What 404 errors are and how to solve them

A 404 error appears when you click on a link and don’t land on the page you were looking for, but on a different one saying the page doesn’t exist.
It’s the famous: Error 404. Page not found.
While you may not believe it, having too many of these in your shop can be detrimental to your web positioning and, of course, may mean lost sales (when visitors can’t find the page they were looking for and leave the shop, it’s difficult to make sales).
And that’s exactly why today’s post is going to show you:

  • How you can spot 404 errors.
  • Different ways to solve them.
  • How to optimize your website so that you don’t lose potential customers when it happens.

Let’s get started.

What is a 404 error?

Let’s start with the definition:

A 404 error means that the page a user is trying to reach is not available (for whatever reason) or that it no longer exists.

This is one of the most common errors for an eCommerce. If one of your products is sold out or you don’t sell it anymore and forget to deactivate its URL, visitors will end up seeing a 404 error.

Consequences of having a 404 in your eCommerce

You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? Clients click the back button, leave the error page, and that’s that.
Well, not exactly.
The truth is that if your online shop shows too many 404 errors, you may suffer several negative consequences:

✅ 1. Positioning on Google

According to Google itself, having 404 pages doesn’t affect positioning… at first.
However, if their tracking tools detect several 404 errors on your site, they may think that the website isn’t well maintained or kept up to date – and they may start showing it less frequently to avoid bad user experiences.
In addition, if you have a lot of 404 pages, your bounce rate will increase.
Remember that concept?

The bounce percentage or bounce rate is the number of people, out of a hundred, that leave a website without having clicked even a single time.

It’s important because:

  • It measures user satisfaction, and they’ll leave if they don’t like what they see.
  • Google takes this rate into account when assessing your positioning.

A normal value for this metric for eCommerce is around 30%, but if you have a lot of 404 pages, it could be double that.

✅ 2. User experience

We’ve already talked about it:

By user experience, we mean the experience (positive or negative) that users have after interacting with a website.

The goal is for visitors to feel so comfortable that they buy as many products as possible. But if users find a lot of 404 pages, that experience is ruined. 
This negative feeling may also entail a loss of trust and credibility for your clients.
In addition, as we’ve just seen, when clients get sick of the errors, your bounce rate increases and your positioning may suffer the consequences.

✅ 3. Loss of sales

Related to what we’ve been talking about, when potential clients leave your website because of a 404 error, you’re obviously losing a potential sale.
Users typically won’t waste their time navigating around a 404 error page – they just leave the website itself and look for a competitor.
Considering how hard it is to get qualified traffic to your eCommerce, losing a visitor isn’t something you can afford.
Later we’ll explain some tricks that you can use to optimize your error pages and use them to create engagement, but before we get there, let’s see how to identify and solve 404 errors in your online shop.

Why 404 errors may appear in your online shop

As we mentioned, the main reason why they appear is because a product is sold out or is no longer being sold, so the corresponding URLs haven’t been updated or redirected.
But there are other reasons that can lead to more 404 errors in a shop.

✅ 1. Having problems with your web server

If your server isn’t working properly or is having connection problems, a 404 error will be generated for any page of your website that can’t be reached.
The solution here is to contact your provider and be patient. If you choose a good hosting service for your shop, the incident management will be faster and less painful.

✅ 2. Error because of a deleted page

Even if you arranged a URL to be deindexed from Search Console, it may still appear on the search engine. The truth is that Google sometimes takes a bit of time to delete it.
There are two options to fix this:

  • If you delete it to replace it with new content, redirect the former URL to the new page.
  • If the old page has been deleted permanently, show an optimized 404 page (don’t worry, we’ll tell you how below).

Remember, having a 404 error page doesn’t have to be a big deal, so there’s no need to panic.

✅ 3. Changes to a page’s name

A page’s URL is like its ID, and even if you change just one letter, Google considers it to be a unique new page.
To solve this, create a 301 redirection from the wrong URL to the right one.

