How To Optimize Your Website’s Error 404 Page

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Many factors help make your website a useful communication and marketing tool. One of those factors is to create an interesting and engaging error 404 page that can help increase the amount of time someone spends on your site.

SteveAnderson.com Error 404 Page

Optimizing your error 404 page is an often overlooked Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tool. When working on optimizing your site for search engines, it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming to remember each step necessary for on- and off-page SEO. Failure to optimize your error 404 page can lead to problems down the road.

What Is an Error 404 Page?

The Internet is very picky! If you don’t type in the website address exactly right, the site may send you to an error 404 page. An error 404 page is a standard website page that tells visitors that the server cannot locate the page or file they are looking for.

There are several reasons why someone coming to your site may land on an error 404 page:

  • They incorrectly typed in your URL.
  • They clicked on a broken link within your website.
  • They clicked on a broken backlink from someone else’s website that should lead to your site.
  • You’ve recently moved a page, but the old page is still in the search engine results pages.

Many times it’s not your fault visitors landed on an error page, but being able to communicate and direct them back to your website home page is a second chance to re-engage that visitor and prevent them from just clicking away.

What Does a Default Error 404 Page Look Like?

The default 404 page is a blank white HTML page containing a 404 error message indicating that the page you’re after can’t be found. It will say something like “your request was unable to communicate with the server,” “The requested URL… was not found on this server” or “HTTP error 404 – file or directory not found”.

The image above is an error 404 page I was recently directed to. Notice there is no navigation or links anywhere on this page that helps me find what I came to the site looking for.

When someone reaches an unoptimized error 404 page, they are already frustrated at not finding what they are looking for and will likely leave your site instead of making an effort to find what they came for. However, if your error 404 page succeeds in engaging your visitor, they will be much more likely to stay on your site.

While most websites will have a default error 404 page, there are some things you can do to modify your error 404 template.

If you are unfamiliar with designing web pages, this is something that you need to talk to your web designer about. If you are using WordPress for your site, most themes have an error 404 template that can be edited.

What to Add to Your Error 404 Page

Following are several ideas for what you can include on your 404 page so people will stay:

  • Let your web visitor know the page can’t be found and include friendly, cute, or funny instructions to help them find what they were looking for.
  • Put a link to your FAQ page.
  • Put a link to your sitemap.
  • Insert one of your most popular articles, in place of the error.
  • Insert your most recent article.
  • Include a search function, to allow the visitor to browse content on your website.

While typically overlooked and forgotten when thinking about your site’s on-page SEO, the error 404 page is often seen as the dead end where broken links, misdirected URLs, and mistyped search queries lead wayward site visitors. And like any dead end, most easily-frustrated Internet users can leave and go over to another site instead. But with a little bit of creativity and humor, you can fill your error pages with the right amount of site usability and increase your search engine optimization.

It is easy to see how your website handles the 404 page. Type in your web address with a page you know does not exist. (www.YourWebsite.com/test)

Are you happy with your error 404 page?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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