In a perfect world, users would never encounter a 404 error page when accessing or otherwise navigating your website. Instead, they would be directed to the appropriate page after clicking a link. But no matter how hard you try to prevent it, some users will encounter this error, which is why it’s a good idea to optimize your site’s 404 page.
What is a 404 Error Page?
A 404 error page is the web page a visitor sees when attempting to access a URL that isn’t there. The visitor communicates with the server by telling it the URL he or she is trying to access. And if the URL doesn’t exist, the server responds by presenting the visitor with a 404 error page.
By default, most servers use generic 404 error pages consisting of nothing more than a message such as “Not Found: The requested URL [insert URL here] was not on this server.” While using a default error page shouldn’t cause any major issues, it doesn’t offer any value to visitors either. Optimizing your site’s error page, however, can help by keeping visitors on your site while strengthening your brand in the process.
Optimization Tips for 404 Error Pages
As explained by Search Engine Watch, 404 errors can be hard or soft, the latter of which should be avoided. Both hard and soft 404s indicate the requested page doesn’t exist. However, soft 404s use the 200 (OK) status code, telling search engines that it does exist. As a result, search engines will attempt to crawl and index the soft 404 pages, causing conflicts with SEO.
In addition to using hard 404s, you should also create a custom page for when your site’s visitors encounter this error. Adding your site’s template and header, for instance, can help reinforce your brand while encouraging visitors to stay on your site. Another idea is to add custom links to other popular pages on your site. When a visitor encounters your custom 404 page, he or she can click these links. You can even go one step further by adding a search tool, allowing visitors to search for specific pages from within the 404 page.
By using a custom 404 error page, you’ll present your site in a more professional and authoritative manner.