404 errors happen when someone requests a page or file that doesn’t exist – actually, it’s more accurate to say the web server can’t find the file.
404s happen when:
- Someone types the wrong address
- Someone links to the wrong address
- The file or page moves to a different address
- The page or file is deleted
- The page or file never existed
404 errors might sound scary, but they are mostly harmless. It is easy to monitor 404 errors and to fix them, thanks to Rank Math.
When you visit a website, maybe through a link, or by typing in an address, you aim to find and consume your content. Instead, if you’re hit with a 404 error, not only will you not be able to consume the content, but your experience will also be less than ideal.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your fault, their fault, or someone else’s. Maybe you clicked on a broken link caused by a typing mistake on another website. Maybe you cut-and-pasted a URL wrong. Or possibly you made a spelling mistake when you typed a URL manually.
The same thing happens to your readers when they access your website. Regardless of who is at fault, you cannot afford to let users have a bad experience on your website.
404 errors don’t affect your website’s rankings. Google has clarified that many times. But, a lot of 404 errors on your website is a bad quality signal. Google will even email you (and notify you in the Search Console) if many 404 errors are found.
Also, 404 errors from external links cause you twice the harm. First, they create the bad user experience, and they also dismiss the link-juice (SEO-value) of the external link.
Fortunately, Rank Math’s 404 monitor can save you all sorts of SEO trouble. Let’s check it out.
To reach the 404 Monitor, hover over Rank Math’s menu entry on the WordPress menu. In the sub-menu that appears, click the 404 monitor entry.
You’ll reach the 404 error page. Notice that it says “The 404 error log is empty”. Well, of course it is, we keep our site clean.
An empty log is great, but it doesn’t show you much. So, for this example, we’ll manually introduce a few errors. After introducing the errors, here is how the 404 monitor will look.
Let’s understand the data that Rank Math is sharing with us. If you notice, there are 3 fields in the 404 monitor.
- Access Time
These fields help you navigate your 404 errors better. In the initial days, you might not get a lot of errors, but as your site grows, you will have to use some precision rather than eyeball it.
The URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) represents the URL that the user tried to access. The only purpose of this field is to see if the error is caused by an obvious typo. If it is, you can fix it and not think about it anymore.
Hits represent the number of times an error-causing URI was accessed. This is an important number as you would want to fix errors with the most number of hits first.
The access time field captures the time of the last hit on the error causing URL. This field, combined with the hits field, is pretty useful in solving issues.
Advanced 404 Monitor
If you’ve read Rank Math’s setup guide, then you know that Rank Math is equipped with a Simple and an Advanced 404 monitor. What we currently saw was the simple 404 monitor. Let us now see what the Advanced 404 monitor can do.
To activate the Advanced 404 monitor, go to Rank Math’s General Settings > 404 Monitor and activate the Advanced 404 monitor. Don’t forget to save your settings.
Once you come back to the 404 monitor, here is what you’d see.
You’ll notice 2 new fields in addition to the 3 already listed. Before checking them out, let populate them with a few 404 errors.
That’s more like it. The Referer field is still empty, we’ll explain that in a minute.
This field will capture the referral URL which is linking the error-prone URL. This field’s information is crucial when a bad internal or external URL causes a 404 error. For example, if another website links to an important post on your website but with an error, this field will help you identify the source of the error. Using that data, you can contact the site linking to you and ask them to correct their link.
In the image above, you didn’t see a referral as we simply typed a random URL to cause an error. But here is how it would look when it captures the referrer.
It’s important to know that the referrer link can be an internal link or an external link. That means that if you make a mistake in linking internally to your post, Rank Math will capture that for you as well.
If you have or know about affiliate sites, you’ll know that they spend a lot of time creating and managing links. Many affiliate networks offer scripts that can convert regular URLs to affiliate URLs. Imagine a scenario where a script has an issue with a particular browser which causes the URL to throw an error. Without the user agent data, you’ll keep on trying to reproduce the error but will fail. Only when you see the user agent data will you be able to understand the issue.
This tab captures the User Agent that was used when the 404 error occurred. Knowing the User Agent can be immensely helpful when you use any scripts on your website that affect your links. If a specific script does is not supported in a specific browser, then the 404 monitor will capture the errors using which you can resolve the issue.
Fixing the 404 Errors
Once you have the list of 404 errors, the next thing to do is to fix the errors. There are many actions you can take to fix the errors, and we’ve created a dedicated tutorial for it. Be sure to check it out to understand how to solve 404 errors.
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