There are few things more frustrating to a website owner than missing pages and broken links.
Not only is this an issue that negatively affects the user experience you provide, but identifying the common causes of 404 errors you’re getting and fixing the problem can be a chore that takes time away from growing your site and expanding your business.
If that’s the problem you’re facing right now, read on.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to check for 404 errors in WordPress, what to do about them, and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.
What is a 404 error in WordPress?
Before we start identifying the causes and solutions of your 404 errors, it helps to understand what we’re dealing with here.
In a nutshell, a 404 error is an HTTP status code that tells you that the resource being requested can’t be found on the server.
In other words, the page, post, or other file type you’re trying to access isn’t where it’s supposed to be, either because it’s been deleted, moved to another location on your server, or had its URL altered.
If you’ve ever encountered a 404 error on someone else’s website, you’ll know what a pain they are. Being unable to find what you wanted, you either endure a frustrating experience wading through navigation menus and conducting site searches to try and find it, or, more likely, you simply head back to your search engine of choice and try a different website.
Now, imagine if your visitors have the same experience. At best, they won’t be able to find what they want, which can be particularly problematic for you as a business owner if they want to purchase a product or service.
At worst, your 404 errors send your visitors into the waiting arms of your competitors, never to return.
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So, you can see how important it is to understand why 404 errors occur on your WordPress website to prevent them from having a severely detrimental impact on your business.
5 Common Causes of 404 Errors in WordPress
1. Mistyped URLS
One of the most common reasons why 404 errors occur is that the URL entered into the browser is incorrect.
Of course, this could just be simple human error. After all, who among us isn’t prone to the occasional typo?
However, it may have more to do with the way your permalinks are structured. Simply put, the longer and more complex your URLs are, the harder they are to remember and the greater the probability that they’ll be typed in wrong.
This is especially true if you’re using plain, numeric, or date-based permalinks.
Another probable cause of your WordPress 404 woes could be that you changed your permalink structure but didn’t update the link to your now-missing page.
So, after checking that a basic typo isn’t the problem, the next best solution is to log into WordPress and go to Settings – Permalinks.
Have a look at the type of permalink structure used by your WordPress and compare this to the installation.
If you’re getting a 404 error from a URL such as Yourwebsite.com/2023/04/post-name but your permalink structure is set to display URLs as Yourwebsite.com/post-name, there’s your problem.
Try the page again with the right permalink and it should work.
If your permalinks aren’t set to the Post Name structure, now’s a good time to make that happen. Combined with concise page slugs, this structure will provide you with straightforward, easy-to-remember URLs, making it one of the best ways to prevent 404 errors in the future.
See our guide to setting permalinks correctly for more help with this.
2. Deleted Pages
If you’re 100% confident that your URL is accurate but you’re still getting a 404 error, the next most likely cause is that the page has been deleted.
The quickest way to check if your page still exists is to log in to WordPress and look for it.
Depending on the type of content you published, open either Posts or Pages and use the search box to look for the page in question.
If it’s not there, you can assume it’s been deleted, in which case you’ll either need to restore the page or create a redirect so that the URL pointing to the missing page now points somewhere else.
3. Relocated Pages
If you’re sure there’s no possible way your page could be deleted, but it’s still not where it’s supposed to be, the most likely answer is that it’s been moved.
For example, it could be that the page was initially located at yourdomain.com/folder1/page-name, but is now at yourdomain.com/folder1/folder2/page-name.
If you’re wondering how to check for 404 errors caused by relocated pages, it’s as simple as doing a site search.
Head to Google and type in yourdomain.com: title of the missing page.
If a page still exists, it should appear in the search results. You can then open the page to find out where it sits on your server and either update any links to that page or use FTP to return it to its original location.
4. Plugin and Theme Conflicts
If you’re convinced that your page is exactly where it’s supposed to be and you’re using the correct URL but still aren’t having any look, your WordPress theme or plugins are at the root of the problem.
If they’re out-of-date, poorly coded, or conflict with other WordPress tools, you may experience unexpected 404 errors.
Fortunately, this is another issue that’s relatively quick and easy to solve.
Your first task is to check whether your WordPress theme is up to date.
One easy way to do this is to use a free theme testing tool like Theme Check. This runs thousands of tests on your theme and presents you with a list of errors and issues.
Another way is to check out your theme’s version number by going to Appearance – Themes and selecting your active theme. You can then compare this with the version number on the theme developer’s website. If the developer’s version number is higher than yours, it’s time for an update.
If everything’s up to date, try activating a different theme to see if that solves the problem.
If it doesn’t, your theme may not be the issue, so move on to your plugins.
B. Test Your Plugins
First, navigate to Plugins – Installed Plugins. If there are notifications that specific plugins require an update, tackle those first.
If that doesn’t fix it, a conflict with a single plugin may be causing the 404 error.
The easiest way to test this is to deactivate all your plugins and refresh your website.
If the page appears, you can be confident that the guilty culprit is somewhere in your plugins folder, but which one?
To find out, reinstall your plugins one at a time, refreshing the missing page after each one. If it reappears, you know that the plugin isn’t the problem. If it disappears again after you install the next plugin, that plugin is why your page isn’t being found. As such, it’s best to remove it from your setup and go with something else.
5. Server Errors
If all else fails, it may be that there’s nothing wrong with your website, to begin with, and it’s an issue with your web hosting server.
If your server is overloaded with requests, it simply doesn’t have the resources available to handle them, resulting in 404 errors. If that’s the case, it may be time to find a new hosting provider.
Alternatively, there’s a problem with how your server is set up, either because the domain isn’t pointing to the correct location, your .htaccess file is missing or broken, or your file permissions are misconfigured.
You can find your .htaccess file in your hosting platform’s file manager or by connecting to your site via FTP and replacing it or fixing it as necessary.
You can also use our comprehensive guide on how to troubleshoot 404 errors to help you tackle technical problems relating to file permissions and domain configurations.
How to Prevent 404 Errors in WordPress
Learning how to check for 404 errors in WordPress will prove invaluable for getting to the root cause of existing problems and implementing a solution, but there are plenty of things you can do to help prevent them from happening in the first place.
Taking the extra time to carry out the following suggestions now will help you avoid spending more time later troubleshooting broken permalinks or correcting other errors, not to mention avoiding the negative impact on your traffic, user experience, and sales caused by missing pages.
1. Use short, simple URLs.
2. Use reputable broken link checker tools like Link Whisper and Infinite Broken Link Checker to regularly scan for 404 errors so that you can remedy them before they affect your users. Site auditing tools on platforms such as Semrush, Ahrefs, and Google Search Console can also be used for this purpose.
3. Learn how to create a custom 404 page with a search feature and links to relevant content so that if an error does slip through the net, users can still find what they want from your site.
4. Be sure to set up redirects and/or update your links when moving or deleting content
5. Keep your themes and software up to date.
6. Upgrade your hosting package or switch to a new provider if your server is the cause of your 404 errors.
Identifying the Causes of 404 Errors in WordPress: Key Takeaways
If you’ve read this entire guide, you now know that most WordPress 404 errors are caused by incorrect permalinks, deleted pages, or pages that have been moved to a new location. You also know the best ways to check which one of these issues is affecting your site, and a few quick and simple ways to tackle the problem.
If you’ve followed our suggestions here and they didn’t work for you, read how to fix broken links in WordPress for more solutions.
We also discussed how plugin and theme conflicts or server errors could be the reason users can’t access content on your website and what to do about them. If it’s your server that’s the issue, we recommend checking out our guide to parenting server issues that cause 404 errors in WordPress for a more in-depth look at this problem and how to solve it once and for all.