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Page Not Found: Most Common Website Error Codes And What They Mean

Oct 09, 2017 | by Emma Hanes | SEO
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Nearly all Internet users at one time or another have experienced some type of error code on a website. Users most often encounter “Page Not Found” errors from hyperlinks that point to nonexistent pages. While this might not seem like a big deal, error codes like “Page Not Found” can seriously impact user experience and a website’s SEO value. 

Where To Find Error Codes 

To keep your website in tip top shape, you need to regularly audit your site for error codes. This can easily be done in Google Webmaster Tools under the “Crawl Errors” tab on the left side menu. For a quick overview of Google Webmaster Tools (GWT), see our previous article here.

The Most Common Website Error Codes Include:

  • 400 – These website errors most likely occur when there is an error in the URL entered into the address bar. This could be a mistake made by the user, or they could be using a URL given to them that is incorrect. To avoid these errors, always make sure the URLs you are promoting online or in traditional marketing materials like brochures and business cards are correct.
  • 401 – This type of error only occurs when users are required to perform some type of authorization (like providing login credentials), but the authorization has failed. If you have a login-required section of your site, 401 errors could indicate the authorization process has some issues or is too difficult for users.
  • 403 – Similar to 401 errors, these website issues occur when users are forbidden from accessing a website or page regardless of authorization. There may be sections of your website that are only accessible to certain people like your webmaster, but you need to make sure there is no way an average user can come across these pages, as it will yield a 403 error.
  • 404 – Also referred to as “Page Not Found” errors, 404 errors occur when users try to visit a page that is no longer published. If a website deletes or moves pages without setting up redirects, users will experience these errors frequently. A 404 error will not directly effect SEO, but it can have an indirect effect. However, in the course of a website’s lifetime, there are going to be 404 errors, so it is important to customize your 404 error page. You can add links to other pages or include snippets of your most recent blogs posts. By customizing your 404 error page, you can prevent indirect hits to your SEO.
  • 408 – Also called a timeout error, this code reveals the server timed out before the website could be generated for the user. This can mean your website is loading far too slowly and you need to immediately optimize your website for faster load times.
  • 500 – This error is bad news, more so than any other error. 500 errors occur because there are issues with the website’s server. A website’s server is where it lives and website owners likely pay a monthly fee to the owner of the server. Bad servers can cost you dearly if your website becomes inaccessible to users. You’ll have to contact the server’s administrator to fix this issue; however, you can avoid this issue entirely by hiring a reputable and trusted server provider.
  • 503 – Like 500 errors, a 503 error is also a server issue, however 503 errors specify a server is unavailable. Servers can become unavailable if they are overloaded or if they are down for maintenance. Either way, this is extremely detrimental to your website’s ongoing credibility with both search engines and users.

Google Crawl Bots

Most Internet users have only come across one or maybe two of the errors listed above. While these errors might be uncommon for users, they are frequent for Google Crawl Bots. These little bots, or spiders as they are sometimes called, constantly scan website pages and follow hyperlinks on pages to update Google’s database with any changes. This means that while users on your site probably aren’t coming across these errors, Google is and that’s bad.

If Google Crawl Bots notice your website is generating a lot of errors, Google may decide to penalize your website in search engine results, causing a decrease in traffic to your website. Because of the negative implications for SEO, it is important to regularly monitor error codes on your website and resolve them as quickly as possible.

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Emma Hanes has written content for dozens of attorneys and law firms with a variety of different practice areas. Her work has been featured in the Texas Bar Journal, the Top 10 Blog Posts from the Texas Bar Today, and SmallLaw's Pick of the Week.

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