Have you ever searched for information on the internet, and just when you think that you have found the perfect article that would answer all your questions, you suddenly find yourself on the dreaded 404 error page? Well then you can appreciate the importance that creating a custom 404 error page has in terms of ensuring users have a pleasant experience on your website.

The standard 404 error page that is returned holds no value, as it generally does not contain any information about your site. If the user does not click on the “back” button, you have lost them as a visitor and any conversion that positive experiences would have resulted in.

There are a number of ways in which a user can end up on this 404 page:

  • Clicking on a broken or out-of-date link from the SERP or a referring website
  • Misspelling the URL of the site in the address box
  • Clicking on an internal broken link within the website
  • Clicking on a link where the page has been deleted or no longer exists

The solution to ensuring that a user remains on your site is to create and use a custom 404 error page that can be displayed when a page is not found.  This custom page should include most of the following items so that a user can easily navigate back to a relevant page on the site:

  • An explanation that something has gone wrong
  • Link to the site map
  • Search box enabling the site search
  • Similar layout and appearance to the other pages on your site

You may also want to include a link to your most popular pages, or an interesting blog post, for example. Don’t however over complicate this page; these items are merely there to ensure that the user realises when something goes wrong, and to encourage them to continue their visit to your site.

From an SEO point of view, the use of a custom 404 error page will ensure that dead links do not penalise your website and impact your position on the search results pages. These “dead links”, now a custom 404 page, allows users and spiders to link back to your site so that they can continue their search/crawl. It is also important to realise that the server must always return an actual 404 HTTP status code when a missing page has been requested. This ensures that the error page is not indexed and therefore it will not appear in the search results.

The use of an interesting 404 page as opposed to the generic page layout of your site can also help in retaining the user. Designing, for example, a humorous page can assist in decreasing the frustration that a user may feel. Be careful though that your creativity doesn’t confuse the user. The content and tone should still be in line with what your company/brand represents.

There are almost always going to be cases where a user will request a non-existent page. The time and effort spent creating a 404 error page will undoubtedly be of benefit to both your users and it is sure to increase the effectiveness and navigation of your site.

4Ps isn’t just another SEO agency. To discuss how SEO and content are evolving together in order to keep pace with new developments in user interaction and analytics, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about data, marketing and user behaviour across all inbound channels. What could a 4Ps search marketing consultant do for your business?