The ultimate guide to Error 404

Error 404 – who doesn’t know this famous error page.

You are probably familiar with such sites too, right?

No matter where Error 404 pages appear, you are never really excited about them.

After all, you are looking for something and it seems that all of a sudden the information is no longer available there.

So you’re going to go back to Google again and keep searching, right?

And that’s exactly the problem. You lose visitors through Error 404 pages!

You can find out how to prevent this and also improve your rankings here.
What is an Error 404?
If you see a page with the message “Error 404”, it means that the page could not be found on the server. The meaning of Error 404 can also be explained quite well using an everyday example: You dial a number and you get the message “No connection under this number”. This is exactly what the Error 404 expresses.

There are of course many other common formulations for this error. We have collected them here:

Error 404
404
404 Not Found – The requested URL (http://domain.de) was not found on this server
404 error
404 errors
HTTP 404 Not Found
Error 404 not found
HTTP Error 404
404 Page Not Found
404 File not found
Error 404 – page not found
These are just the most common Error 404 messages. Basically, the error 404 meaning is always the same: The desired destination was not found.

The Standard Error 404 message usually appears in black letters on a white background. It can look like this, for example:

The standard Error 404 status message

Error 404 pages can also look a little different, because these pages can also be designed freely. A funny design of this Error 404 page has meanwhile blossomed into an unofficial mastery of web designers. By the way , you can find a great collection of creative Error 404 pages here .
404 Not Found – how does the error arise?
There are different causes for the Error 404. Most often such an error occurs because a page has simply been deleted. If this page has now been linked to another website and a user tries to access it via this link, the page cannot be found and the Error 404 page appears.

A page does not necessarily have to be deleted, it can also be that a page or a file has been renamed and the URL has changed as well. In this case, too, the error page 404 appears.

The cause of the error does not always have to be on the part of the website operator. It is also quite possible that the user simply made a mistake when entering a URL and therefore the desired page cannot be found.

By the way, this mistake can also cause you to lose valuable backlinks. Because even linked sites are occasionally mistaken and do not check the function of the links afterwards. You will find out how to check this later in this article.
Why is an Error 404 bad?
A 404 page is particularly bad for the usability of a page. The visitor usually has a goal when he visits a certain page. If he lands on your 404 page instead of an informative page about the topic you are looking for, he will certainly not leave your website with a positive impression. In principle, it is the same here as if you were to ask a specialist a question who answered it with “I’m sorry, I don’t know.” As a customer, you would then likely seek out a new professional. It’s the same with websites.

How can I create an Error 404 page?
As you now know, sometimes you can’t do without 404 error pages. A good 404 page doesn’t have to have a negative impact on your website. With an appropriate design and good navigation, you can still use them for your purposes.

However, before we take care of the design of the error 404 page, it is important that you create a corresponding document for your error page. If you use a content management system, such as WordPress, this happens automatically. But if you have, for example, a pure HTML page or a content management system that does not regulate the error 404, you must first determine which page should be called up when the error 404 occurs. You can do this in the .htaccess file in your root directory.

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What is a .htaccess file?
The .htaccess file controls the behavior of the server. If a visitor tries to visit a page that does not exist, the status code 404 is displayed. The server then looks in the .htaccess file to find out what to do with this error. If you have saved a file for your Error 404 page here, the server will deliver this file.

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How do you create a .htaccess file?
If you cannot find a .htaccess file in your root directory, you have to create one before you can set the 404 error page. This is quite simple. Simply call up the standard editor that you will find on every operating system. You should now see a completely blank page. Leave the text area empty and simply click on “Save as …”.

How to create an htaccess file in the editor
For the file type you should select “All files” and set the encoding to “ANSI”. Then enter “.htaccess” as the file name. Now click on Save. You have already created your .htaccess file.

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How can I determine an Error 404 page?
You now have a .htaccess file, but you still don’t have your own 404 error page. All you have to do is add a little code to your .htaccess file. This reads:

ErrorDocument 404 /404.html
The first part “ErrorDocument 404” says that the following file should be displayed in the event of a status error 404. “/404.html” is simply the name of the file. If you have specified your file in this way, you must have a file with the name “404.html” in your root directory. You can then easily access the file via your-domain.de/404.html. You have already created your own error page.

If you would like to learn more about the .htaccess file, we can provide you with the article What do you need a .htaccess file for? from Austrian Web recommend.

