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Most of the time, seeing 404 error codes on your website is no cause for alarm. They’re usually caused by something as simple and fixable as a mistyped URL.

However, if you see 404 errors popping up across your entire website, blocking off access to content that isn’t missing, you’ll need to take proper steps.

Let’s discuss the common causes of 404 error codes and look at a few ways to fix them.

What does a 404 error mean?

When you see a 404 error code, it means that the page you’re looking for doesn’t exist — either because it was moved, deleted or never existed in the first place.

Occasionally, servers return 404 errors when the page you’re looking for exists but is hidden.

Google’s 404 error page.

If you encounter a 404 error, it may come in one of these variations:

  • 404 Not Found Error.
  • 404 Page Not Found.
  • HTTP 404 Not Found.
  • The requested page URL was not found on this server.
  • File or directory not found.

The difference between a soft 404 and a hard 404

A “soft 404” and a “hard 404” differ in how users and search engines see them.

  • Hard 404: The standard response code indicates a webpage cannot be found on the server. It’s an HTTP status code. It tells browsers and search engines that the requested page doesn’t exist at a specific URL. A hard 404 is clear and final. It shows the content is missing and should be removed from search indexes.
  • Soft 404: Unlike a hard 404, a soft 404 is not a server’s official response status code. Instead, it happens when a server sends a “200 OK” status code (showing success) for a page that doesn’t exist. The page’s content, however, tells the user that the page is missing. This can confuse search engines. The server says the page is valid, but the content shows it is not.

Most of the time, when people talk about 404 errors, they refer to the hard 404 status. The rest of this article will be focused on hard 404 errors.

Most common causes of a 404 error

example of a 404 error page.

404 errors are one of the most common types of errors on the web. Many causes can lead to you seeing one, ranging from simple mistakes to significant server issues.

Here are a few examples of things that could result in you landing on a 404 error page:

  1. Incorrect URL: This is caused by mistyping or misspelling a URL. It can also be caused by plugin errors breaking your URLs.
  2. Moved or deleted webpage: If you delete your content or move it to a different page, a 404 error will appear when you try to find it at the original URL. This can also be caused by changing the URL slug: the part of the URL that identifies a specific page on your website.
  3. Missing page assets: If you’ve noticed several 404 errors in your website’s error log, the most likely culprits are missing assets (like images) or broken HTML.
  4. Hosting or server misconfiguration: Various misconfigurations can lead to a 404 error code, from improper file permissions to a broken .htaccess file.
  5. DNS misconfigurations: If your domain name system (DNS) points to the wrong address, you may receive 404 error status codes across your website.
wordpress academy

Why you should fix 404 errors

The occasional 404 error page is nothing to be concerned about. According to Google, they don’t impact your other pages’ rankings. And more often than not, they can be resolved by simply ensuring that the URL you typed is correct.

Still, there are several reasons why you may still want to fix them.

Reasons to fix 404 errors

First, if 404 errors result from your web server or DNS acting up, you’ll want to resolve them as soon as possible, as they are often systemic and could affect a large portion of your site.

Fixing these errors may require identifying the underlying issues, like server misconfigurations, problems with your site’s code, or issues with your DNS setup.

You’ll also want to address instances of random 404 errors replacing pages that should have content. Bots can’t crawl those specific pages, meaning they won’t appear on search engines, which hurts your SEO efforts.

And while 404 errors caused by broken links are generally harmless, it’s still a good idea to fix them for a variety of reasons, including:

  • You could be losing valuable backlinks: If an external website once linked to a page on your site that has now been moved or deleted, that’s free traffic being wasted.
  • It could impact user experience: Encountering several dead links in a row can erode readers’ trust in your website. At best, they may think it needs some maintenance — at worst, they may believe it’s been abandoned.

Creating a custom 404 page can help lessen the blow of the occasional 404 error that pops up. This custom error page can be an excellent opportunity to strengthen your brand image and direct visitors to your homepage or search pages.

But if you really want to get to the root of the problem, you’ll need to learn how to spot and fix 404 code errors when you encounter them.

How to identify 404 errors

There are a few ways to find 404 error codes on your website.

The easiest is by clicking a link and being led to a 404 page. This is an example of a broken link 404 error.

