How To Manage Broken Links & 404 Error Pages

17 Rebecca D'Cunha

Within this post we’ll be looking at broken links and 404 error pages – what they are, how they impact users and SEO, how to find them and perhaps most importantly, some ideas on how you might go about dealing with them.

What are broken links & 404 error pages?

Broken links occur when web pages are deleted or moved but the link to the old address still exists.  When a user clicks on the broken link, the page cannot be found, so a 404 error page is displayed.

What does a 404 error page do?

A 404 error page tells the search engines and your web server that a web page cannot be found, this might be because it no longer exists or the url has been changed.

What do 404 error pages mean for SEO?

A 404 page tells the search engine that the page no longer exists. If the page genuinely no longer exists, and you no longer wish to rank for the terms targeted on the page, then that’s fine – over time the search engines will remove the page from their indexes. However, if the page does still exist and you still wish to rank for the terms targeted then you have a problem.

In the event that the page does still exist, but you have moved it, (or changed the url), then in order to preserve your ranking, and avoid returning a 404 error page, you will need to redirect the old url to the new one. How? If the page is moving temporarily, you should use a 302 redirect. If the page is moving permanently you should use a 301 redirect.

What do 404 error pages mean for users?

404 error pages can annoy users and cause them to leave your site as they are unable to navigate to the page which they wish to view. Clearly for this reason alone it’s best to minimise the number of broken links on your site.

How to find broken links on you website?

So how do you know if you’ve got broken links? There are many broken link checkers out there, but I tend to use Google Web Master Tools. If you haven’t done so already, set up a Google Web Master Tools account , then submit your sitemap. Google will crawl and index your website, and if there are any broken links, Web Master Tools will show you which links are broken and returning a 404 web page error.

So now you know which pages are returning 404 errors, what next?

How should you deal with 404’s on your site?

From time to time, you will need to delete pages from your site. For example, if you are an ecommerce site, and you stop selling a particular product. In this instance, it is conceivable that a visitor may have bookmarked the page, in order to return later to purchase. However as you no longer sell that product, the page may no longer exist.

In this instance you have a couple of options:

1)  You might choose to 301 redirect an old product page to a similar product which you still stock; or a page which references the fact that you no longer sell the old product line, but this is the new product which will replace it.

2) Let the default 404 page be displayed.

3) Provide users with a custom 404 page, rather than the default one.  Custom 404 pages are a little more user friendly, and if you create a good one, hopefully you’ll keep the visitor on the site.

How to Create a Custom 404 error page

You can configure a custom 404 error page by inserting a default error page command in the HTACCESS file that is on your server. The HTACCESS file can normally be found in the root of the public html folder – an example is shown below:

You will then need to configure your HTACCESS file to display your custom 404 error page as the default error page for your website. Below is the code command to put in the HTACCESS file.

Once you have uploaded the custom 404 web page and configured the HTACCESS file, test it with URL address errors associated with your domain to see that it is functioning correctly.

For example; type www.(yourdomain).com/404test . Your customised 404 error page should display.

Custom 404 error page designs

When it comes to 404 pages, ultimately you can be as creative as you like. However, ideally the custom 404 should be in keeping with the design of the rest of your website and should aid your visitors in finding what they are looking for.

Examples:

1. Apology with a home page link
You can offer website users a brief apology and lead them back to the home page.

2. Apology with a drop down menu
We’re sorry, but the web page that you are looking for is no longer available. Please select a product from the following menu.

3. Apology with a link list option
We’re sorry, but the page you were looking for no longer exists. We recommend you try:

a) Option A
b) Option B
c) Option C

Below are a few examples of custom 404 error pages to get those creative juices flowing!

Seen some great custom 404 error pages? Hit up the comments and share them. Likewise let us know if you’ve got any further questions, or tips you’d like to share.