  1. From your .htaccess file (or ask your programmer to do it if you don’t want to mess with your shop’s code).
  2. With a plugin (for example, Redirection, which is free and very easy to use).

This way, you won’t lose the positioning of the old page since this redirection transfers the positioning authority held by the old page to the new one.

✅ 4. And what if the error comes from the client side and not your shop?

It’s possible that the connection or device your visitor uses to access your eCommerce is having some problems that lead to a 404 error.
In this situation, it’s useful to offer different solutions so that the potential customer doesn’t leave immediately… and so you can still sell:

  • Refresh: Explain how to reload the website by refreshing or clicking F5.
  • Check the URL: Ask them to check that the URL is properly typed (especially if they entered it manually).
  • Suggest deleting the cache and search history: To do so, it’s advisable to create a short video or, even easier, ask them to use a different search engine.
  • Professional search engine: Encourage clients to use the shop’s search engine to find what they were looking for in an easier way. If you use Doofinder, they’ll find it immediately.
  • Show links to the most popular categories.
  • Display a button to go back to the Home page: This way, they can start from the beginning.

These ideas can be added to your customized error page, just like Makari does on theirs (we’ll see more examples too).

How to detect a 404 error in your shop

As the owner of an online shop, you need to know whether you have many 404 errors or not, but you can’t go to every single page of your website one by one.
Luckily, there are many digital tools that can.

✅ 1. Google Search Console

If you don’t use Google Search Console, it’s about time you do.
Powerful and free, this Google tool is extremely efficient (among other things) at detecting the same broken links that the search engine finds.
And that’s not the only thing it can help you with…

✅ 2. W3C Link Checker

Just by entering in your online business’ main URL, this tool will analyze the individual links and give you a report with all the broken ones so you can fix them.

✅ 3. Dead Link Checker

Similar to the previous tool and also free, Dead Link Checker presents a more visually appealing report analyzing your broken links.
You can even set it up to send you regular reports by email.

✅ 4. Broken Link Checker

This is a plugin for WordPress to spot your shop’s broken links.
Once you install it, it’ll automatically check your WooCommerce and notify you with every error page that it finds.
It’s really powerful, but it uses a lot of web resources.

Use your 404 page to generate engagement (with examples)

Customizing your 404 error page is a great idea for several reasons:

  1. So Google bots have options to go beyond your 404 error page to continue crawling your eCommerce shop.
  2. To convince your audience not to leave and keep your bounce rate down (and sales up).

As you can see, it’s worth investing some time to customize your error page.
We’ll share a few tips and show you some examples to get you inspired.

✅ 1. It should be a simple, fast, and usable page

You’re telling your clients that there’s an error: don’t overload the page with information that will make it load slower.
A simple but clear message will suffice.
Of course, you always need to show them a way to get back to your website. Have a look at how Volkswagen leaves a CTA to “Go to the Home page”.
If you don’t give your clients options, they’ll leave your website by closing the window… and you can say goodbye to any sales.

✅ 2. Resort to humor

Since there’s an error, how about seeking empathy and trying to make clients laugh?
It doesn’t need to be complex – just have a look at how our client Primor does it.

Of course, they also offer links to leave the error page and reach other categories.

✅ C. Use a search engine on the error page

As we saw before, the most common reason for reaching a 404 error page on an eCommerce site is that the product is no longer sold or that the card isn’t properly redirected.
If the client is looking for a specific product, you can give them the option of looking for it directly from the error page in order to ease the buying process.
That’s what Bulevip does; not only do they let you search for the product, but they also offer specific recommendations. 

Our search engine allows you to search by brand, product, or even to add filters or offers.
Remember, you can try Doofinder FREE for 30 days!
And don’t forget that it increases sales by 25-30%. Click here to register now.

Fix your 404 errors and turn them into sales opportunities

Don’t put off till tomorrow those 404 errors that you can fix today.
And program periodic checkups so that you always keep your site well maintained.