What is the source of error 404

404 error code / Error 404 - The page was unfortunately not found simply explained

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What is a 404 error? What does the 404 error code mean?

The 404 error is an error code that indicates that the requested page or resource is not available. The cause of the error message is on the client side. The error is one of over 60 HTTP status codes that a server can use to respond to an HTTP request. It is also probably the best-known status code, as private users often come into contact with it while most of the other codes are processed in the background. The code is again important for search engine optimization, since unavailable resources for search engines are a reason for the website to be downranked.

Definition of the 404 error code

In the mid-1990s, the W3C - the World Wide Web Consortium - defined the logic that is still valid today for naming HTTP error codes. These codes always consist of three digits:

1st digit
  • 1xy: The request is being processed
  • 2xy: successful request
  • 3xy: further client-side steps are required
  • 4xy: failed request, cause probably on the client side
  • 5xy: Error, cause on the server side
2nd digit
  • x0y: indicates general syntax errors
3rd digit
  • indicates the specific error within the main category of the 1st digit
  • at 40x e.g .: 400 - Bad Request, 401 - Unauthorized, 404 - Not Found

The 404 error is not the only error code in its group. Besides him, there are more than twenty other error messages that a user can receive in response to a request. There are also some error messages that are not part of the official HTTP status codes. An example of this is the Error-418, which replies with "I am a teapot". Originally intended as an April Fool's joke, there were calls from users to let the error code exist as an indication that people are still responsible for the programming.

The 404 error indicates a resource that cannot be found. Links that cause the error message are also referred to as "deadlink" or "deadlink", as they link to something that does not (no longer) exist. Instead of the requested content, an error page is displayed. This can be compared to the post office: If the delivery address is unknown, the consignment is sent back to the sender.

This is how the 404 error message arises

The internet is a decentralized network. This means that it can offer those freedoms that we have come to know and love over the past few decades. However, there is also no central control point that, for example, locates deadlinks across the Internet and informs the respective site operators about them. So webmasters have no choice but to look for them independently. Before looking for 404 error messages, however, you should be able to understand how they arise. A couple of reasons for this could be:

• Domain or domain name does not exist
• Inaccessible web server
• Newly assigned domain, which is why the website has no content
• Spelling mistakes in the link of the original page (upper / lower case, wrong character)
• Destination web page / file has been deleted, moved or renamed
• Spelling mistakes on linked sites
• Domain name cannot be converted to IP
For users, the attempt to reload the affected website can be enough to remedy the situation. A server overload can also lead to the error being displayed, as can incorrect loading or incorrect entry of the link. The number of potential errors that lead to the error message is therefore quite large. It can be caused from various sources, from technical problems to human error.

Soft 404 and normal 404 errors: that's the difference

Where there is a normal case, the special case is not long in coming. It is the same with the 404 error. The special case is referred to as a "soft 404" error. What exactly happens when this special case occurs?

• The status code indicates that the target page does not exist (404 error)
• The status code still sends a 200 code (successful request)
With this particular error, it is assumed that there is a page despite the error message. The result of this answer is that you get a page with very unsatisfactory content - say a standard page or a page without any content.

In addition to the fact that the status codes sent are mutually exclusive, the special case is also an unnecessary evil for search engines and their results. The crawler adopts the 200 code and continues to list the target page in the search results - although there may be no content at all.

What is the meaning of the error code for search engine optimization?

Deadlinks occur on practically every website - and with them the 404 error. Search engines and their crawlers know that. For this reason, the occurrence of the error code on a page is only reflected in its ranking when the errors occur frequently or obviously little or no time is spent correcting them. Regular work on your own website as well as on internal and external links is therefore definitely recommended.

Redirecting is sometimes the most sensible solution to the error. If the user is redirected from the faulty target page to another page that contains content relevant to search queries, this calms down the search engines and offers users content that can be useful to them.

The worst for the ranking on Google and Co. is when a large number of soft 404 errors occur on a website. Search engines quickly recognize such frequent errors as attempted deception and rank the website accordingly. This also applies if the missing page simply redirects to the start page. Search engines want to provide the best possible answers to the search input - deadlinks simply do not correspond to this ideal. And users are also disappointed by such redirects: They could start their search again from the start page, but experience has shown that they tend to leave the website in frustration because they feel misled.

The right status code is crucial

For search engine optimization, it is therefore very important to remove error pages - or at least to provide them with the appropriate error code. This satisfies the crawlers in the next step and prevents poorer rankings until the corresponding pages can be removed or rebuilt. In addition, there is definitely potential in an error page to make it useful for users. There is some leeway for webmasters here:

  • Are users made aware of the error?
  • Is the error reported via the contact form?
  • Does the 404 error page contain a sitemap to make it easier for the user to avoid it?
  • Is there a search function that users can use to start their research again?
  • Is the error page in the design that matches the website?

Ultimately, all of this ensures that the user experience is improved. Nothing scares off more than a huge red exclamation mark, accompanied by a single reference to "404 - Site not found". Instead, a well-designed error page can provoke positive reactions from the user - despite the error message, the user is kept on the website and encouraged to continue interacting.

Identify 404 errors and fix 404 error code

The use of certain tools is required to identify error pages on a website. For example, one that webmasters can use for free is the Google Search Console. Other tools are the Dead Link Checker or the W3C Link Checker. These analyze specific websites and produce a list of all detected 404 errors. A distinction must be made between two types of results:

  • Internal 404 errors: Links between your own pages with error messages should be fixed, for example by redirecting
  • External 404 errors: Set up a redirect to other, suitable content or ask the webmaster of the linking page to correct the link

This “cleaning work” can sustainably increase the attractiveness of a website for crawlers. This means that - due to their limited capacities - they again focus more on relevant sub-pages of a website and the ranking is positively influenced.

If you initially only want to design the 404 pages of your own website individually, you can do this with a corresponding page (e.g. "error.php") and an htaccess file. The latter is a plain text file with the content "ErrorDocument 404 http://www.meineseite.de/error.php" ("meineite.de" is replaced by the URL of your own website) and the file name " .htaccess.txt ". If this file is copied to the root directory of the website, it ensures that 404 errors are automatically forwarded to the previously created "error.php" page.

Online Marketing and the 404 Error

Site management is essential for the success of your own website, both in terms of search engine visibility and user benefit. This is why regularly checking for 404 errors and correcting the faulty pages is one of the basic tools of every webmaster. And if you put a lot of effort into this (for example with specially created error pages), you may even turn a faulty page into a positive user experience.

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