In this guide we will explain what 404 error pages are, why it’s wise to have them on your site and what they should include.
What is a 404 error page?
A 404 error is a website landing page that tells visitors the webpage they want is not available or doesn’t exist. To get to a 404 error page, the visitor will have either used a broken link from another site, or typed in a website URL (Uniform Resource Locator) that doesn’t exist.
To get a bit more technical, a 404 error page is an HTTP status code that tells the user that the website they are trying to access cannot be found on the server. The server can be reached, but the page the user is trying to access is not there.
An HTTP 404 error can be displayed in many ways such as 404 Not Found, HTTP 404, Error 404 and so on. They basically all mean the same thing.
Why do you need 404 error pages?
The main purpose of a 404 error page is to mitigate the visitor’s frustration of landing on an error page, and to redirect the visitor to somewhere you would like them to go on your site. If you don’t have an error page, visitors will probably navigate away.
Your error page interacts with the visitor and gives them relevant information to guide them. Without a 404 error page, you are unable to provide an adequate response as to why the URL is not available. This sends negative signals to Google that will adversely affect your ranking.
What causes a 404 error?
- There are several reasons why users might come across a 404 Error.
- The page has been moved to a different URL and the server hasn’t been given its new location
- The page has been deleted from the website, either accidentally or as part of a clean-up
- User error. The URL has been typed incorrectly
- The domain name no longer exists because it has expired or been moved to a different domain
- Server error. The server that hosts your website is not running or there is a broken connection.
How do 404 errors cause problems for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)?
- Firstly, of course, there is the issue of visitor experience. Hitting 404 error pages causes frustration and you may lose visitors from your site completely.
- From an SEO perspective, if a third party website directs visitors to a broken link on your website, you miss out on ranking signals. This is because those inbound links that are normally good for your SEO don’t fully pass through to your domain.
- You also run the risk of search bots not crawling your important pages because the 404 errors have caused them issues.
How are customised 404 error pages good for SEO?
- Considering, then, the negative impact of 404 errors, we’ll now explore how having customised 404 error pages on your website is good for damage limitation.
- Customised error pages are more effective than generic error pages that offer a poor user experience. A generic 404 error page will simply tell the visitor that their destination URL is not available. That’s it.
- By customising your error page with your website header, colour scheme, fonts, logo and navigation, your visitor will know that they are still on your website. Generic 404 error pages confuse people into thinking they have come out of your website so they close the window or navigate away.
- You can use your custom 404 error page to index your priority pages. Inbound links on your 404 error page will encourage web crawlers to crawl it frequently and find the pages you want to have indexed.
- A custom 404 page can be used to connect with visitors through humour, games and engaging visuals. This can instantly transform the user experience from that of a frustrated visitor to an amused and intrigued visitor who wants to find out more about your brand.
- Think of your 404 error page as a potential sales tool. It can be customised to promote products or services, provide downloads, offer discounts and so on.
What to put into a custom 404 error page
- Your custom 404 error page should include the following:
- A light-hearted message that explains to the visitor why they have landed on that page. The message should be clear and simple.
- A search box so that they can find what they’re looking for. This will discourage them from navigating away from your site
- Links to other areas of the site. These should include your home page along with perhaps your most popular blog pages, best selling products pages, an HTML sitemap and wherever else you feel is appropriate.
- You should also consider offering the opportunity for visitors to report a broken link or contact form.
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Breeze Development is a digital marketing company based in the northwest. If you would like a no-obligation chat about an existing or new website, please arrange a free digital marketing consultation.