In this final part of our 4-part series on URLs, we’ll give you a broad overview of common URL errors — called HTTP errors —and how to troubleshoot them.
Part One: Unlocking the Power of URLs in SEO
Part Two: Creating SEO-Friendly URL Structures
Part Three: Understanding and Implementing URL Redirects
Part Four: Troubleshooting Common URL Issues: HTTP Errors
HTTP errors: The role of 404
Quite a few steps occur when you type a domain name into a web browser, hit enter and get the web page you want. Part of the complication arises because computer networks use numbers to identify web pages — something like 126.96.36.1994. Those numbers represent an IP address, short for Internet Protocol address. However, it’s hard for people to remember strings of numbers, so we use domain names, like rellify.com. To bridge that gap, there is the Domain Name System (DNS), which centers around a database that matches domain names and IP addresses.
Here’s a simplified version of what happens when you type a domain name into a browser and hit enter:
- The browser asks the DNS for the corresponding IP address.
- When the browser gets the address, it sends an HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) request to the website. (HTTP is an internet protocol that allows servers and clients, such as web browsers, to communicate.)
- A server for the website, or IP address, sends the browser the data needed to present the site on your laptop or smartphone.
During this process, there are five classes of HTTP messages, grouped according to the type of response and numbered accordingly, that may be sent:
- Informational responses (100 – 199). These indicated the response to a browser request is in the works.
- Successful responses (200 – 299). The request has been answered.
- Redirection messages (300 – 399). A URL redirect has sent both users and search engines to a different URL than the one they originally sought.
- Client error responses (400 – 499). There is problem with the request made by the client — the user or browser.
- Server error responses (500 – 599). The server cannot handle the request.
The most common problem that occurs, and the message that users most often see, is a 404 error. It means the domain name or URL can’t be located, usually because it doesn’t exist. Here are the common reasons for a “404 Not Found” response:
- The website’s owner or administrator deleted the page.
- The page was renamed but the links to it were not updated.
- The page is under construction, was never created or is temporarily unavailable due to maintenance or technical issues.
- The user’s network or firewall settings are blocking the page.
- The user does not have the clearance needed to access a restricted page.
Broken URLs and their subsequent 404 errors often occur when website content is removed, reorganized or renamed.
Website administrators can customize the appearance of 404 error pages to provide additional information to users, suggest navigation options, or display a search bar. Users also can try some basic techniques to correct the problem, such as:
- Refresh the page, which might fix a temporary issue.
- Check to see if you typed the URL incorrectly.
- Try accessing the URL from a different device. If that works, the problem might be in your browser cache and/or cookies. Clear them and see if that fixes the problem.
- Turn off your browser extensions. They might be interacting with cookies on the site you want. After turning them off, refresh the page to see if it works.
- You might be trying to upload data beyond the limit of the target website. Test this possibility by trying to send a much smaller file. If that works, you might have to compress the file to send it successfully.
How 404 errors impact SEO
When search engines like Google encounter 404 errors, they note that the content is not available. If a significant number of pages on a website result in 404 errors, it can hurt the SEO performance of the site. Search engines may interpret this as poor website maintenance or outdated content. It means that the content is less likely to rank well in search engine results.
Site administrators who handle 404 errors properly can help search engines avoid indexing duplicate or irrelevant content, contributing to better search rankings. They can use Google Search Console, Google Analytics or crawling software to 404 errors.
Troubleshooting through maintenance and cleanup
Regularly identifying and fixing broken URLs is part of website maintenance. It helps provide a positive user experience, prevents negative SEO consequences, and maintains accurate and up-to-date content.
To address broken URLs and mitigate “404 Not Found” errors, website administrators can implement strategies like setting up proper redirects (e.g., 301 redirects) for moved or renamed content, customizing informative 404 error pages, and regularly auditing and updating website links.
Problems with your DNS settings can cause HTTP errors, and you get a “DNS server not responding” message.
Sometimes, local DNS data sometimes becomes out-of-date or gets corrupted. Or, you might be using an out-dated browser. In this case, you need merely to try a different browser or update the one you are using. However, you might need to clear your DNS cache.
Duplicate content causing URL issues
Duplicate content poses a significant challenge in URL management and SEO, potentially leading to issues such as diluted search rankings and confusion for search engines in determining the most relevant content.
This problem often arises when identical or substantially similar content exists under different URLs, creating a dilemma for search engines in determining which version to prioritize.
To address duplicate content issues, website administrators can implement canonicalization techniques, such as using canonical tags, to specify the preferred URL version for indexing. Additionally, setting up 301 redirects from duplicate URLs to the canonical version consolidates the content signals and prevents search engines from indexing multiple versions.
Regularly auditing and resolving duplicate content issues is crucial for maintaining a healthy SEO profile and ensuring that search engines accurately rank and display the most relevant content.
Use URLs to Boost Your SEO Power
The power of URLs in the realm of SEO is often underestimated. As we’ve explored in our series, URLs are far more than mere web addresses — they’re critical tools in:
- Structuring a site
- Enhancing user experience
- Guiding search engine indexing
- Bolstering page authority
A functional, optimized URL’s role in SEO extends from the straightforwardness of site navigation to the complexities of link equity and keyword optimization. It’s all a part of the broader SEO puzzle.
If you have questions or concerns about the performance of your website and your ability to generate leads and convert customers, contact Rellify. Try our Article Intelligence application for 30 days — no risk and no charge. We combine human expertise and AI to accelerate and improve the quality of your content creation.