I probably speak for a lot of other users of WordPress when I say this, but there really is nothing else quite like this platform. I use nothing else to build my websites, my client’s websites other than WordPress.
WordPress is so powerful, so flexible yet so simple to use, well at least it is once you’re past the newbie stage. With WordPress there are no limitations to your creativity, at least when it comes down to things like theme customisation, and generally making your content look epic.
OK enough about how great WordPress is, today I want to focus on an area of WordPress that I know a lot of bloggers are having difficulty with. I’m talking about the dreaded 404 error pages. I hate them myself, and I do try my utmost best to keep them from appearing on my site, though it’s not always easy.
What are 404 Error Pages?
OK for all you folks new to WordPress, or perhaps you’re not too familiar with what 404 error pages actually are, let me explain very briefly:
Say you have a lot of posts, pages, tags and categories in your WordPress website, and let’s say a day comes along when you decide to delete a few of those pages, tags and categories. What happens when someone visits any page or tag, or category you’ve deleted, is that they see an error 404 page not found.
Are you with me?
Because you deleted that destination URL, it doesn’t exist, so they see the generated 404 error page instead. Just because you deleted the page, it doesn’t mean that no one will ever find the URL to that page and attempt to access it.
Are 404’s bad for your site?
404 error pages aren’t necessarily bad, like I said it’s just a page generated to let your site users know that the page they were looking for is no longer available.
Usually users will be given an alternative option as to where to head to next, because in most cases, within the 404 error page there’s a link back to the homepage, or a search box that can be used to try and find whatever the visitor was looking for in the first place.
If you use Thrive Themes for instance, you can customise your 404 error page to improve user experience.
Other reasons why a user might see an error 404 page not found is if they’ve happened to click on a ‘site link’ (internal or external) that has been misspelled. Or perhaps you’ve recently changed the domain name of your website, or you’ve made some changes to your permalink settings.
Take away tip: When linking to pages and posts within your WordPress site, always ensure the destination URL is correctly spelled.
404 Error pages and search engines
There are some mixed debate about whether 404’s actually affect search engine rankings or not, or whether one who has a lot of 404’s can be penalised. In all honesty, I don’t really know myself.
There is an interesting post on the Moz Blog asking whether if 404 pages are always bad for SEO or not, but I’d love to hear what you think about it here, do you think too many 404’s are bad for SEO?
Regardless, “404’s being bad for SEO” shouldn’t really be a huge concern to you, what should be a concern however, is how these pages are affecting user behaviour, or experience.
If someone is looking for a particular article and they happen to land on a 404 error page on your blog, they may get frustrated and look to an alternative site for answers, that to me is creating bad user experience on your blog. The objective is to keep visitors on your site right? Not to turn them away.
So… You need to fix your 404 error pages before it runs into the thousands, and every visitor you get ends up hitting the back button! Your bounce rate will go through the darn roof!
How to Fix 404 Errors in WordPress using 301 Redirection
OK so now you have some idea as to what a 404 error page is, and how it can effect your site users, let’s now take a look at some ways to fix them and make your site more user friendly.
One way to do this is to use 301 redirection, so in other words when someone visit’s a page that is no longer available on your website, they’ll be redirected to a another page on your site that is somewhat related to that missing page, or a page that they might find the answers to their original query.
There are essentially four great WordPress plugins you can install and use to help you with your 301 redirection.
- Pretty Link – This plugin is perfect for redirecting ugly links and making them no-follow such as affiliate links, long URL’s on your page that you want to shorten etc.
- Redirection – This is a popular redirection plugin which I’ve also used before. This is the plugin that I’ll be showing you how to use in this post, to fix your 404 error pages below.
- 404 Redirected – Another great plugin that I’ve used in the past, though the manual redirection seem to have stopped working, and the plugin hasn’t been updated since 2012 (as time of updating this post).
- Better Links Pro (aff) – Another powerful premium redirection plugin, and one that I’m currently using on this particular blog to clean up my affiliate links, create automatic anchor texts, use no-follow and more…
So in the following tutorial below I’m going to use the #2 Redirection plugin mentioned above in the list, to redirect my old author URL which is now redundant, to my new author URL.
I’ll be cross referencing the data provided using this plugin, with the 404 error pages data provided in my Google webmaster tools account. I hope this is making sense so far, so let’s get stuck in.
OK so the first step, if you don’t already have the Redirection plugin installed, is to search for the plugin from the plugins repository in your WordPress dashboard plugins panel. Once located hit install. See screen shot below. Once installed hit that activate plugin button to begin.
Now go to Tools and find Redirection as shown in the image below, (still in your WordPress dashboard).
Now open a new tab in your browser and go to your Google web masters account, then click on the respective domain name who’s 404 error pages you want to analyse and resolve. Then click on Crawl > Crawl Errors, and then click on the Not Found tab, as shown below. In the Not Found tab you’ll see a list of all the pages within your domain that are returning as 404 error page not found. In my case I have 13 here as shown below.
Click on any one of those links in the list and a pop-up box will appear displaying all the information about that particular page not found error.
The Error Details tab shows when Google last crawled this page, and when the error was first detected. The Linked From tab shows which external and internal pages are linking back to this redundant page. See image below.
Now back in your WordPress dashboard on the Redirection page, click on 404’s as shown below.
You will notice that the source URL in the Redirection log is similar to the one in your Google Web masters error page report. This is because you just clicked on the 404 URL within Google Web masters, and the Redirection log has recognised this activity here in real-time almost. You can now use 301 redirection for this URL to target another page on your blog or website.
Click on the Redirects link in the Redirections page and here you will add a new redirection.
As you can see in the image below, I’ve placed the redundant URL into the source URL box, and placed the active destination URL in the target URL box. This is where I want this 404 error page to redirect when visitors click on it. So once you’re happy with the settings you make for your redirection, just hit the Add Redirection button.
Once created, the new 301 redirection will be recorded in the redirects page as shown below.
Here you can manage and see how many hits the URL is receiving, toggle or move to another group or folder.
Should you wish to delete a redirect in the future, perhaps because it’s no longer getting any hits or you no longer need it to be redirecting it, then you can do so with a single click.
You’re not finished yet, you now need to go back to your Google web master tools account, and mark the 404 error page URL you’ve just created a redirection for as “fixed”. See image below.
That is pretty much it, of course if you have hundreds or even thousands of redundant URL’s, then redirecting each one of them to a suitable page might take a considerable amount of time, but it’s definitely worth doing to make your site more user friendly.
In addition to this step-by-step tutorial, I’ve also created a short video showing how to fix 404’s using another alternative plugin, the 404 Redirected plugin I mentioned earlier in this post (plugin #3 in my list above). You can check out this video below, however I will mention that the video is about a year old now since publishing this post, however the procedures shouldn’t have changed much.
If you have any questions or would like to share something useful related to this post, please drop me an email. I hope this post has been useful to you and that you get on top of your error pages quickly. For more blogging and WordPress tips, do signup for my email updates.
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