So you now not only know how to create a .htaccess file, but also how to set the Error 404 file. Now it’s time to design the Error 404 page. I would like to present two different Error 404 pages to you here:

Error 404 page of the Berliner Sparkasse with a bright red background
Source: https://angebote.berliner-sparkasse.de/404/

Responsive Error 404 page from Zalando
Source: https://www.zalando.de/404/

These two 404 error pages are fundamentally different. You will probably have noticed that too.

What thought came to you with the first screenshot? Your reaction was likely similar to ours:

Oh God! Something is wrong here.
The bright red box with the alarming exclamation mark triggers a small panic attack, especially on one side of a bank. This is exactly what should not happen with such an error message.

The second screenshot shows the better solution. The upper area with navigation and logo clearly shows us that we are still on the same page. The headline in connection with the amusing picture quickly makes it clear to us that nothing bad has happened, but simply a page was not found. Zalando offers us various options here as to how we can proceed. So you don’t immediately disappear from the page, but try the search again to get to the information you want.

I would now like to show you in detail what a perfect Error 404 page should look like for your visitors.

1
Make your visitors aware of the mistake
First of all, you should make it clear to your visitors that they are on a 404 error page. So the question “Where have I ended up now?” Never arises. You cannot assume that all of your visitors know what a 404 status code is, so an addition such as “Unfortunately the requested page could not be found” or something similar should not be missing.

2
Keep the structure of your website
We recommend that you keep the structure of your website on your Error 404 page. That means, just like on all other pages, you should only change the text area. Head – line and footer should remain the same for orientation. This means that even an error page remains perfectly usable.

If you don’t want that, you should at least make sure that your logo, with a link to your home page, was placed on your error page. Otherwise visitors will quickly feel lost.

3
Install search function
A search function can also ensure that your visitors do not simply disappear from your website, but look again for the information they are looking for. For this reason, you should include the search field in a central position on your Error 404 page.

4th
Take it with humor
Every reader likes unusual and funny Error 404 pages. With such an error page you can again collect important sympathy points that you may have lost due to the error.

A great example here is the carwow.de website . On the new car comparison portal, the Error 404 page is rounded off with an interactive racing game:

Error 404 page at Carwow
Source: Screenshot Carwow

In this way, your website visitors quickly forget their “frustration” when the appropriate page is no longer available and this little gimmick will certainly not forget your website anytime soon.

5
Link to the sitemap
A link to your site’s sitemap can provide additional orientation. Here the visitor can get a complete overview of your content. Especially when a page is extremely extensive, a sitemap can quickly overwhelm the visitor. In this case, it may be more appropriate to link the categories of your website or important and helpful pages.

6th
contact form
The contact form is primarily there to help you. Certainly not all visitors will use this, but there will be some who want to draw your attention to a broken link or a missing page. The contact form on your 404 page makes it easy for these visitors to contact you.

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How can I find out if my website also has missing pages?
You can easily find out whether you have pages with Error 404 status messages using the Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools). You can use this tool for free with a Google account. You can find out how to set up the Google Search Console for your site in our guide to website analysis tools .

Under “Crawling”> “Crawling Errors” you will find a list of your website errors. With regard to Error 404, we are mainly interested in the errors under “Not found”.

Google Search Console with 404 errors
This is what it looks like in Google Webmaster Tools. Here you get the first 1000 Error 404 pages displayed. You can also download the complete list. So you have all the URLs in a table at a glance.

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How can I fix the error 404?
You cannot simply fix the error 404. But there are different ways in which you can use these sites. Here we would like to present two different approaches to you.

1
301 – redirects
The first way to fix Error 404, which we would like to introduce to you here, is 301 redirects. Just like 404, 301 is a status code. This means that a page has been moved permanently (Moved Permanently). If you have set up such a forwarding, the server sends the requesting client (for example the Google Bot or a browser) a message that the requested page has been permanently moved and can now be reached under a different URL. The client, including the visitors, are then automatically forwarded to the new URL.

You can easily set up this 301 forwarding in the .htaccess file. This works with the following code:

RewriteEngine On
Redirect 301 /seiten/deine-seite.html http://www.deine-domain.de/deine-neue-seite.html
The line “RewriteEngine On” activates the corresponding module on the server. You only need to enter this code once in your .htaccess file.

Every 301 forwarding begins with “Redirect 301”. Here you define the status code that is transmitted to the client. This is followed by your missing page (i.e. the page that was forwarded to your 404 error page). Here you should only enter the path, not the domain of your site. In our example the page “your-page.html” is in the folder “pages” in the root directory. You can then enter the new URL (now including your domain) with a space after it.

