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Do You Really Need A Custom 404 Page?

Outdated, permanently moved, deleted web pages are increasingly cluttering search engine results. The link rot is more common than you think, it’s highly likely that Your website is infested with link rot as well.

As a Blogger it’s a source of great joy to see a consistent stream of new visitors hitting your site.

BUT, new site visitors can have a bad navigation experience, when they are greeted with the default ‘Page not found‘ message delivered by your webserver in response to a broken link on your site.

What’ll the site visitor do next?

Will they press the Browser’s back button and try to access another page?
Will they navigate away from your site never to be seen again?

It’s really up to you to control what happens on your site when a broken link is encountered by any site visitor.

Whatever happens, you’ve just blown up your first impression.

You really do not want your site visitor to quickly jump back to the search engine result page do you?

Such site visitor behaviour tells search engines that your website does not serve relevant, value add content, as a result for a particular keyword query made by the seeker.

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Here’s How Social Media Affects Your SEO

I think Dennis has published an information packed article on how Social Media impacts SERP ranks. “Here’s How Social Media Affects Your SEO” is really worth the read.

The result?

A drop in your site’s search engine result page rankings.

If you didn’t delete the page, then there is the possibility that the user mistyped the URL.
Here are a couple of possible causes that trigger the 404 Page not found server error:

  • You’ve deleted the page
  • The site visitor mistyped the URL
  • Your site‘s just been relaunched and some of its links are pointing to pages that do not exist

Whatever be the cause, you just cannot expect the site visitor to take automatic corrective action.

As site owner you are tasked with giving the site visitor a great user experience. So it’s up to you to control what your site visitor do when the experience, a 404 Page not found, server error.

In this Blog post I really want to help you create a really engaging, custom 404 page not found web server error page that increases the chance that the site visitor will stick around on your website rather than immediately bounce off right to your competitor’s site.

Here are the reasons why you need to put in the effort to create a customized 404 Page not found, webserver error page.

Customize The 404 Page Not Found Server Error Page? Why?

#1 – Increase The Number Of Pages Indexed By Search Engines

Create the customized 404 Page not found server error page to display

  1. A helpful message to the site visitor
  2. Explain what’s wrong in a sentence of two tops
  3. Then display several, neatly formatted links, to other pages on your site below
  4. Place an attractive visual on the customized, 404 Page not found, server error page

Search engine spiders that encounter your customized, 404 Page not found, server error page, will then cheerfully continue to index your site.

Site visitors will have the option of staying on your site by quickly and easily navigating away from the broken link(s) they encountered.

#2 – It’s Your Chance To Build A Consistent Brand Image

Human beings like consistency. Once you get familiar with a website, you subconsciously start trusting it.

Hence, the default 404 Page not found, server error page is a really poor site visitor experience.

When a site visitor encounters a broken link on your site, it’s important that they are served page that looks exactly like all the other pages of your site.  The look, feel and functionality of the 404 Page not found, server error page must not confuse the site visitor.

Your 404 Page not found error page should have the same look and feel i.e. page logo, header, color scheme, fonts used, navigation and footer as all other site pages, for consistency.

#3 – Reengage An Unhappy Site Visitor

Think about it for a moment, what if landed on a site seeking specific information and you were delivered the page as shown in diagram 1.

404pg_post_1
Diagram 1

How would you feel and re-act? Exactly.

That’s how any site visitor would feel when they encounter the default 404 Page not found, server error page on your website as well.

By customizing the 404 Page not found, server error page, you have the opportunity to re-engage your site visitor. Provide relevant information and/or a link back to your homepage or other pages.

This way you keep their attention. Hopefully they continue to stay on your site. Rather than add to your site’s Bounce Rate in Google analytics.

#4 – Show Your Business Personality

Whenever you show a decent, human personality, you connect better with your site visitors. This is a given.

Human decisions are often made in a split-seconds. Hence, the interaction of a site visitor with your website must make them feel good – especially when they encounter a site error.

Think of your customized 404 Page not found, server error page, as a chance to express your business personality AND make your site visitors feel good (rather than bad) thus strengthen your relationships with them.

How?  By having a bit of fun perhaps as shown in diagram 2.

404pg_post_2
Diagram 2

How To Be A Blogger People Pay Attention To

Read 3 things every Blogger must do to get more attention shared on my articles on How To Be A Blogger People Pay Attention To.

Human are emotional creatures. Hence, a customized 404 Page not found, server error page is an opportunity for you to make your site visitors feel a bit of emotion.  They’ll love you for it.

#5 – Increase Conversions

The general site visitor perception is that as site owner you are accepting / acknowledging your mistake, when they encounter a customized 404 page.

If the customized 404 page, uses a touch of humour to acknowledge an error condition and make the site visitor smile. Hopefully that will effectively counter the fact that the site visitor has encountered a dead link on your site.

