Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re not the owner of a website, you’re just a regular person browsing the web. You click on a link in search results and you’re brought to a templated-looking page that reads “Page cannot be found” (otherwise known as a 404 error). You immediately get frustrated, click the back button, and return to the search results.
Now let’s imagine that it’s your website in the search results with the dead link. That’s right, you just inadvertently created a bad user experience and lost a potential customer. Worse, Google and the other search engines saw that the user immediately bounced, and they’ve decided to drop your website further down on the search results list.
So, how do you stop all this bad stuff from happening? You create a custom 404 error page that is designed to look just like a page on your site with engaging content and useful links.
What Causes 404 Error Pages
A 404 error (“Page Not Found”) occurs when a page no longer exists on your website, or, in some cases, never existed. This could be a result of restructuring your website, renaming or deleting pages without a 301 redirect, or a user entering the URL with a typo. Basically, a 404 error page is returned when someone tries to access something from the server that does not exist.
How to Turn a 404 Error into a Positive Experience
While the ultimate goal is to avoid 404 errors altogether, you’ll want a backup plan just in case a few bad links slip through the cracks. That’s where a custom 404 page comes into play. The purpose is to turn an unfortunate mistake into a positive experience for the user, and give them a reason to stick around.
Here are our expert SEO tips for creating a user-friendly and SEO-friendly 404 error page for your website.
Design the page to look like any other page on your site. Your 404 error pages should use the same framework – heading, color scheme, fonts, logo, navigation and footer – as the rest of your site. This is particularly important for users who reach your 404 error page from an internal link on your website, since the obvious difference between your site and the default 404 error page can be startling and confusing.
Skip the technical jargon and showcase your brand’s personality. This is your chance to speak directly to your users, so don’t blow it by using a bunch of technical terms or blaming them for a typo. Simply acknowledge that the page that they are looking for can’t be found, and allow your company’s personality to shine through. If it’s in line with your brand, don’t be afraid to infuse a little humor.
Give users a reason to stay and continue browsing. To keep users on your site, offer them links back to your homepage, as well as other popular content on your site. Think of it like a paired down version of your sitemap, guiding visitors to where they might want go. That could mean linking to your services pages, your most-viewed blog posts, or your top-selling products.
Provide your contact information. To make it easy for users to reach you in the event that their search doesn’t turn up the results that they were hoping for, include a click-to-call link to your phone number with posted operating hours, as well as your contact form, or provide instructions for using your live chat feature.
Make them an offer that can’t refuse. You can even use the 404 error page to capture leads by offering users a chance to sign up for your email list, receive a free whitepaper, or subscribe to your YouTube channel. Some companies even offer a coupon or a discount on their error page.
You’ll likely need a good programmer to help you with these options, but the results will be worth the effort.
Include a search box on your error page. If your website has a search function, make sure you add a search box directly to the 404 error page to make it easy for users to continue browsing your site.
Customize the page content based on where the user had a problem. For instance, if the user searched for a real estate listing that is no longer available, show similar properties for sale in the same area and around the same listing price.
Need Help Creating a SEO-Friendly 404 Error Page?
Regardless of why a user ends up on your 404 error page, make sure that their experience is a positive one by creating custom content and links. If done right, you may not only keep users on your site, but you could potentially convert new visitors into customers!
Not sure if you have a custom 404 page, or how to create it? Need help maximizing your existing 404 page to promote your business and convert leads? The SEO strategists and web developers at Mannix Marketing can help. Contact us online, or give us a call at (518) 743-9424 to set up your free consultation.