Some of the people who visit your website are going to encounter a 404 not found error page. Maybe that visitor typed in a URL incorrectly or maybe they clicked on a link that took them to a page that no longer exists on your website.
Whatever the reason they reached a 404 error, you need to know how these visits to 404 errors are affecting your business.
Why? Because 74% of the people who reach a 404 error will leave your website. When people leave due to 404 errors, you lose customers.
Can you afford to lose customers? Of course not.
To stop losing customers due to 404 errors, you need to find and fix every 404 error that your visitors encounter.
How do you find and fix those 404 errors? What link check tool is the best?
Requirements Of A Link Check Tool
Find Every 404 Error
People can find a 404 error on your website in lots of different places. Your link check tool needs to look at every place your visitors might encounter 404 errors. You can't fix 100% of your website's 404 errors if your link check tool only is only finding 20% of your website's 404 errors.
Report On Loss From 404 Errors
Any link check tool you use needs to tell you what the 404 error is costing you. When visitors encounter broken pages, they leave and that means potential customers are clicking away from your website. You need to know how many visitors you are losing due to 404 errors. This helps you prioritize fixing the 404 errors alongside the thousands of other things you have to do.
Sporadic Nature Of Broken Page Activity
The link check tool you use also needs to understand that visits to 404 errors are sporadic. One day, nobody will encounter your website's 404 error page. The next day, one hundred people might find a 404 error on your website. Any link check tool you use needs to constantly monitor your website and alert you when visits to 404 errors increase so that you can fix the problem immediately.
Help You Fix 404 Errors
Any link checker that you use needs to help you fix 404 errors. The more help the link check tool provides, the faster you can fix the 404 error and the faster you can stop losing customers due to those 404 errors.
Easy To Install
Finally, whatever tool you use to check for 404 errors on your site, you want it to be easy to use and easy to install. Time spent configuring a tool is time you could be spending on other tasks.
Data You Need About Your Site's 404 Errors
What should your link checker tell you about your website's 404 errors? What data do you need to make informed decisions about your website's 404 error activity?
- How Many Visitors Reached A 404 Error? You need to know how many people actually see a 404 not found error on your website to help you understand how big a problem 404 errors are for your website and your business.
- Where Did Visitors Find 404 Errors? Most people find your website's 404 errors from somewhere other than your website. That might be from another website, an email newsletter, a search result, a social network, or a visit from an outdated bookmark. Regardless of where people found the 404 error, you need to know about it.
- What Did People Do After Encountering A 404 Error? Did people stay on your website after encountering a 404 not found error? Or did they leave (as most people do)? If they stayed on your website, what pages did people look at next?
Reviewing Specific Tools
How Crawl Tools Work
One of the more popular tools for checking broken links that lead people to 404 errors on your website is the broken link crawl (or scan) tool. Crawl tools check every link on your website to determine whether or not the link leads to a 404 error.
Crawl tools can be incredibly helpful to quickly evaluate the health of the links within your website. Running a crawl tool can help you identify which links on your website are broken. You can correct those broken links before people click on the broken links and arrive at a 404 error.
Two Problems With Crawl Tools
However, there are two major problems with crawl tools.
- Limited Scope. The biggest problem is that crawl tools only check your website for broken links. What about all the other ways people find broken pages on your website? On average, only 17% of the 404's on your website result from a broken link on your website. As a result, crawl tools miss out on 83% of the 404 errors on your website.
- No Sense Of Priority. Crawl tools also can't offer any type of priority regarding your website's 404 error pages. That is because crawl tools do not look at visitors to those pages. Without visit information, crawl tools cannot tell you about the spikes in 404 error activity that are costing you business. Crawl tools are also unable to tell you how many customers you are losing due to 404 errors.
Recommendations On Crawl Tools
A crawl tool should be used to evaluate the health of the links and pages on your website. However, a crawl tool should never be relied upon to help you find and fix every 404 error your visitors encounter.
Tracking 404 not found errors in a web analytics tool, like Google Analytics, is possible. However, doing so requires a fair amount of customization with event tracking, segmentation, and goal setup.
Of course, even if you are a master of your web analytics tools, the data you will get about 404 errors is incomplete. While these tools are helpful in other areas, they are not designed to track the kind of data you need related to your website's 404 errors.
Incomplete Help With 404 Errors
There are two pieces of information no analytics tool can provide.
- Distorted Priority. First, analytics tools don't give you an accurate picture of your website's post-error activity. That is, what do people do after seeing a 404 error? Do they leave, do they stay, or do they leave and come back right away? If somebody leaves, but comes back shortly after leaving, web analytics report that as a loss. But is it really?
If you are relying on a web analytics tool to find your website's 404 errors, you will get a distorted sense of priority at best. This makes it harder to understand what 404 error pages are actually costing your business and how important it is to fix those 404 errors.
- No Help Fixing 404 Errors. Second, analytics tools don't provide any help fixing the 404 error. For instance, based on the nature of the 404 error, should you redirect the URL to a working page on your website? Or, can you fix the broken link that is leading people to this error?
Relying on this limited information, you will need more time to fix the 404 errors on your website. The longer it takes to fix the 404 error, the more you will lose as a result of those 404 errors.
Recommendation On Analytics Tools
An analytics tool should be used to evaluate the working pages on your website. However, for 404 errors you need a tool that is dedicated to looking at errors. With a dedicated 404 error reporting tool, you will have a clear sense of priority, a clear sense of what 404 errors cost you, and a clear sense of how you can quickly fix the 404 errors your visitors encounter.