It’s likelier they will sign up and do some business with you when the time is right rather than just abandon your site and hop across to your competitor’s.

While I accept this is a hypothesis, you can get conversions by placing an opt-in or offering a persuasive discount on your customized, 404 Page not found, server error page.

Take a look at the customized 404 Page not found, server error page, shown in diagram 3.

404pg_post_3
Diagram 3

This page with product recommendations led to increased purchases, new customer purchases, delivered a great add-to-cart rate, and increased average page views.
AND
(Let’s not forget) it’s a customized 404 Page not found, sever error page.

#6 – The Elements Of A Seductive 404 Page

Include a search bar for navigating your website.

Hey! You don’t want the visitor to abandon your website do you? The minimum you can do to help them continue browsing your website is by providing a search bar on your custom 404 page.

Link to popular posts or the homepage

It hurts to lose a site visitor.  A great way to try and retain them is by displaying links on your customized 404 page. Site visitors love to click links. If you serve your most popular articles the site visitor may stay back on your site to read them.

Use plain English to explain what went wrong

First the website serves your site visitor an error. Then the page displayed uses technical terms and codes to explain the situation as shown in diagram 4.   Hey! Do you even want the user on your website?

404pg_post_4
Diagram 4

Nobody (Yes, yes, not even your mum) cares about what went wrong with Your server.

Take a look at diagram 5, which would YOU have as an error page returned to you?

404pg_post_5
Diagram 5

Did you notice another aspect in the above 404 page shown in diagram 5?

It displays possible reasons why the error was encountered. This is a big help, because humans are eternally curious.  By explaining the why and proposing a solution the site visitor is often motivated to use your corrective action.

Allow the user to get in touch with you

It’s all about participation from your community. Offering a site visitor a chance to report the 404 error AND you empower them. They feel good about contributing to improvement of your website.

Simply display a small form on your website with a Submit button and let them communicate with you as shown in diagram 6.

404pg_post_6
Diagram 6

This 404 error page content is really nicely worded.  It would trigger the need to help in most site visitors.  The time they take to fill in the form and Submit it ensures that search engines do not register this as a Bounce. Nice little bonus that, don’t you think?

Offer a chance to download a free Ebook as shown in diagram 7.

404pg_post_7
Diagram 7

2 Methods To Create A Customized Error 404 Page

When setting up a customized 404 Page not found, server error page, you’ll need to tweak your .htaccess file. While this is really not rocket science, it’s often perceived as too technical for Bloggers to attempt on their own.

Here are two simple ways to create your customized 404 Page not found, server error page, without programming.

#1 – Use The 404 Page WordPress Plugin

If you are running your blog on WordPress there are many powerful plugins that can help you to easily implement a customized 404 Page not found, server error page. You can use the WordPress 404 Page plugin as shown in diagram 8.

404pg_post_8
Diagram 8

The plugin is simple to use. It does not create additional web server requests. It makes use of the WordPress 404 error page handling.  It’s also well documented.

#2 – Hire A Freelance Developer

WordPress plugins are really very helpful in the beginning stages of running your WordPress driven website.  Unfortunately as your site grows, your branding, and catering to your website audience may become more than what the WordPress plugins can deliver.

That’s when you have to invest in hiring talented developers from freelance websites like UpWork and Freelancer. Post a requirement with as many specific details as possible. You should specify a decent budget you will definitely attract high quality application developers.

Leaving technical implementation to professionals, does save you time and delivers peace of mind.

2 Tools To Monitor Broken Links And Prevent Error 404 Pages

Okay granted you can setup a fancy, customized, 404 Page not found, server error page. That said, its best to identify all broken links on a page and fix then so that this server error is never thrown.

Here are 2 tools than can be used to monitor all broken links on your webpages, which helps you identify and fix them.

#1 – Check My Links Chrome Extension

This is a great tool that can be used to identify all the broken links on a web page. The tools scans the webpage, lists the total number of links on the page, then finds and marks all broken links in red.

The drawback of using the Chrome extension is the check cannot be automated. One needs to manually go to each web page that you want to check for broken links and then click on the Chrome extension.

By the way, this Chrome extension is also a great tool to use for your – broken link building strategy.

What’s broken link building strategy – You ask?

It’s a strategy used to catch the attention of a popular Blogger, by steadily checking their webpages, identifying any broken links and finally drip feeding them this broken links to catch their attention.

Once you’ve got their attention, it’s relatively easier to ask for a back link or three from them.

#2 – Broken Link Checker WordPress Plugin

404pg_post_9a

If you like automation, you’ll love this WordPress plugin.

Once you set it up on your WordPress driven site, the plugin will automatically monitor all the links on the website within posts, pages, the blogroll, comments and more.

