Share this:

That’s a 404 error which means the page does not exist

Try the search box at the top of this page, the menu above, or return to the home page.

If you clicked on a link that brought you to this page, please let me know where you found the link and I will ask to have it amended or removed.

Why your site needs a 404 page like this

A 404 error, also known as a 404 Not Found error, refers to an HTTP status code that means a particular web page cannot be found on the server. 404 errors typically occur when someone tries to follow a broken link or guesses an incorrect URL for a page that doesn’t exist on the website. While frustrating for users, 404 errors are an inevitable part of operating a website. Here’s a deeper look at what causes 404s and why having a customized 404 page is important:

What Triggers a 404 Error?

There are a few common triggers for a 404 error:

  • Broken external links – Another site linking to your content gets the URL wrong or the page gets moved without redirecting the link.
  • Broken internal links – An old URL gets linked within your site content but that page no longer exists. This is very common after migrating or redesigning a website.
  • Incorrect user entry – A user manually types the wrong URL or incorrectly clicks a link. Fat fingering and mistakes happen.
  • Removed pages – Content gets deleted or consolidated but inbound links were not properly redirected.
  • Custom campaign URLs – Special landing pages get set up then retired. The URL lives on but not the page.
  • Hidden pages – Pages made intentionally hard to find like cancellation flows still get discovered.
  • Increased traffic – More site visitors increase the odds of incorrect URLs getting accessed.

The end result is the user ends up at a URL that cannot be mapped to an existing web page. The server has no choice but to return a 404 status in response.

404 Page Not Found
404 page not found – every site needs a 404 page
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

The Consequences of 404s

While 404s are unavoidable, they create a poor user experience and can harm SEO if left unchecked:

  • Frustrated users – Landings on error pages often lead to bounces and hurt conversions.
  • Bad first impressions – 404s look unprofessional and reflect poorly on the brand.
  • Higher bounce rates – Data shows substantially higher bounce rates for URLs resulting in 404 compared to 200 status codes.
  • Loss of link equity – Inbound links to missing pages dilute your site’s link authority, hurting SEO.
  • Indexing issues – If crawl budget is wasted on 404s, pages you want indexed may get overlooked.
  • Penalization risks – While unintentional 404s are forgiven, intentional misuse can get sites penalized.

The Role of a 404 Page

A customized 404 error page serves multiple purposes:

  • Minimizes frustration – A proper 404 page with navigation still provides a good site experience.
  • Maintains brand – Matches the look and feel that drew visitors rather than a harsh, generic server page.
  • Provides helpful information – Many 404 pages suggest site content the user may have been trying to find or offer a search box.
  • Enables troubleshooting – Your own broken links causing 404s can be identified by analyzing referral logs and tweaked.
  • Allows manual redirects – For high-value pages that get frequently requested, manual redirects can be implemented from the 404 to a relevant replacement.
  • Reduces bounce rates – Some 404 visitors will choose to navigate elsewhere on the site instead of immediately leaving if presented options.
  • Signals to search engines – A properly coded 404 page correctly conveys the status so crawler bots can note the URL as a dead end.

Without a 404 page, the user will simply get the default server or browser error page. Having a customized page greatly improves the experience while also allowing the opportunity to recover the visitor.

Best Practices for 404 Pages

Follow these guidelines to ensure your 404 page is fully leveraged:

  • Match your brand – Use colors, logos, and navigation to match the rest of the site design.
  • Provide helpful content – Have an eye-catching unique title, standard body copy, and useful menu links.
  • Include a search box – Allow visitors to find what they need with site search.
  • Maintain responsive design – Ensure the page adapts across all devices.
  • Set the proper 404 status code – Explicitly setting the code conveys the status to bots.
  • Provide feedback options – Have a way for users to report dead links or bugs encountered.
  • Monitor 404 errors – Use log analysis to identify widespread issues causing 404s.
  • Don’t customize too much – Overly promotional or distracting 404 pages may get penalized.

Taking the time to properly handle 404 errors through a customized page is an important website maintenance task that benefits both users and search engines. Don’t ignore those dead ends!

Share this: