One of the aspects of a website that is rarely given any consideration is the 404 page. This page is displayed when something cannot be found on your website. It’s often just a headline that tells someone that whatever they were looking for did not exist. There might be a picture on the page. At best there might be a link back to the primary website.
Don’t ignore the value of this page. Although it’s volume is low overall compared to what the rest of your site is going to receive, it still needs to be build with these 404 page best practices to get the best possible results.
1. Take Off Any Advertising.
There should not be any advertising at all on your 404 page. Not only is it a big turnoff to someone who hits the page, but it is going to lower the quality scores of whatever campaign you’re trying to run. If you have universal advertising on your site, then look for ways that you can create exceptions to this rule to conform to the best practices. The complex scripts that are necessary for advertising can actually cause a server to crash.
In reality, there’s going to be very few impressions generated by advertising on this page as it is. The costs far outweigh any benefits that might be obtained.
2. Make Sure the Page Returns the Proper Code.
The 404 page should be sending out a status code that says the link is broken or that the page is not found. If the page is sending out a 200 status code, then the search engines might actually index the 404 page for the site. Make sure the automatic crawlers are receiving the right message or your optimization efforts could wind up taking a terrible hit.
3. Create a Smart 404 Page.
The goal of this page should be to offer a visitor a second chance to engage with your site. Tell them that their requested content isn’t available and then consider offering a series of links to your site’s most popular content to keep that visitor around. Design the 404 page to offer a consistent visual experience, but don’t include an external call to service. Your 404 page needs to be as light as possible.
4. Avoid Using the 301 Redirect Whenever Possible.
In terms of website strength, having a general blanket 301 redirect to a specific page on the site when a broken or non-existent link is requested provides the best outcome. The problem is that this isn’t usually what the visitor to the site wants. This is often done when high profile incoming links are giving the site some expertise equity so that the equity sticks around. It’s better to have incoming links adjust their link to a new page instead, so reach out and ask for changes.
5. Make it a Positive Experience.
There’s no getting around the fact that the 404 page appears when there’s some kind of mistake that has occurred. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the visitor’s mistake or it is a design issue. Work hard to make the experience fun in some way. When using Chrome and a site isn’t connected to the internet, clicking the dinosaur opens up a game where users can hop cacti plants with that dinosaur.
You could do something similar, although you don’t want people staying on your 404 page forever. A simple game of tic-tac-toe or a series of randomly generated jokes can turn the frowns of this page not found problem upside down. Give it some zest and you’ll stand out from the rest of the 404 pages that people have encountered over time.
6. Give People a Chance to Report the Page.
Maybe something broke when it wasn’t supposed to break. That’s knowledge that you need to know. Even with constant testing, it can be difficult to really find every 404 page that might crop up. When you include a place where people can report the broken link, you’ll give yourself an additional opportunity to fix an error you might have missed for awhile.
7. Be Creative With Your Words.
“You’ve reached a broken link or URL.” That’s informative, but it’s boring. “The Minions of Internet Anarchy have broken this link or URL.” That’s a little more interesting. Put your own spin onto it.
These 404 page best practices will help visitors continue to have a positive experience on your site. Implement them today and you might not see an increase in traffic, but you might see an improvement in your bounce rate.