We bet this has happened to you before. You enter a search term into Google’s search engine and click on what looks like a promising web page. But right away, you see “404 page not found.”
That 404 error message means a website’s URL, like www.whateverthisexampleis.com/about, no longer works. You may also hear 404 messages referred to as broken or dead links.
If Google detects that one of your pages on your website is “broken,” they don’t want to send people to that webpage. So that page itself probably won’t appear very high in search engine results pages (SERPs). If Google detects a lot of broken errors on your website, your website won’t appear very high regardless of the search terms.
404 errors occur regardless of what website builder you’ve used to create your site. It doesn’t matter if you’ve used WordPress (the most popular website builder), Wix (the second most popular), Squarespace, Shopify, Weebly, GoDaddy, or if you design a site yourself by code.
Since these errors can impact your search ranking so drastically, it’s important to know what to do when one occurs on your website. In this article, we’ll tell you how to fix 404 errors on WordPress sites specifically.
Why Do 404 Errors Happen?
Websites, like almost everything, encounter problems occasionally and 404 errors are one of the most common problems. Some common reasons web pages on any particular site break include:
- The website’s URL recently changed (for example, if you change your company’s name, or replace previous URLs with new ones for a variety of reasons including a new design)
- The website no longer exists
- Something big on the web page, like a plugin or widget, is broken
- A firewall or geolocation restriction on a browser blocks people from getting into the website
These things cause 404 errors. You can fix them with what’s known as a 301 redirect. These are internal links, which send people from one page on your site to another.
External links are any websites that your site links to. Those sometimes break too. If those links are broken, you can’t fix their website. But you want to remove those hyperlinks to pages with broken URLs.
How Common Are 404 Errors?
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you see 404 errors on your website. Google expert John Mueller told Search Engine Journal that around 30-40% of URLs in one of their recent reports have a 404 error.
Google won’t remove your website from its index if you have a lot of 404 errors. However, if the home page has one, Google will take notice. Regardless, 404 errors aren’t good. Google dings you some points in where they place your website in SERP results if you have too many 404 errors.
They’re also incredibly annoying for users to encounter. They’re roadblocks. And when drivers hit a roadblock, what do they do? They take another route. When online shoppers hit a 404 error, there’s a good chance they’ll go to a competitor selling the same or a similar product.
How Do You Fix 404 Errors?
It’s not the end of the world if you have just a few 404 errors. And thankfully, they’re easy to fix. That said, it can be time-consuming, and if you are short on time like most business owners, you may want to hire experts, like us at SEO Design Chicago, to fix 404 errors for you.
The solution to 404 errors is 301 redirects. When there’s a 404 error, web developers can tell internet servers, “This webpage isn’t there anymore. But instead of telling the user that, have them visit this page instead.” Then, the user is automatically taken to a different URL. This process is called a “redirect.” It would be like a driver encountering a roadblock, and the car, without the driver even realizing it, finds an alternate route to the same destination.
There are a lot of different kinds of redirects. They all have their own numbers associated with them, including:
- 301 redirect
- 302 redirect
- 300 redirect
- 101 redirect
The differences are technical, but they all do essentially the same thing – instantly, quickly, and without fanfare, taking the user to the webpage that has replaced the missing webpage.
How Do I Find Broken Links on My WordPress Website?
There are several online free tools that will look at every hyperlink on your website regardless of where you built it or where it’s hosted. For example, Google Webmaster Tools offers “Crawl Errors.” You can use it to look at every page on your own website. You can then use another WordPress tool, which we talk about in the next section to create 301 redirects to fix these webpages.
There are also WordPress-specific tools, like the Broken Link Checker plugin. It’s free and has over 300 five-star ratings. If you prefer web tools, not plugins, you can try Ahrefs. This tool automatically scans your WordPress site in search of errors. The Site Audit tool is super easy to use.
In addition to using these tools, you should monitor both the URLs on your own website and the URLs of websites you are linking to regularly. Some experts suggest you do this every week. If you don’t have the time or energy, SEO Design Chicago can check the health of your hyperlinks for you.
How Do You Create a 301 Redirect to Fix a 404 Error on WordPress?
A 301 redirect tells anyone trying to get to a webpage, “That page isn’t there anymore. Go to this one instead.” Setting up a 301 isn’t hard, but it’s not exactly exciting. That’s why some people prefer to hire third-party vendors, like SEO Design Chicago, to do the work for them.
That said, if you want to do it yourself, the steps all depend on what content management system you use. For WordPress, the most popular website management system, here are a few ways you can set up a 301 redirect:
301 Redirect Plugin
The easiest option is to install a plugin, like the 301 Redirect Plugin for WordPress. It has a nearly perfect 5-star rating from over 400 users. If you have this plugin, whenever you update a web page, it will replace the old URL with the new one. You can do this in bulk, as would be the case if you changed every page on your website from “www.myfirstcompanyname.com” to “www.mynewcompanyname.com.” Or you can do it individually by page, blog post, or section.
All in One SEO Plugin
Other WordPress experts prefer to manage and create 301 redirects with the All in One SEO (AIOSEO) WordPress plugin. Many say it’s the best SEO plugin for WordPress, which is why it is used by over 3 million professionals to improve their site’s SEO ranking. It does a lot more than fix 404 errors, but that is one of the tools it offers.
Do It By Hand
You can also choose to fix 404 errors on your WordPress website by doing it yourself. You do so by editing your .htaccess file, following the steps below:
- Find and download the .htaccess file from your server through an FTP program.
- Back up your .htaccess file
- Add your redirects and upload the new version of your .htaccess file
Hire Experts Like Us at SEO Design Chicago
If this all sounds like too much for you to do, reach out to us. Companies often contact us at SEO Design Chicago for site migrations, fixing 404 errors, and more. We deal with the tech stuff so you can focus on your natural skill set.
If you look through our case studies sharing how we identified problems companies were having with their websites, fixed them, and showed them results, you’ll see that we’re experts in SEO, broken hyperlinks, and tons of other issues.
Our specialties include:
- Website design and redesign
- Migrating to new website platforms or e-commerce tools
- Anything related to SEO including content creation, fixing broken hyperlinks, optimizing images, researching and building content around keywords
- Auditing websites for a variety of issues, including security updates
- Creating and maintaining social media and Google Ad campaigns
- Increasing website traffic, ROI, and conversion rates
- Measuring website traffic and making or implementing new strategies based on this research
- Custom photography and executing other unique tools
- Training your staff on digital marketing topics
Businesses are hard enough to run without worrying about the technical aspects of your website. The team at SEO Design Chicago would love to take one thing off your plate by fixing 404 errors on your WordPress website and more.
- What is a 404 error?
- What are 404 errors also called?
- How can I fix 404 errors?
- How do I fix 404 errors myself?
- How common are 404 errors?