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404 Errors vs 301 Redirects: What is Important for Your Website?

404 Errors vs 301 Redirects: What is Important for Your Website?

If you have been browsing the web for some time, you have most likely encountered a page displaying a 404 Error. This page is displayed when the link you are trying to access does not exist. Or simply because of a typo. You may also see this error when content has been moved or deleted. For visitors, such an error can be a source of frustration. Indeed, they expect to discover content. For businesses, this is a missed opportunity that could harm the user experience and, by extension, their brand image.

Websites are constantly evolving. Therefore, companies are constantly creating the pages and subsequently deleting them. In this article, we'll explore in detail what a 404 error is and how it impacts a site's visibility. We will also examine how these mistakes, often perceived as negative, can be transformed into strategic SEO opportunities. You will discover how to effectively redirect users to relevant content or offer them alternatives, thus transforming potential frustration into a positive user experience.

What is a 404 error and what causes it?

In this section, we'll explore together what it is and how it works.

What is a 404 error?

Imagine walking into a store looking for a specific product you saw advertised. But, once inside, you discover that the product is missing where you expected it. On the web, a similar experience occurs when you click on a link or type in a web address hoping to visit a specific page, but instead you are greeted with a 404 error . It's the web's way of telling you, "Sorry, I can't find what you're looking for." »

A 404 error is a signal that a web page is not available. It may appear in different ways, depending on the site you are visiting, however the message remains the same: the page you wish to reach does not exist.

How it works ?

The Genesis of a 404 error is quite simple. When you try to access a page, your browser sends a request to the web server where the site resides. The server then searches for the requested page. If all goes well, the server responds with the content of the page. But if the page is not found, the server responds with a 404 error instead.

This scenario can be triggered by several situations:

  • maybe the page has been deleted since you last visited the site,
  • or the URL has been changed without a redirect.

A simple typo in the address can also lead you to a 404 error. Sometimes links on other sites pointing to a moved or deleted page can cause these errors, indicating a lack of updating or maintenance of the site in question.

How to better manage 404 errors on your website?

The web world offers several approaches to manage 404 errors on your website. Indeed, whether a user has made an entry error or if you have deleted the page, there is always a way to guide the user so as not to lose opportunities. Below we will look at some options available to you.

Option 1 – Create a 404 page.

What is a 404 Error – Ultimate Guide to Fixing and Exploiting Them for SEO

The 404 page is a fairly well designed page that helps inform your visitors that the page is either deleted or they made a mistake. If this page, you can offer the user the possibility of:

  • click to go to home page
  • Do the research
  • choose options

The standard approach is to specify that the page is a 404 page with a link to the home page. However, with a search form, you can allow your visitors to save time searching your database. And, finally, offering options intelligently through the link that the user clicked can provide a much better experience for your visitors.

How to create a 404 page?

There are several approaches to creating a 404 page. You can:

  • do it yourself: with a minimum of knowledge in web server configuration and HTML, you can create a 404 page thanks to the design of your website.
  • hire a developer: several web developers can assist you in creating a 404 page. You can contact us; it would be a pleasure to assist you.
  • use a plugin/module: content managers like WordPress or Magento have several modules that you can install to create your 404 page.

Some resources for creating the 404 page.

The quality of your 404 page can impact how your users perceive coming across an error page. Indeed, the more attractive and informative it is, the more likely you are to keep your users.

If you want to create your 404 page yourself, here are some resources that can help you:

  1. 20+ Awesome 404 Page Examples (Elementor)
  2. Themeforest
  3. Envato Elements

Option 2 – Make a redirect

One approach that companies use to keep a link's traffic is to redirect. Indeed, you can use the functionality of the server or your programming language to do the redirection. The principle will consist of sending users to a page similar to what they wish to access. It is important to note that if you have deleted a page and do not intend to create another page, the permanent (301) redirect is necessary. However, if you temporarily deleted the page, you can do a temporary (302) redirect .

Noticed.

Although both cases redirect the user to the page you want, the difference is in the message you send to search engines.

301 or 302 redirect

The 301 redirect is an effective way to tell browsers and search engines that a web page or site has permanently moved to a new address. This is important for maintaining SEO integrity. In addition, it allows you to ensure a good user experience by automatically directing visitors to the right content. Here's an explanation of how it works and instructions for setting it up.

How it works

The 301 redirect is an HTTP status code indicating that a page or resource has permanently moved to a new URL. When a user or search engine navigates to the old URL, the server responds with this status code and provides the new address. This redirection is called “permanent”, unlike a 302 redirect considered temporary.

The main advantages of a 301 redirect are:

  • SEO Preservation: It transfers most of the SEO value from the old to the new page, including ranking and inbound links.
  • Improved user experience: It ensures that visitors and search engines are directed to the correct content without running into 404 error pages.
  • Domain Change Management: Very useful when changing the domain name of a website, ensuring a smooth transition for users and SEO.

Configuration

The method for setting up a 301 redirect varies depending on the web server used. Here are the steps for Apache and Nginx servers, which are among the most popular.

For Apache

  1. Edit the .htaccess file: Access the .htaccess file at the root of your website. If you don't have one, create one.
  2. Add the redirect rule: Use the RedirectPermanent directive or the RewriteRule directive to set up a redirect. For example, to redirect an old page to a new one:
 RedirectPermanent /old-page.html /new-page.html

Or, thanks to mod_rewrite :

 RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^old-page.html$ /new-page.html [L,R=301]

For Nginx

  1. Edit configuration file: Open the Nginx configuration file for the site in question. This file is often found in /etc/nginx/sites-available/ .
  2. Add redirection rule: add a return statement in the server block for redirection. For example :
 server {
...
location /old-page.html {
return 301 $scheme://$host/new-page.html;
}
...
}

Conclusion regarding 301 redirect

Setting up a 301 redirect is a crucial step when redesigning a website, changing domains or simply fixing broken links. It helps maintain the SEO value accumulated over time and provides a better user experience. It's important to carefully test your redirects after setting them up to ensure they work as expected.

How to better explore the 404 error?

For a business, there are several approaches to exploring broken links. Below are some approaches:

  1. Use programming to analyze your website and list 404 links
  2. Use Google Search Console.
  3. Search manually by browsing your website.

Google Search Console has a tab dedicated to issues you may have on your website. Among the problems you will see the option Not Found (404)

error 404

Conclusion regarding the 404 error

A website with a lot of 404 errors sends a bad signal to search engines. Therefore, it is important to take some time to analyze your website in order to better identify potential problems. You must also ensure that you put in place a strategy to better redirect links to maintain the visibility associated with the different links.

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