request due to an overload or maintenance being performed on it. Unlike the 502 error, it is specifically about the server being unable to manage the request.
  • Common Causes: Server overloads, maintenance mode, or server-side DDoS attacks.
  • Possible Fixes: It’s mostly a wait-and-see error for end-users. Site owners can ensure proper server scaling, look for potential reasons for traffic surges, or check if the server is in maintenance mode.

5. 504 Gateway Timeout

  • Description: The server, while acting as a gateway or proxy, did not get a response from another server in time. This means that one server did not receive a timely response from another, leading to the timeout.
  • Common Causes: Slow communication between servers, upstream server failures, or network problems.
  • Possible Fixes: For end-users, a simple page refresh or a later revisit might solve it. For administrators, examining server logs, ensuring all servers are running optimally, and monitoring network connectivity can help diagnose and remedy the issue.

Bonus 404 Strategies: Making the Most Out of Mistakes

A 404 error, at its core, is a signal that something isn’t right with a website’s navigation. However, with the correct approach, 404 errors can be turned from mere annoyances into opportunities. Here’s how to pivot these errors into strategic assets:

1. Monitor and Record All 404 Hits

Description: Use tools like Google Analytics or specialized plugins to record every 404 error your visitors encounter.

Benefit: This gives you a clear picture of which URLs are causing issues, allowing for better identification and resolution.

2. Analyze the Referring Site or Page

Description: When a user lands on a 404 page through an external link, it’s essential to know the source.

Benefit: By identifying external sites linking to non-existent pages, you can either contact the site to correct the link or set up a redirect from the broken link to the correct page.

3. Leverage 404 Pages for Marketing

Description: Your 404 page can be used to present users with special offers, top content, or even just brand-related humor.

Benefit: Even if users land on an error page, they might be enticed to stay longer on your site or take a specific action.

4. Collect Data on User Behavior

Description: Track what users do after landing on a 404 page. Do they leave immediately, or do they navigate elsewhere on your site?

Benefit: This can help you tailor your 404 page to better meet their needs and increase retention.

5. Test Different 404 Page Designs

Description: A/B testing isn’t just for landing pages and emails. Test different 404 designs to see which ones best retain visitors.

Benefit: By finding the most effective 404-page design, you can reduce bounce rates and guide users back into your site’s flow.


So in this article, we have learned what is 404 error, the reasons for 404 errors, and how to find 404 errors. 404 errors, commonly recognized as the “dead-ends” of the digital world, can initially seem like unwanted disruptions in a user’s journey. However, with the right perspective and strategies, they become more than mere error messages. By understanding their root causes, employing tools to detect and rectify them, and designing engaging error pages, these seemingly pesky errors can be transformed into unique opportunities for brand engagement and user retention. Instead of viewing them as mere interruptions, it’s time to reimagine 404 errors as gateways that, when navigated adeptly, can lead to enhanced user experiences and deeper connections with your audience.

Encountered a 404 or curious about optimizing your error pages? Contact us and let’s navigate the digital maze together.


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