Have you ever gone on a website, clicked on a link and got hit with an error? What’s worse is that there’s numbers with the error. What’s a 301 Redirect? What’s a 404 Error? Who created these Errors?
Seeing an Error on your computer screen can be unsettling, especially if you have no idea what the numbers next to the error mean.
What are Error Numbers and Server Responses?
When you go on a website page and the result pulls up an error, the number added to the error tells you a bit about what’s going on in the back-end of that website—meaning the developer’s work. Developers create pages that will open upon a request to a server, and are classified using HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Response) Status Codes. HTTP Status Codes tells the user about 5 basic responses from a server.
The 5 basic responses: Informal Responses, Success Responses, Redirection Responses, Client Error Responses, and Server Error Responses. Each of these responses has a status code, from 100-500 that says something about what’s going on in the back-end.
A Developer aims to create a website that has pages that open upon request to a server.
In simpler terms, this means that if you click on a page, there’s a request sent to the server to open that page so that you can view it. A page that opens up properly without any error message means that the user was able to communicate with the server, and the server was successfully able to open the webpage. This is known as a 200 OK status, and is what you want to initially aim for.
But with website changes—specifically with URL changes and page changes—your pages that were initially 200 OK, may pull up a different number in HTTP Status Code, indicating errors or redirects. The response codes that in the 300-500 series are the ones you need to be concerned about because they affect your user experience (UX), your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and the traffic flow to your website.
You Need a 301 Redirect When a Page Moves Permanently
If you click on a webpage and it pulls up any 300 HTTP status code, it means that there needs to be further action to complete the request to see the webpage. The most common 300 HTTP Server Status is a 301 Redirect.
What Does a 301 Redirect Do?
A 301 Redirect is when a page’s URL is changed permanently, and the old URL redirects users to the new page.
If a redirection is not made, the initial link that the user has clicked doesn’t go to that new page. Now users won’t see that the page is being redirected unless you explicitly say it on the original page with a message like, “This URL has changed, now redirecting you to its new location”. But you will know if there needs to be a 301 Redirect if you take a look at your URLs.
Typically you need to use a 301 Redirect after a URL has changed, but the original URL has not been redirected to the new URL. You’ll want to redirect that original URL because search engines and users have likely indexed the original link. You don’t want to lose out on your original reach just because you’ve changed your URL.
Take, for example, if there was a page called baileycreative.ca/dogs-and-cats but we decided to change it to baileycreative.ca/dogs-puppies-cats-kittens, those clicking on the first URL will be lead to a page that no longer exists. That means we would need to create a 301 redirect from the dogs-and-cats page that goes to the dogs-puppies-cats-kittens page instead, which keeps our original reach and link juice, but goes to our new URL, and the final destination for the user.
Get the how to: If you want to create a 301 Redirect, you need to redirect your old page to the new one so that the server knows to send any clickers of the old URL to the new page and new URL instead. Your web developer can let you know if there are any pages that need 301 redirects, and can change the code to fix them. There are also some simple plugins on WordPress and similar sites that will indicate if you have any pages that need redirection.
More on the 301 Redirect
If you get the 301 Redirect message that says, “Too many redirects” (or something to that effect), it is because your code is telling the server that there are too many directions to go in, and it cannot choose one. This usually happens if you’ve redirected URLs in a looping pattern—making the first URL go to the second, but the second goes to the first, and so on. To fix this, you’ll need to remove the additional redirects so that there is one clear pathway for the first page to redirect to the new page.
The 404 Error: Older Sibling of the 301 Error, and Always Missing in Action!
Needing a redirection doesn’t sound too bad, but if you’re seeing a 404 Error, you may need to take more steps to find your page. Seeing 404 means that your web page can’t be found by the server, and you’ll need to dig around to get it back. Luckily, a 404 error is usually easy enough to fix.
If you’ve ever clicked on a webpage and seen “404 Not Found” or “The requested URL was not found on this server” it’s a good indication that something’s not quite right in the back-end or the site development. A 404 Error can be from one of two things—either you have misspelled the URL (which is kind of common and fixable on the user’s end), or the developer of the website forgot that they moved a page or deleted it, without creating a new one or without redirecting the URL (using a 301 Redirect) to the new page. This means that the server cannot find anything to match the URL request.
Dealing with a 404 Error
Get the how to: Fixing a 404 Error can be as simple—if you’re the user, check your spelling first to see if you’ve typed in a non-existing webpage. But sometimes, fixing a 404 Error can go into more detail. If you’re finding a 404 Error that isn’t from a misspelled URL, you should check in with your developer.
Your developer should check that the URL isn’t leading to a page that was deleted and they should find out if they need to do a URL redirect to a new page instead.
In any case, a 404 Error should be taken care of immediately so that your server can start finding the right information for your users. Keep in mind, a 404 Error doesn’t mean that the page is permanently gone. A 404 page can be used again with new content in the future.
If you worry about users getting ever getting a 404 page and being frustrated, try to make your 404 Error page fun to help soften the blow. Use a fun graphic, saying or image that may save you from grief about your missing page.
A 302 Redirect is the Middle Sibling: Pages Not Permantly Here, But Not Quite Gone Either
We like to think of the 302 Redirect as the middle sibling between the 301 Redirect and 404 Error. A 302 Redirect happens when a page you are requesting has been redirected to another page, but the page isn’t permanently moved! Basically, a 302 Redirect does the middleman work, redirecting users to a temporary place.
Typically, developers will use a 302 Redirect if they are testing out a new page that isn’t quite ready to be a permanent fixture of the website. Most times, a user will only see a 302 Redirect if there was no alternative URL given to the server or if there has been too many redirections.
Taking Care of Errors and Redirects will Improve Your SEO
If you are looking after your clients’ websites, or if you are taking care of your own website via a platform like WordPress, you’ll want to keep an eye on the Errors and the Redirects. If there are webpages that are pulling up errors, your bounce rate will likely increase and your SEO may drop because there are pages with no content.
For the best SEO, you’ll want to make sure that all your pages are successfully getting responses from the server and are either 200 OKs or 301 Permanently Redirected URLs. This brings all your visitors, search engine robots and link juice (positive ranking factor from external websites) all to the same page with the same result. This makes everyone a happy user.
A 302 Temporary Redirect will help to get users and the robots in the right place, but your link juice is left hanging, meaning your SEO rankings may drop. And definitely steer clear of the 404 Error. Only visitors will be able to see the 404 Error pages, while robots will not be able to index the page, and any link juice that you had will dry up!
Bailey Creative Will Work With Errors, Redirects and SEO
Always make sure that your links are headed in the direction you intend them to go and make sure your pages are indexed so they are visible on search engines. This keeps your SEO in good shape and keeps visitors and audiences happy.
If you have more questions about dealing with Errors and Redirects, or you want to learn how to improve your SEO score, Bailey Creative is here to help. We’ve fixed websites that with errors and have created the right redirects and pages, improving their SEO rankings and making their websites better for user experience.