These broken links, also known as dead links or “link rot,” happen for a few reasons, such as pages being moved or deleted, permalink structure changing, the URL slug being updated or the entire domain being migrated.

Broken links can exist within your website (internal links) or come from external backlinks.

Obviously, you don’t want to spend your time checking every single link on your website to make sure it leads to the right page, so here are a few other ways you can double-check and identify dead links:

Now that you’re armed with a couple of methods of identifying 404 error codes on your website, let’s discuss some of the most common ways to fix them.

How to fix 404 errors

You can fix 404 errors in several ways.

When 404 error codes crop up, removing them is usually a simple process. Dead and broken links can be fixed by implementing redirects. If the problem isn’t localized to your machine, then various simple server fixes should do the trick.

Let’s dive into the six most common ways to resolve 404 error codes.

1. Check your browser

Clearing cached browser data.

Sometimes, 404 error codes are caused by issues on your device rather than problems with your website. Because of this, you should always start with these straightforward solutions before moving on to the more involved fixes:

  • Confirm that the URL is free of typos.
  • Clear your browser cache: Your browser may have cached an earlier version of the page.
  • Restart your web browser, such as Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge.
  • Visit the link in a private/incognito window. This will often disable problem-causing extensions.
  • Try the link on a different device.
  • Ask a friend on a different network to try the link.

If none of these methods work, the issue likely isn’t just client-side. In that case, you’ll have to take a more in-depth look at your website to try and diagnose the problem.

2. Set up 301 redirects

Whether dead links leading to 404s are coming from outside your website, from your links or commonly mistyped URLs, it’s a good idea to set up a redirect that will send visitors to the correct page.

Dead internal links can usually be handled by just fixing the incorrect URL they’re pointing to, but if you have too many broken links to fix manually, you can set up redirects instead.

Usually, you’ll want to use a 301 redirect, which indicates that the page has been moved permanently. If this is a temporary move and the original page will be restored, use a 302 redirect instead.

There are a few ways to do this. You can manually set up a redirect or install a WordPress plugin to do it for you, such as Yoast SEO Premium — a popular plugin that comes with a whole suite of SEO benefits.

Once you’ve installed the plugin, head to Yoast and Redirects. Then, fill out the Old URL and the new URL.

Bluehost users can easily redirect a page from their dashboard. Just log in to your control panel and click the Domains tab from the menu on the left.

From there, navigate to the drop-down menu under Manage and choose Redirects.

Redirecting a page in the Bluehost dashboard.
Image Source

In the Add Redirect box, select your domain from the drop-down and enter the page URL you wish to redirect in the box next to it. Then enter the page it should redirect to and click Add this redirect.

Test it out to make sure the page is redirecting to where you want it.

3. Disable plugins and themes

Are you getting strange 404 error codes you can’t account for? If you’re using a WordPress site, you may want to try temporarily disabling some of your plugins or switching to a different theme.

Before doing this, always back up your website in case something unexpected happens.

To disable your theme, log in to the WordPress dashboard and navigate to Appearance and then Themes.

Select the theme you’d like to switch to and click Activate.

Activating a new theme in WordPress.

If the 404 error codes go away, you may want to consider using a different theme for your WordPress site.

If the issue persists, the next step is to deactivate all the plugins you’ve installed on your WordPress site.

Go to Plugins and click on Installed Plugins. Then check the box above the list of plugins to select them all.

Next, click the drop-down menu that says Bulk actions and select Deactivate before clicking Apply. This will deactivate all the plugins on your site. Test if the error went away. If it did, re-enable the plugins one by one to identify the culprit.

Deactivating all plugins in WordPress.

You can also deactivate plugins and themes through the Bluehost dashboard.

4. Fix file permissions

If you’re having trouble with a specific page displaying a 404 error code, it may be due to incorrect file permissions for certain assets on that page, such as images of Javascript.

To fix this, you can access the file manager in the Bluehost control panel by navigating to Advanced > Files > File Manager.

While navigating the file manager, look for the folder that contains the asset you believe to be causing the problem.

Select the file, then scroll up to the icon to change file permissions at the top. Make sure Read permissions are on, then click Change permissions.

Changing permissions for an image file in cPanel File Manager.

Check to see if the 404 error has been fixed. If it hasn’t, change the permissions back to where they were.

