You’ve seen it a hundred times before.
You click a link expecting to see something, and instead…
“Oopsie! We didn’t find anything here.”
No matter how cute the graphic is, it’s a frustrating experience.
Since you’ve personally experienced how annoying 404 errors are, it’s easy to sympathize with visitors who see them on your site.
The good news is that 404 errors are easy to find, and with the right tools, they’re easy to fix too.
Here’s a simple process you can follow to find and fix 404 errors routinely on your site.
“404” is a server status code that means a page was not found at this URL.
How to find 404 errors
A 404 error is displayed when someone visits a URL that doesn’t match any page on your site.
This means you can’t check your site for 404 pages because they don’t exist. You have to be already listening to record them as they occur.
One of the best ways to catch 404 errors as they happen is with an analytics plugin, like Independent Analytics.
Independent Analytics records every pageview on your site, including those for 404 errors.
The 404 pages are listed alongside the rest of your pages, and you can add a filter to show only error pages in your results.
You can easily find your 404 errors this way, including how many views and unique visitors arrived at each one. This makes it easy to prioritize the 404 pages getting the most visits.
If you already have an analytics tool you’re happy with, there are two other recommendations below you can use to catch 404 errors.
Now that you know how to find 404 errors on your WordPress site let’s talk about how to fix them.
How to fix 404 errors
Fixing 404 errors can be a messy business, but ultimately, they’re all treatable.
Here’s a process you can use to resolve every 404 error you encounter.
Step 1: identify the intended page
When looking at a 404 error, you have to rely on your intuition to guess what the visitor was looking for.
For example, look at this hypothetical URL:
Looking at this example, you can see the issue is probably that “soup” was spelled as “sop.”
Many of the 404 URLs you see will have misspellings like this, and they’re even easier to spot on your own website because you’re familiar with the content and URLs.
Once you figure out which page the visitor was trying to reach, your next goal is to find out how they got to this URL in the first place.
Step 2: find the source
While you could skip this step, it’s worthwhile to try and identify why visitors are reaching this URL.
Start by asking yourself if there’s anywhere on your site where you may have typed the link incorrectly. You can also use a tool like Link Whisper to automatically find and fix broken links on your site.
If the 404 error is created from a mistyped URL on your own site, then you can edit the link to fix it quickly.
If you don’t have a broken link on your site leading to the 404 page, that means one of two things:
- Someone linked to you with a broken URL
- The visitor typed the URL incorrectly in their browser’s address bar
While there are some clever ways to figure out if someone linked incorrectly (SEMRush can do this), you normally won’t be able to find the origin of the incorrect URL.
Not to mention, even if you do find the exact link on another site where they mistyped the URL, that doesn’t guarantee they will respond to your email when you ask them to fix it.
There is a simple solution to fixing 404s in this case.
Step 3: add a 301 redirect
You can fix any 404 error by adding a 301 redirect to your site.
A 301 redirect basically tells the browser, “If you’re on URL A, go to URL B instead.”
You’ll use 301 redirects to automatically transfer visitors from your 404 pages to their intended pages. The redirect is extremely fast, so visitors won’t even notice the difference.
This gives you full control to fix every 404 error on your site, even if someone on another site linked to a broken URL.
Now let’s cover exactly how a 301 redirect can be added to WordPress.
A 301 redirect will take around 0.1s to execute.
How to add a 301 redirect in WordPress
There are lots of free plugins that make it easy to add 301 redirects to WordPress.
If you don’t already have an SEO plugin installed, try Rank Math SEO. It has a redirect feature and many other useful SEO tools included (we use it on this site).
If you’d prefer not to use Rank Math, then I’d recommend adding the redirects with the Redirection plugin.
It’s a tried-and-true solution that’s been maintained for over 10 years.
Both of these plugins also include 404 error detection, so you can use them to catch these errors on your site as they occur.
I’ll be using screenshots from Rank Math below, but the steps are virtually identical for the Redirection plugin.
Before you can add a redirect, you need to activate the Redirections module in Rank Math.
Then you can visit the Redirections menu in the sidebar and click the Add New button at the top to create a new redirect.
Creating a redirect is pretty straightforward. All you have to do is enter the URL of the 404 page into the Source URLs field and then enter the page you want visitors to land on in the Destination URL field.
Lastly, click the Add Redirection button to create the 301 redirect.
You can now visit the 404 page, and you’ll see it instantly redirects you to the correct page.
Rank Math also allows you to redirect multiple URLs at once to the same destination and supports Regex if you want to use a pattern to dynamically redirect many URLs.
Continuously monitor your 404s
404 errors are unavoidable.
People link incorrectly, URLs get edited, permalinks change… stuff happens.
That’s why it’s a good idea to continuously monitor your 404s and fix them routinely.
You can find your 404 errors as they occur with Independent Analytics, Rank Math, or the Redirection plugin and then add 301s to resolve them.
Thanks for reading, and if you’ve got any advice or questions about finding and fixing 404 errors in WordPress, leave a comment below.