You may have been browsing the web and come across an error 404 that looks something like this:
HTTP 404 Not Found Error
When you hit an error 404 web page like that it can be alarming and a little scary. If you saw something like this you probably hit the ‘Back’ button immediately and went to another website.
But wait…If you own a website you want to make sure your site doesn’t have any 404 error on it, right? I mean, if people were landing on a page like that on your site, you would want to fix it — ASAP!
You might be thinking, “Why would I have an error 404 on my site? I haven’t done anything to create any errors. I’m good.” Danger Will Robinson! 404 error’s are more common than you might think. And they can mean different things. This article will share some causes of 404 errors as well as how to find and fix them. If you don’t fix an error 404 on your site, you could be missing out on vital web traffic AND business.
What is a 404 error?
Luckily, a 404 error is not as scary as it sounds. It simply means, “There is no page on this URL.” If you were worried, you can wipe your brow. Your site hasn’t been hacked or anything. But, don’t rest easy yet, you have work to do.
How to find error 404 on your site
There are many ways to find 404 errors on your website. Since we’re specifically talking about WordPress sites, I will share my favorite two.
The WordPress plugin called Redirection by John Godley is by far my favorite WordPress plugin for finding and fixing 404 errors. Once you install and activate the plugin on your site, all you have to do is:
- Go to Dashboard > Tools > Redirection
- Click ‘404’ on the top navigation area (screenshot below)
Once on this page, the plugin tells you basically all the 404’s your site is getting. We’ll show you how to fix the 404 error right then and there, next. But first…
2. Google Search Console
…Our other favorite source for finding an error 404 on your site is Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools. Don’t ask me why they changed their name, I suspect it’s because Bing and Yahoo created their own ‘Webmaster Tools’ and Google had to stay unique). Once you’ve created your account, simply click on the ‘Crawl Errors’ button and voila! Google shows you the history of 404’s found on your site. It also gives you the opportunity to notify Google that you’ve fixed the issue.
So I guess that means we should talk about…
How to fix a 404 error on WordPress
If you are in the Redirection plugin on the 404 page, all you have to do is hover over a listed 404. You’ll see a link pop up that says: “Add Redirect”. Click it. A window pops up with the 404 already pre-populated. Enter the link where you would like the traffic to go. Click the “Add Redirect” button. All done!
You want to see if you can guess where people are trying to get when they land on your error 404. For instance, if they landed on a page that has to do with buying a product, redirect them to a similar product. Or if is looks like they were trying to contact you, redirect them to your actual contact page.
If you find a 404 using Google Search Console you can still use the Redirection plugin. Simply navigate to the plugin page and scroll to the bottom of the page. There is a section to create a redirection for any link you desire. It’s so easy to use. We love it!
What causes an error 404
Lots of things.
- Maybe you changed the name of a page or post
- Maybe you deleted or hid a page
- Maybe someone entered a typo in a link
- Maybe someone has an old link to your site
- A hacker could be looking for weaknesses in your site
It’s a long and endless list, to say the least. You can find all this information out via your 404’s. Cool, right?
The main point is that you find the 404’s and fix them. If someone has an old link, you can fix the 404 on your own site. You should also ask them to update their information, but you don’t have to wait for the issue to be solved. As for the hacker bit…
A kind of different fix for 404 errors…
The Redirection WordPress plugin by John Godley has some cool features in it. One we’ll make special note of is that you can see the IP address that generated the 404 error. An IP address is just the ‘computer address’ of the person or bot using that computer or server. Using this plugin you can detect some potential malicious behavior on your site. For instance, if you find that a 404 was generated for a page like /wordpress/wp-login.php or /users/register you can tell that this user or bot is trying to find the login page to your site.
That’s not good. Now, you can’t use the Redirection plugin to block that IP. But you CAN grab the IP address and block it.
First, do some research. Look the IP address up here: whatismyipaddress.com/ip-lookup. Review comments left by others for details about potential harm. Then click the red ‘Blacklist’ button. See if that IP has been registered as harmful.
Next, If you determine the IP is harmful, or potentially unsafe, block it. We use our htaccess file and the iThemes Security plugin to block malicious IP’s. That is a whole other blog article which… we’ll write about soon. For now, install the Redirection plugin and start using it immediately.
If you don’t, your visitors are going to get that scary error 404 message and click that ‘Back’ button, which means you lose their business and lose out on helping people who need it.
Photo credit: @pinnacleanimates