404 errors are returned when a user navigates to a page that has been removed from a website. For example, say you run an eCommerce store and you no longer want to sell a product. You decided to take the product off the site and completely delete the page. Now, if you type in the URL of the page you deleted, a 404 error will be returned stating the page no longer exists.
Now, let’s discuss how to fix 404 errors.
How to Fix a 404 Error
At a basic level, fixing a 404 error requires the admin or web developer to redirect the 404 URL to a relevant page that exists. For example, say you remove a pair of pants from your online store, it would be appropriate to then redirect the old URL for the pants to the pants category page. This way, if a user finds the old pants that have since been removed from the site, they will be redirected to the pants category page.
This does two things for the website. The first thing is it provides a seamless user experience. When a user lands on a dead page or a 404 error, they can easily bounce from your site, meaning they land on the 404 error, then go back to Google to search for something else. If you redirect to the category page, they can now browse through all of the pants your website sells, and we keep them on the site browsing, with the hopes that they find a different pair of pants they like and convert.
The second thing redirecting 404 errors does, it redirect any potential SEO benefits of the page, to the page your redirect to. For examp0le, if the page you remove had 100 websites linking to it, and you remove the page, you would lose the 100 links. However, if you 301 redirect the page you remove, to a relevant page, you will retain the links by redirecting them to the relevant page.
Types of Redirects
There are two types of redirects that can be used when redirecting a URL. A 301 Redirect tells Google that the redirect is permanent, meaning the page is permanently removed from the website and from here on to redirect to the new page, replace the old page with the new page for any keyword rankings, etc.
A 302 Redirect tells Google that the redirect is temporary, meaning the page you removed will come back. This is useful if you temporarily remove a page or product from your site for a very short period.
To Sum It All Up
404 errors are pages that do not exist. It is best practice to redirect 404 errors to a relevant page, generally through the use of a 301 redirect. This will retain any SEO value from the page you remove while keeping the user experience seamless.
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