5. Configure .htaccess file

Sometimes the .htaccess file can become corrupted or misconfigured, resulting in inappropriate 404 error codes. You can remove and regenerate this file to potentially fix the issue. Just make sure to create a backup of your website before you do.

WordPress users can easily fix a malfunctioning .htaccess file by updating the permalinks.

To do this, go to Settings on your WordPress dashboard.

Select Permalinks and click Save Changes without touching any of the settings.

This will often reset the .htaccess file and fix any unusual issues you may be having.

Updating permalinks in WordPress.

If that doesn’t help, try accessing the .htaccess file manually via FTP (file transfer protocol).

Start by creating an FTP account. Make a note of your credentials, then download FileZilla or an equivalent FTP program that you can use to access your website.

.htaccess is located in the root directory, so it should be visible without clicking any folders. Back up this folder to your computer, then delete it.

Now check to see if the 404 error code is resolved. If it isn’t, restore the .htaccess file.

If it is, manually generate a new .htaccess file through FTP or go to Settings > Permalinks and click Save Changes.

6. Check the domain and DNS settings

If you’ve recently switched to a new web host or changed your domain or DNS settings, it can take from 24 to 48 hours for the domain to propagate. During this time, your entire website may display 404 error codes or otherwise be inaccessible.

If nothing else is helping, the last thing you can do is check your domain and DNS settings. Generally, you should only try this if you’re comfortable with servers. If you’re having trouble resolving 404 error codes and aren’t sure what to do, contact your web host for assistance.

To check your domain and DNS settings, you’ll first need to make sure your name servers are correct.

From the Bluehost control panel, click Domains. Make sure the Name Servers point to and

Next, look for DNS irregularities using the DNS Troubleshooting Guide. You can access the DNS Zone Editor in the Bluehost control panel by going to Domains, clicking the Manage drop-down arrow and selecting DNS.

Accessing DNS settings within the Bluehost control panel.

Check your DNS records and look for incorrect name servers and IP addresses. You can use a DNS lookup tool like MxToolbox to ensure everything is in order.

FAQ’s about 404 pages

What do 404 errors mean?

When you see a 404 error code, it means that the page you’re looking for doesn’t exist.

Why do 404 errors occur?

These errors can occur for various reasons, such as typing the URL incorrectly, the page being moved or deleted from the website, or the link being outdated/broken

How can I fix a 404 error?

Ensure all URLs are correct and use tools to identify and correct any broken links. If a page’s location changes, implement a 301 redirect to its new address or a relevant page. Additionally, keep your sitemap current and enhance user experience with a customized 404 page that aids navigation or reports issues

How can I create the best custom 404 page?

To create an effective custom 404 page, focus on maintaining a user-friendly experience that minimizes frustration. This involves incorporating clear, concise messaging that acknowledges the error, providing links or a search option to help visitors find what they’re looking for, and ensuring the design is consistent with the rest of your website to keep users engaged. Additionally, offering a way to report broken links can improve your site’s navigation and reliability over time

Final thoughts

Whether it’s a misconfigured site or old links that need to be updated, 404 error codes can be a nuisance for website owners.

And while seeing one every now and again isn’t cause for alarm, constantly running into them could be a sign of a more serious problem.

But here’s the good news: Fixing them isn’t particularly difficult.

If the issue is due to commonly mistyped URLs or broken and dead links, you can set up 301 redirects so visitors land on the page they’re actually looking for.

If the error is server-related, disabling plugins and themes, fixing file permissions, regenerating the .htaccess file or checking your domain and DNS settings will often do the trick.

In addition, there’s one more thing you can do to make sure your website runs smoothly and ranks highly: Partner with a reliable web host like Bluehost.

At Bluehost, we offer a variety of WordPress hosting plans that are designed to match each of our customer’s needs and budgets. All our plans come with a free domain for the first year, as well as automatic WordPress updates.

Contact us today to learn more about how Bluehost can help support the growth of your website.

  • Kyle Bombardier

    Having worked in an SEO role for the majority of my professional career, I have learned to not only accept, but embrace, the challenges and opportunities it creates every day. I love working with people to create and execute long-term, sustainable, SEO strategies.

    University of Vermont
    Previous Experience
    Senior SEO Manager, Reputation Manager, Local SEO
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