404 Errors…. Where are they coming from

As a user 404 errors are a pain. You click through what you think will be a good link and for whatever reason, that error page pops up. As a blogger that’s one of the places that can cause a high bounce rate as people click through up pops that page so leave especially if your page isn’t very informative, the very same reason can decrease the time spent on your site. In this first part of a series of posts on 404 errors, I’m going to go through with you ways to identify what people are doing to find those pages, how you can sort out the problems, where google is seeing your 404 errors and then creating a useful 404 page for your site and users.

Start to fix your bounce rate by understanding where 404 errors by user are originating from using Google Analytics.

Post outline

What is a 404 Error Page?

Why you want to know more about your 404 Error Page?

Finding out your Sources of 404 Errors!

Step by Step guide to the user’s routes to your 404 Error Page

What is a 404 Error Page?

A 404 error page is a page that is brought up automatically if the link clicked on doesn’t work on your site. In WordPress, most themes contain a custom 404 page and it will look something like the one below. In blogger, the 404 page is just a sorry message but don’t worry we will look at fixing that in another post.

Start to fix your bounce rate by understanding where 404 errors by user are originating from using Google Analytics.

Each page on the internet brings up a code when it’s hit – a page that is working brings up a 200 code, you can set-up a 301 code which is a permanent redirect from one page to another. A 404 is a “Not found” code and within blogger and WordPress coding “should” take you to a custom error page and next time I’ll talk more about customising that page further.

Why you want to know more about your 404 page?

So readers are coming to your 404 page but where are they coming? Is it something that you have removed and forgot to put in place a 301 redirection, or is it a broken link on someone else’s site? Once you know more about what is causing people to reach your 404 page you can start to help them and move them forward reducing your bounce rate and increasing the time spent on your site as well as hopefully the pages/session.

As bounce rate is one of the factors that is believed to be part of Google’s algorithms so it’s worth investing some time in reducing this on your site.

Finding out your sources of 404 errors!

So there are two ways to look at your 404 errors and for each of them, we are coming from a different avenue. One focuses on what the bots are seeing and where they are finding errors and the other focuses on where users are coming from and finding those errors. Both need to be worked on but the have different priorities.

In terms of SEO, a normal 404 error will not affect your site (soft 404’s are a different matter) but because it affects bounce rate the effect is seen BUT only if people are coming to the 404 page via the same way that the bot is.

So what you need to do is focus first on where your users are getting 404 errors and then focus on where the bots are getting the 404’s.

Finding your User’s route

As User Route is the most important we are going to look at that data first. All of this can be found in your google analytics. Follow these step by step instructions to create a report and then shortcut it to bring up the information to find this data.

  1. Open Google Analytics
  2. Go to Behaviour -> Site Content -> All Pages
  3. Change the date range to Last 30 days
  4. Click the primary dimension from Page -> Page TitleStart to fix your bounce rate by understanding where 404 errors by user are originating from using Google Analytics.
  5. Now filter for Page Not FoundStart to fix your bounce rate by understanding where 404 errors by user are originating from using Google Analytics.
  6. Click on the Page Not Found result this will bring up a list of the URL’s that returned the Page not Found Page!

Start to fix your bounce rate by understanding where 404 errors by user are originating from using Google Analytics.

Now you know what pages your users are hitting on your site and getting the 404 errors – but where are they coming from? So now we are going to discover the source of those errors

  1. Click on add a secondary dimension
  2. Type in Full ReferrerStart to fix your bounce rate by understanding where 404 errors by user are originating from using Google Analytics.
  3. Click on Full Referrer
  4. Now you have a list of where people are coming from too.

Start to fix your bounce rate by understanding where 404 errors by user are originating from using Google Analytics.

This is a useful report so SHORTCUT IT – that means you can find it again and add it to your regular blog maintenance to look at and deal with on a monthly, bimonthly or quarterly basis.

Start to fix your bounce rate by understanding where 404 errors by user are originating from using Google Analytics.

Next step…

Your next step once you have your list of sources where people are coming from and getting 404’s is to solve as many of those issues that you can.

Share these tips with other bloggers
Cerys Parker

Cerys is the founder of Rainy Day Mum a top UK parenting blog. Prior to having children, she taught digital media and web development. Supporting other bloggers to develop, grow and expand their blogs through actionable tasks that aren't as terrifying as they seem to be!

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Shaunna Evans - April 27, 2017

It was helpful to check these! It looks like the majority of mine will fall under the bots you mentioned.

Quick question…most of the ones that were clearly from other sites weren’t actually broken links. I was able to find the link, click through and not get a 404 error. Any reason why they would be showing up in this report?

Reply
    Cerys Parker - April 27, 2017

    Hi Shaunna, with those links could it be that there is a slight difference in the URL between the two. On some browsers the latest WordPress updates includes of form of “intelligent redirect” where it will automatically go to the closest form of the path. In other browsers this doesn’t seem to work especially on mobile.

    A way to check it would be to find the URL and copy the link and then compare it to the actual page and the path that you see in your Google Analytics to see if there is a slight difference.

    Reply
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