Why Are 404 Not Founds So Important?


We’ve all encountered a 404 not found error while browsing the web. We click on a link our friend shared on Facebook or a link a colleague emailed to us but unfortunately that link takes us to a 404 error page instead of to the content we expected. Or, maybe you typed in a URL to your address bar and forgot a letter or two. That typo led you to a 404 error page instead of the page you wanted.

404-error-page-with-springtrax-iconDespite all of us encountering 404 errors while browsing the web, most of us who manage websites don’t think our website has 404s. After all, we assume that we do a good job managing our website, so clearly our visitors rarely (if ever!) will encounter a 404 not found error. Besides, the thinking goes, even if our website does have broken links, certainly those not found errors aren’t costing our business hundreds of customers or thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Most companies are losing business due to not found errors. This is especially true for older websites and for larger websites. However, despite so many websites having this problem, most web managers don’t know how much business they are losing due to 404s. As a result, 404s present a hidden problem plaguing our websites.

What Do 404s Cost a Business?

A luxury travel company recently started working with SpringTrax (where we focus on uncovering problems with not found errors). Because this luxury travel company has an incredible team of experts managing its website, they were convinced they would not have any problems with 404s.

After two months of using SpringTrax, the travel company realized that nearly 1,000 visitors per month reached a 404 error on their site. The bigger problem, though, was what happened after people reached that 404 error page.

On average, 74 percent of people leave after seeing a 404 error. For the luxury travel site, it was actually higher than average at nearly 80 percent. This meant the travel company was losing hundreds of visitors every month due to not found error pages. Instead of visitors, let’s call those lost visitors what they really were: lost customers.

The problem worsens though because visitors who encounter 404 errors now have a negative association with that luxury travel company’s brand. That negative association causes a ripple effect that worsens the website even more.

After reaching a 404 error, people are less likely to return to that company’s website in the future. Also, people are less likely to share that company with their friends. Worse than that, people who reach a 404 are less likely to become a customer of that company. Who wants to do business with a company who has errors on their website?

In a highly competitive industry like luxury travel, hundreds of people leaving due to a 404s and thousands of visitors not returning due to a 404s meant several thousands of dollars in lost sales every month. After all, this travel company’s competitors are just a click away.

Detecting 404 Errors

The travel company didn’t think they had a problem with 404s because they relied on the most popular tool available to check for broken links: the broken link crawl tool. Crawl tools are a powerful resource to understand your website, but are limited in how they address not found errors. The problem with crawl tools is that they only check for broken links on your website that lead to 404s on your website.

This ignores all the other ways people can find broken links leading to 404 errors on your website. For example, crawl tools can’t find that broken link your friend shared on Facebook. Crawl tools don’t know if your visitors are typing URLs incorrectly and arriving at 404 errors on your site. Crawl tools don’t know if your latest email newsletter contained an accidental broken link.

For that luxury travel website, nearly 90 percent of the broken links leading to 404 pages existed somewhere that crawl tools couldn’t detect. In other words, the luxury travel company was losing thousands of dollars every month due to 404 errors because they simply didn’t know about every 404 page their visitors encountered.

What Are You Losing Due To 404 Not Found Errors?

That luxury travel company is not the only website facing this problem. If your website has undergone revisions over the years where pages have been removed or changed, you are at risk for 404s errors. If your website is larger, you are at risk for 404 errors.

The more 404 errors your website has, the more customers and money you are at risk of losing. You need to know about all of the not found errors your visitors encounter so that you know how many visitors, how many customers, and, ultimately, how much money you are losing due to this hidden problem facing your website.

matthew-edgar-326x326Today’s guest post was written by Matthew Edgar, the founder of SpringTrax, a company that helps web managers find and fix every 404 error that visitors encounter on their site.

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