The 404 page is a nuisance for both site owners and visitors. Visitors type in URLs or click links to expect to land on a specific page. Instead, they see this…
It can be frustrating, but that’s part of the internet. There will be mistakes and errors.
It doesn’t always have to be this way. You can make your website’s error page, also known as Page Not Found or 404 error, a positive experience for visitors.
Let’s first cover the basics.
What is a “404” error?
When your server cannot find the page you are trying to display, a 404 page is displayed. This error is also called a Page Not Found error. It occurs when a page on a live website is not found. If the whole website was down, an error message would be displayed.
4o4 pages can be displayed when a person mistypes a website address or if a page is taken down and a redirect has not been established.
What is the point?
A 404 error page can be a good thing. It lets users know that the search they are trying to perform is impossible.
While a 404 page shouldn’t necessarily be considered a problem, it should not be caused by internal links. This means that any link to another page on your website should point to the actual page and not an error code “page not found”.
Screaming Frog can scan your entire site to make sure no internal links are rendering a page with a 404 error. To quickly scan the page you are currently on, you can use the Chrome extension, Check My Links. You can also check your Search Console report if you’re specifically searching for Googlebot 404s.
Even if all your ducks are in order when it comes to linking internal pages, website visitors can still be human. You may make a mistake in your URL and it will show up on your 404 page. It is possible that other sites linking to your site could link to an old page without a redirect or type the URL incorrectly, which can also result in a 404 error.
It is important that the page clearly communicates the error and offers a positive user experience. (more details in a moment).
When to redirect vs. When to 404
As with any decision on your website, implementing a redirect (when you send users to a new page if they enter an old URL) is not always straightforward. All it comes down to user experience.
Let’s suppose you have a page with high search engine rankings and tons of links. You decide to take it down for some reason. You would probably create a redirect to something like this and contact the external linkers in order to have the links replaced by the new content.
A 404 page is better in other situations because it clearly indicates that the information they are expecting doesn’t exist. If you expected to land on a blog about the best large dog toys, but instead end up on the product page for the brand, you might be confused, and even frustrated.
Best Practices for 404 Pages
After we have covered the basics let’s get into some best practices for 404 pages that you can use on your site.
Explain What’s Going On
Are you familiar with technical jargon such as “Internal server errors” or “File/directory not found”?
It’s frustrating, isn’t it?
You shouldn’t make the same mistake with your 404 page. Although error pages often include standard 404 messages like “page not found” and “there’s been a problem”, you should make sure that the page’s copy is clear of technical website jargon.
Many searchers don’t know what a “404 error” is. This means that it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on when they reach the error page.
Be consistent with your brand
The majority of 404 pages are not beautiful. Your page does not have to be a masterpiece, but it should match your overall website design.
Make sure the page has some branding. It is also important to ensure that all other elements (such as photos, colors and fonts) are consistent with your site’s colour palette.
Keep the copy of the page warm and inviting. Your copy shouldn’t make it difficult to find the page. The copy should match your overall style (e.g. If you are cheeky on your website, make it cheeky here.
Give them a place to go
You don’t want anyone to hit the back button when they arrive at your 404 page. This happens all the time.
Why? Because there is nowhere else! Bank of America has made this mistake. You can either reload the page, or go back to where you were before it.
This is a trap! You should make sure that your 404 page encourages users to visit other parts of your site. It is a good practice to include a link to your homepage so that users can navigate to the beginning of your site. A search bar can be useful to allow users to search for what they are looking for after they arrive at your site.
Don’t Get Overwhelmed
It is important to allow users to choose where they want to go from your page 404. However, this does not mean that you should just dump all the links on them.
Limit the number of links to your 404 page to just a few, such as your homepage or contact page, in order for it provide a great user experience. No matter what links you use, ensure that you include the homepage to help users who don’t know what they are looking for.
A great 404 page can change the way a visitor feels about their entire experience with you. Your page can make a visitor happy and relieve their frustrations.
This is possible by adding humor to it. LEGO has created this clever 404 page that uses Legos to illustrate the error.
Remember that your page must reflect your brand, no matter what the error is. You might not want to joke on your 404 page if you are an attorney. However, this does not mean that you shouldn’t be creative. Chase is a great example.
They are able to add a bit of creativity to their copy, while keeping it professional.
Additional Inspiration for 404 Pages
Are you looking for inspiration for your 404 page design? These are just a few of the many things we love about 404 pages:
Bloomberg’s 404 page animated a businessman dismantling his computer, and then setting it ablaze. This error page is worth landing on because of its clever animation and humor.
To create a great 404 page, you don’t need to be an artist. Sometimes simplicity is better. LinkedIn’s is simple and we love it. A nice touch is the moving telescope.
NPR does an excellent job of providing the right amount of options for the next step. They also add a little humor to their stories about lost people, places and things. You get bonus points for reporting a page as missing by adding a location. This is a great way for them to account for user errors.
Chargebacks911 made their 404 page interactive and entertaining. You can play an 80’s-style retro game. This is a great way to create a brand voice and entertain users… and build links.
Conclusion and Next Steps
You can always expect someone to get a 404 error from your website. It’s up to them to make it a positive experience.
Your 404 page can change the user’s experience. This page is a great opportunity to turn a frustrated user into a fan of you business.
A good 404 page should at least explain the error and why it may be occurring. It also gives visitors a way to interact with the rest of your website.
You can take your page to the next level by adding some personality from your brand. Use humor and creativity when appropriate. A good 404 page can make someone a loyal customer or brand advocate.
Also, make sure you look into the possibility of reclaiming inbound links to 404 page pages. This can lead to the fastest SEO win.
*hint: You can also use 404s from other websites to your content and SEO benefit.