Have you ever been frustrated by trying to visit a particular web page and instead of being greeted with the content you are looking for you get a 404 page instead?

Messages such as “Page Not Found” or “Requested URL not Found” can be extremely frustrating in your quest for a particular piece of information.

Rather than frustrate your own website visitors you can design a custom 404 Error Page that is useful in getting them back on the right path.

What is a 404 Error?

A 404 error is presented to visitors when the page they are trying to reach is non-existent on your website. This could be because they clicked on a broken hyperlink or the web page no longer exists or that they mistyped the URL.

These ‘404 Pages’ get their names because webservers send an HTTP status code of 404 when a user requests to see a page that is missing. Most webservers have standard 404 page errors to return when a missing page is requested. Unfortunately, these standard 404 pages provide little information to the user other than that the page they want is not there.

As a result, most users just click away and leave your site in search of another site that does offer the information they are looking for. Rather than just let your visitors leave you can turn your 404 page into a helpful page that directs your traffic and helps them find what they are looking for on your site.

How to Design a Custom 404 Page

Here are seven tips for designing a useful custom 404 error page:

  1. Tell visitors clearly that the page they are looking for can’t be found.
  2. Use language that is friendly, inviting and in line with the tone of the rest of your web page content and consistent with your branding image.
  3. Make sure the 404 page has the same look and feel – including all main navigation – as the rest of your website. This makes the visitor feel as if they are still on your website and makes them more likely to stick around.
  4. Add helpful links to your most popular pages, articles or posts as well as a link back to your home page to guide the visitor where to go next and to reduce the likelihood of the leaving.
  5. Insert an Enhanced 404 widget to embed a search box on the page to allow visitors to search for the information they need in case they do not see what they are looking for in your list of helpful links and navigation.
  6. Provide visitors with a way of reporting a broken link to help keep your 404 pages to a minimum. This also empowers the user to give feedback and to feel as if their problem of not being able to access a page is being addressed.
  7. Exclude your 404 page from Google search results regardless of how nice it looks.

Dealing with 404 Pages in the Search Engines

As mentioned, you will want to keep your 404 pages from being indexed by Google and all other search engines. To do this, set your webserver to return an actual 404 HTTP status code when a visitor tries to reach a missing or broken page.

There are free programs such as WebBug.exe that are useful for showing you your HTTP referrers.

404 Pages for SEO

We recommend to all of our search engine optimization clients that they install a customized 404 page for the benefit of their user. Once this is complete we also recommend performing a HTTP/1.1 referrer check to ensure it has the proper HTTP status code of 404.

For help installing a 404 Error Page that will reduce the chances of your users not visiting your website pages at all, please contact 1st on the List Promotion:

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