Remember, however, that you should only forward pages like this if the new content is similar or identical to the old page. Otherwise this forwarding is rated as a soft 404 error.

2
Create new content for the Error 404 page
If you don’t have a suitable page to which you can forward your Error 404 page, you can fix the Error 404 by creating new content for this page. Here, too, it is of course important that this content is similar to the old content. If the page your-domain.de/die-richtig-wandfarben-waehlen, for example, no longer exists, the new content should of course also revolve around this topic and not be forwarded to a page that revolves around laying parquet.

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How can I find out whether the missing pages are linked?
Of course, you can (and should) find out whether missing pages are linked. These do not necessarily have to be links from outside (incoming links – inbound links), it is also entirely possible that you link the missing pages yourself (internal links). Here we would like to introduce you to a few possibilities how you can find out where the missing pages are linked so that you don’t lose any traffic or potential customers.

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Do I Link to Error 404 Pages?
With this technique you can not only find out whether you are linking to your own Error 404 pages, but also whether you are linking to other Error 404 pages. If you use WordPress we can give you the plugin recommend the Broken Link Checker . Once installed, this plugin will keep checking your website for broken links and displaying them clearly in your backend. You will also be informed by email as soon as a page with the status code 404 has been linked.

The Broken Link Checker WordPress plugin shows Error 404 links
For any other website we can suggest the page brokenlinkcheck.com recommend . This tool is also completely free. All you have to do is enter your website and your entire page will be checked for broken links. This can take a few minutes, especially if you have a large website. Here, too, you get a list of all broken links:

Check broken links with brokenlinkcheck.com
With these two methods you can quickly and easily find internal and external broken links and correct the errors accordingly.

Are other pages linking to my Error 404 pages?
Finding this out is even more important than checking your own links, as this is where you lose high-quality traffic. In addition, backlinks to your Error 404 will not bring you an increase in your rankings. Unfortunately, there is no free and at the same time quick way to check all backlinks to your site.

That’s why we’re going to introduce you to two different ways in which you can find the backlinks to your site. One tool is completely free, the other tool has to be paid for. However, you can test this for two weeks for free so that you can use it to check your website.

1
Check backlinks with the Google Search Console
You already know the Google Search Console. You can also use this tool to check the backlinks pointing to your page. Simply go to “Search queries”> “Links to your website”. Here you will now find the most popular pages that refer to your website.

Backlinks in the Google Search Console as a table
Click on the button “Download additional sample links” to get a list of the exact links. So there is a backlink to your site somewhere on these pages. Now comes the shortcoming of the free tool: The way to find Error 404 backlinks to your site is very time-consuming. You have to go through all the pages of the table and manually check where it was linked. You can make the search for a 404 error easier by using the Check my Links add-on, for example . This checks all links on the page. If a link can no longer be reached, it is highlighted in red.

Error 404 links are highlighted in red with the add-on
Now all you have to do is check that this link is yours. If this is the case, not only write down the link, but also the page with the backlink in a table.

This method is quite tedious, but quite feasible for a few backlinks. If your site has more backlinks, we recommend the second method.

2
Check backlinks to Error 404 page with ahrefs.com
Ahrefs is a paid tool, but you can test it for two weeks free of charge. Since checking the backlinks to your site is super fast with this tool, you can usually get there without any problems in these two weeks.

You have to log in to test the tool. Then you go to the site explorer. Here you enter the URL to your site and then click on “Search”. Depending on the size of the pages, it can take a few seconds to minutes for all of the data on your page to be collected. On the left side you will now find the item “Broken Backlinks” under “Inbound Links”. If you click on this, you will also get a whole list with all backlinks to Error 404 pages on your website at the push of a button. You can also easily export this list here so that you can immediately find all the important information in a table.

Table with broken backlinks at ahrefs
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How do I get better rankings and more traffic through Error 404?
You now know how to find broken backlinks. Of course, you can easily forward the missing URL to a similar page via 301 redirect. This will give you traffic again through the backlink, but you will not strengthen your topic-related page.

So that you help other pages on your website to get better rankings, you can simply write to these pages and ask them to link directly to the content to which you would otherwise be redirected. So all the link power goes directly to this page and the rankings will gradually increase.