Here is a list of its nifty features:

  • Monitors links in your posts, pages, comments, the blogroll, and custom fields (optional)
  • Detects links that don’t work, missing images and redirects
  • Notifies you either via the Dashboard or by email
  • Makes broken links display differently in posts (optional)
  • Prevents search engines from following broken links (optional)
  • You can search and filter links by URL, anchor text and so on
  • Links can be edited directly from the plugin’s page, without manually updating each post
  • Highly configurable

Install this plugin and in the WordPress Admin dashboard, head over to Settings » Link Checker.

You will see the total number of broken links found and an option to choose the frequency of monitoring your website as shown in diagram 9.

404pg_post_9b
Diagram 9

For a more detailed list view of the broken links your website, in the WordPress admin dashboard go to Tools » Broken Links as shown in diagram 10.

404pg_post_10
Diagram 10

To Conclude

Broken links restrict the flow of link juice on your website. If you don’t monitor and clean them regularly, you will experience a drop in your search engine rankings.

It’s not uncommon for a largish website to have 10 new broken links every day. So if you can’t fix all the broken links on your website (which is inevitable), customized error 404 pages are your next best solution.

Setting up a fun/engaging 404 Page not found, server error page will also help you in retaining a site visitor who mistyped a URL or clicked on your outdated website page still visible in search engine result pages.  You can even convert this visitor into an email subscriber or offer them your products.

Please Leave Your Comments They Are A Huge Help

If you liked this Blog post, I’d love to read your comments. If you thought that this Blog post was not up to your expectations, I’d love to read your comments.

It’s your comments that helps me get better each day. Please share them in the comments section below.

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8 responses on "Do You Really Need A Custom 404 Page?"

  1. “Hey Ivan Sir,

    A 404 page is what a user sees when they try to reach a non-existent page on your site when users have clicked on a broken link, page has been deleted or mistyped URL. Be sure to add the important page links of your site so the visitors will know where to go. We should make your 404 page interesting and entertaining.

    It’s really a great post. I loved i, thanks for sharing.

    Have a nice day!

    • “Hey Pawan,

      Nice of you to drop by and comment. Appreciate it.

      Wow! Thanks for your kind words as well. It makes all the hard work put into creating a Blog post so – Worth It.

      Have a great weekend ahead Pawan.

      Thanks again.

  2. Hey Ivan,
    An interesting post you have shared here. To answer your question, yes, I really need a custom 404 page.

    Customizing 404 pages helps to re position the mind of the visitor to act on the word website. It helps decrease the bounce rate.

    Using appealing visuals and seductive/persuasive copies will go a long way to make this page effective all the time.

    Its best that WordPress users avail themselves of plugins capable of helping them redesign fonts, texts, colors, layouts, and images on the site.

    From this article, I love the look of the 404 page of Open Source University! The search bar is a key feature that can help increase traffic and conversion for the site!

    I left the above comment in kingged.com as well

    • Hey Sunday,

      Thanks heaps. Loved your comment.

      I’m glad you’re convinced that your need a custom 404 page.

      As you’ve rightly said, delivering a well crafted – Custom 4040 page – using a WordPress plugin is easy as pie.

      This does reduce site visitor bounce rates quite a bit as I’ve noticed on my Blog sites.

      I’m glad you like to look and feel of the OSV customized 404 Page. I wanted to inject some humour and offer my site visitor some alternatives as well.

      Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving your comment Sunday. It was real nice of you and deeply appreciated.

  3. Hi Ivan,

    No doubt about the high level of research you’ve put initial writing this post, honestly, is one of the best I have seen on this subject.

    To answer your headline question, Yes, webmasters need a customized 404 error page.

    I use a theme from StudioPress which have a plugin that add a simple code to the custom 404 page, this page is automatically populated with the latest post.

    And can be customize to your taste, so when a user land on it for whatever reasons you’ve mentioned above, they are created with the blog lastest 10 publications.

    And a search box in case they need something else.

    Thanks Ivan, this is such a nice read.

    • Hey Shansudeen,

      Thanks for your kind words. They are music to the ears of any Blogger.

      I’m glad that you found this Blog post content added some value to you.

      You said it, every website needs a customized 404 page not found error page.

      This says that the website owner really cares for the site visitors that hit their site. Make a site visitor feel that and half your traffic battle is won.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Shansudeen. Really appreciate this.

      Have a terrific weekend. Ciao.

  4. I so agree with this. You can’t always control a 404 error, but you can absolutely influence what happens next.

    Even better if 404 could trigger a chat window with a message in it: “Oops. That page doesn’t exist. Can I help you find something?” That would be amazing customer service.

    • Hi David, Its terrific to see you here on my Blog. Thanks so much for leaving your comment here.

      Yup I agree with what you’ve said. It’s a long shot, but maybe one day in the Internet world, service of the level that you’ve described will be available.

      The eCommerce sites are all feeling the pain of lower gross income, that may drive service in the direction you’ve mentioned.

      I hope I’ll see a lot more of you David. Don’t be a stranger. I always learn something from you.

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