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404 Not Found error explained

Error 404 or 404 Not Found is an HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) status code. It generally means that the web page your computer is requesting, or trying to access, using the URL you provided, cannot be found in the server where the website is hosted. This error message is typically found in web browsers, but can also appear in Microsoft Office applications.

This HTTP status code is usually displayed on a simple white screen with black text, and the error message written in different ways:

  • Error 404
  • 404 Error
  • HTTP 404
  • 404 Not Found
  • Error 404 Not Found
  • HTTP 404 Not Found
  • 404 Page Not Found
  • HTTP 404 – File not found
  • The page cannot be found
  • 404 File or Directory Not Found
  • The requested URL [“URL here”] was not found on this server.
  • The page you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.

For 404 Error pages that have not been customised, they will most probably display default 404 pages.

Note: If you’re using Internet Explorer and you get the message “The webpage cannot be found” this could mean two things:
  1. Common HTTP 404 error
  2. 400 Bad Request error

To confirm which one of the two it really is, you can check the title bar.

What are the Causes of HTTP 404 Error?

Knowing how an error occurred is an important step towards solving it. For HTTP 404 errors, here are the possible causes:

  1. The URL you typed has an error in it: a missing, an extra, or simply a mistyped letter and/or number, or an extra space.
  2. You simply got the wrong URL for the web page.
  3. The web page you’re looking for was renamed and does not have a proper 301 Redirect.
  4. The web page you’re looking for has been moved and does not have a proper 301 Redirect.
  5. The web page you’re looking for has been deleted.
Fun fact: 404 Error pages can be customised. In fact, many companies and big brands have created very clever 404 pages to lessen the unpleasantness of getting the error page, as well as for branding. To find examples of creative and unique 404 Error pages, click here.

Easy Ways to Troubleshoot an HTTP 404 Error

The HTTP 404 error is considered a client-side error, which means the mistake was performed by the user or site visitor. As a site visitor, here is a list of things you can do to remedy this.

  1. Try a force or hard refresh by holding down the Ctrl key and then pressing the F5. You might actually have the right URL and the web page does exist, but for some reason, the browser failed to retrieve the page. A hard refresh might do the trick.

  2. Double check your URL. The web page might actually exist, but you just missed typing a character, mistyped something, or put an extra space.

  3. Try doing a search engine query using your URL. Copy and paste the entire URL into the search field of Google or Bing. If the page exists, chances are it will turn up in the search results.

  4. Trace the URL up the domain’s directory, one level at a time. If the URL that gave you a 404 Not Found error is www.mywebsite.com/aaa/bbb/ccc.htm, try moving up to www.mywebsite.com/aaa/bbb/. If you still cannot find the url you're looking for, move up to www.mywebsite.com/aaa/, and so on.

    If you get to the site’s homepage and you still can’t find it, try running a search within the website. If there is no search function, try using Google’s search feature by typing in “site:[domain name]” and it will turn up all that site’s pages that have been crawled by Google.

  5. Clear your cache and cookies. It might be that your browser has saved a previous version of the page, or that your cache and cookies are full and your browser is timing out when it tries to load pages or conduct searches.

  6. Scan your computer for malware. If you often get 404 error pages on different web pages and on various domains, it might be that your computer is compromised and needs a clean-up.

  7. Contact the site owner or webmaster. If the page has been moved or deleted, you can get confirmation about it directly from the site’s managers or administrators by sending them a message.

If you are getting 404 Not Found errors on all the pages of a website, then perhaps the entire website is down.

What is a Soft 404 Error?

Otherwise known as a Phony 404 error, this means that there is some configuration errors in the server software. The web page doesn’t exist, but the browser gets redirected to a different page and returns a 200 OK Status server response, which communicates a false status report to search engines.

Possible Causes of Soft 404 errors

Since a Soft 404 error is different from an HTTP 404 error, then it also has different causes. The following are some possible scenarios:

  1. You have deleted a page that has been previously indexed by search engines and you have implemented a 301 Redirect to a new page. In some instances, the search engines think the deleted page still exists.
  2. You have implemented a 301 Redirect, but the search engine may not deem the new page relevant enough to the original page and URL.
  3. You have redirected hundreds of old pages to a single high level category page or the home page, and this has confused search engines.
  4. Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) or hosting provider has enabled a content blocking system, which prevents your browsers from displaying the site or page. Meanwhile, the server status is getting a 200 OK status code.
Note: Search engines like Google only have a limited time crawling your site. Having Soft 404 errors will seriously hinder the efficiency of search engines in crawling your live web pages, especially the important ones that you want indexed. As a consequence, not all your web pages may be indexed properly.

How to solve Soft 404 errors?

Returning Soft 404 errors can become quite problematic for your site. Here are some solutions that could help you with this unfortunate issue:

  1. Be sure to implement clear HTTP status codes on your web pages. To check if your site has Soft 404 errors, check it in Google Webmaster Tools.
  2. Implement clear-cut 301 Redirects. Be sure the page is redirected to the correct page with the correct relevant content.
  3. Don’t redirect several old deleted URLs to the same page. For some deleted pages, it might be better to serve a clear 404 page.

Search engines like Google do not like Soft 404 errors because it compromises the quality of user experience. If you are a webmaster, it is highly recommended that you fix Soft 404 errors so your site does not lose significant traffic, and your business potential clients.

If you want to learn more about the 301 Redirect status code, click here.

To find out more about different HTTP status codes, visit this page.

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