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How do I write to the webmaster correctly?
We have prepared a checked e-mail template for you:

Hello NAME,
thank you very much for your backlink to our website http://domain.de/yourpage.

As the content of this page no longer met our requirements, we have decided to remove this page.

We have set up a new page on the topic at http://deine-domain.de/die-neue-seite and would be very happy if you would replace the old link with the new one.

You can find the link to our site on your page “Title of the page” (URL) in the XYZ section.

Thank you very much!
Your name
This is what your email to the site’s webmasters could look like. It is up to you whether you use the personal or formal salutation here. As a rule, we take a look at the page briefly and then decide, based on the salutation within the text and the comments, which salutation to use in the e-mail.

You should make it as easy as possible for the webmasters to exchange the link on their page. That is why we not only point out the title and the URL of the page, but also the position where the link is located. An exchange is quick and easy.

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How do I find the contact details and my contact person?
Blogs usually have an area directly below the post where you can find information about the authors. The author is usually also your contact person. Sometimes you can also find a personal email address in this author field. If this is not the case, you should check the contact area. If necessary, you can also use the general email address from the legal notice.

If it is a guest article, it is usually not useful to write to the author, as he does not have access to the website. Here you should simply use the email under “Contact”.

If you cannot find a person you can address directly, you can also choose to address them as a team, for example “Hello online marketing site – team”.

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Can I automate this process?
Sending e-mails can actually be partially automated. This is possible with the online tool Buzzstream . You can also test this tool completely free of charge.

First of all, you can create a so-called outreach template at Buzzstream. You can replace texts that have to be exchanged individually with dynamic fields. You can also determine this yourself.

This is how you create an email template at Buzzstream
With the help of the Google Chrome add-on Buzzstream Buzzmarker, you can easily enter the relevant data directly from the website and save it in your project. Here you fill in your user-defined fields and the mail will be generated automatically during the outreach.

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Conclusion
So you now know why it is not good if you just let high-quality backlinks continue to point to deleted or moved (i.e. Error 404) pages. You lose traffic, potential customers and too many Error 404 pages can damage your image.

That is why we have explained to you step by step how you can fix this error and thereby even build backlinks, which inevitably leads to more traffic and better rankings.

You also now know when to forward an Error 404 error page and when, for the love of your visitors and Google, you should leave it. You now know 301 redirects and know how to create them in your .htaccess file.

 

 

The Error 404 error message can also piss off new visitors who come to you from other websites through backlinks. If they land on your Error 404 page, they will usually no longer be on your website and you will lose valuable traffic and potential customers.

You can not only lose visitors, but also rankings.

You wonder why

Perhaps you’ve heard of broken link building or moving link strategy . Here you are specifically looking for pages that no longer exist, for example that have been deleted or have moved. If you have found such a page, write to all the linked websites and point them out about this error. Because that’s not good for the pages that have backlinked such a page. Because the added value that the webmasters wanted to give the readers with the linked page is no longer available. If you then offer your own alternative link to these pages, the faulty link is usually replaced very quickly.

This is a great strategy that we also like to use, because it allows you to quickly build high-quality backlinks. This is by no means good for the websites whose backlinks are then deleted. If a page loses too many backlinks, Google can rate this negatively, which means you lose important places in the rankings.

An error 404 is not only bad for usability on your site, this error can also cost you potential customers and important rankings.

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What does Google think of Error 404 errors?
Error 404 errors cannot always be avoided, Google knows that too. For the search engine, however, it is important that visitors do not receive any sham. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the soft 404 errors.

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Soft 404 – what is it?
Soft 404 errors are errors for which no clear status message is stored for the content that has disappeared. This can be the case, for example, if you simply forward missing content to the homepage. Just like your visitors, Google sees your normal start page here and receives the status code 302 – Found or 200 OK from the server . Google recognizes this as a clear sham package.

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Error 404 – the perfect solution for Google
If you simply redirect an Error 404 URL to the start page or to another irrelevant page of your website, Google evaluates it as a soft 404, which, as already described above, is considered sham and in the worst case has a bad effect on the rankings in search engine optimization affects.

But how should I replace the error 404 pages correctly?
According to Google, you should only forward the disappeared pages to another page if you offer similar, topic-relevant content there. We’ll show you step by step how this works in the course of this article.

So if you have no alternative content for a deleted page, it should continue to output the status code 404. We recommend that you stick to this tip from Google. With an irrelevant forwarded page, you can also confuse your visitors very quickly.

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