Finding 404 Errors In Your Web Log
Provided you have some means of accessing and reading your web log file, your web log file can provide a wealth of information about the inner-workings of your website.
Among a lot of other data, web log files can provide a list of which URLs returned a 404 error. However, that data doesn't do enough to help you understand the impact 404 errors have on your website visitors. Worse, the data provided doesn't make it easy to help you fix your site's 404 errors.
Four Problems With Web Log Analysis
- Incomplete Data. The biggest problem with web logs is that the data is incomplete. At best, web logs will provide a list of files on your website that returned a 404 or 410 header response code. Web logs will tell you the page that led to that broken page. However, it can be really difficult to determine what page(s) people visited next. Plus, it can be difficult to determine if somebody even stayed on your website after reaching that 404 error.
- Robots & People, Mixed Together. Web log files look at every user that visited your website. That includes the human visitors (your customers) but also automated programs (like robots from search engines). While it may be helpful to know what 404 errors robots encountered, what you really need to know is what 404 errors humans encountered. After all, it is the 404 errors humans encounter that cost you business. Web log files mix the two together making it hard for you to know which 404 errors are really costing you business.
- No Soft 404s. If your website returns soft 404 errors (or other non-standard not found error types), web log files will not work. If you website returns soft 404s, broken pages on your site will look like every other page on your website in your web log. With that setup, you will be unable to find every 404 error on your website.
- No Help Fixing 404s. Web log files are, at best, only going to give you a list of the 404 errors robots and humans encountered on your website. Web log files will not help you fix those 404s. Plus, getting the data you need out of your website's log file to help you fix the 404 errors can be challenging (and your web log may not even have the data you need). As a result, it will take longer to fix your website's 404 errors. The longer it takes to fix, the more business you will lose due to 404 errors.
Recommendations On Web Log Analysis
Web logs can be incredibly useful to understand how your server is handling your visitors. When it comes to 404 errors, though, you need a tool that is dedicated to 404 errors. A dedicated tool will be easier to use, give you more complete information, separate out robots and people, and help you fix the 404 errors your visitors encounter.
What Are Backlink Tools?
One way to find 404 errors on your website is to see if any other websites are linking to broken pages on your site. When other websites link to you, that link is referred to as an external link (as in, external to your website) or a backlink (as in, a link linking back to your website).
For example, a tool like Moz's Open Site Explorer can help you identify what websites are linking to your website. You can then use that data to find which websites are linking to 404 errors on your website. (To be clear, Moz's Open Site Explorer and other backlink tools can help you find a lot more than broken links as well.)
Helpful For Search Marketing
Looking for broken links that lead to 404 errors on your site can be especially helpful for search marketing purposes. Within search marketing, links from external websites help improve your rankings within search results. A link from an external website that takes people to a 404 error on your website, won't help search marketing efforts, or at least not as much as a non-broken link.
Helpful, But Still Not A Complete Picture
At best, external link tools will never provide a complete picture of the 404 errors your visitors encounter. Because these tools do more than look within your website for broken links, external link tools offer more information than broken link crawl tools. So, with a backlink analysis you will find more 404 errors than you would using a crawl tool.
However, there are still lots of other ways people can find 404 errors on your website that are missed by external link tools. For instance, people can find broken links leading to 404s on your website on social networks, in email newsletters, from old bookmarks, and more. Backlink tool aren't able to find 404 errors resulting from those sources.
Why SpringTrax Was Built
SpringTrax was built to be the best of all 404 error checkers. Having developed and managed hundreds of websites, we know the importance of handling errors on your website and we know the strengths and weaknesses of the tools currently out there.
Five Ways SpringTrax Is Better
- Every source, all in one tool. At SpringTrax, we find broken links from every source. That includes broken links on your website that lead to 404 errors (the kind crawl tools find), broken links from other websites that lead to 404 errors (like backlink tools find), and 404 errors resulting from every other source (like 404 errors resulting from emails, social networks, search results, or old bookmarks). This allows SpringTrax to give you a complete picture of every 404 error people encounter when visiting on your site.
- Prioritize your broken links. Unlike other tools, we will give you a clear sense of priority so that you know which 404 not found error pages are costing you the most business. Your time is limited, so don't waste it fixing thousands of unimportant 404 errors. Instead, use your limited time (and limited money) to fix the 404s that are costing you the most customers.
- Know what your visitors do after seeing an error. SpringTrax tracks the visitor's entire post-error journey on your website. Did they leave your website for good? Or, did they leave and come back? With SpringTrax, you will know everything the visitor saw after reaching an error instead of just knowing about the next page visited. This gives you a complete understanding of the impact 404 errors have on your visitors.
- Fix your 404 errors. SpringTrax takes everything we know about your website's 404 errors to help you determine the best way to fix your site's broken pages. At SpringTrax, we provide detailed step-by-step instructions so that you can fix your 404 errors quickly and recover lost customers right away.
- Continual monitoring. SpringTrax continually monitors which not found error pages your visitors encounter. After all, visits to 404 pages are sporadic. One day, you won't have any visitors reach a 404 error, but the next day you might have thousands of visitors reaching a 404 error. SpringTrax is designed to detect these issues, alert you to the problem right away, and help you fix the problem quickly.
Running an online business requires a lot of work to get people to notice, visit, and use your website. The last thing you want is to lose visitors as a result of 404 errors. You need to find and fix every 404 error that is costing you business.
We hope SpringTrax can help you quit losing business to 404 errors. If you'd like to give SpringTrax a try, sign up today for just $19.99/month.