While you may hope that 404 page errors will never happen, chances are they will. And they are not necessarily your fault either. All it takes is for someone to use a faulty link to your website. Maybe they cut and pasted it wrong. But no matter what the reason, 404 errors happen and it’s best that you are prepared for them. In this post, we’ll look at the best way to optimize your 404 page for a better user experience, Google Analytics tracking options, and how to prevent as many 404 errors as possible.
Why You Need a Custom 404 Page
Go to your website right now (or your client’s) and type in the following URL:
Unless you happen to have a page named 404, you should find out what your 404 error page looks like. Hopefully, it’s not something that looks like this.
The average Internet user may not know that a 404 error simply means the page they were looking for is missing. They might think your entire website is gone and go in search of a new website. This could lead to lost readers, subscribers, leads, and sales. All just because they tried to reach one little missing page.
This is why having a custom 404 page is a must for every website, whether it is a blog or a business.
Essential 404 Page Elements
There are two ways you can go with 404 error pages: creative or constructive. Or you can mix in a little of both like SEOagdget does with the 404 page shown below.
To decide what you should have on your 404 page, you can answer the following questions.
- What are the top 3 – 5 things visitors typically want when they come to your website? You can figure this out by looking at the top content pages on your website and the top organic search terms driving traffic to your website that aren’t not provided.
- What are the top 3 – 5 things you would want to direct any visitor to on your website? These are pages that lead to the most conversions on your website.
- How can you keep visitors coming back for me? These are the pages or links that will ensure the visitor connects with your brand.
If that doesn’t work for you, then you can stick with these safe bets of what you should link to you on the 404 page..
- Your online store / sales pages. Just assume that people were probably looking to buy from you. Maybe even throw in an offer for a free consultation or trial of your product / service.
- Your blog and RSS feed.If they weren’t there to buy, maybe they were there for the valuable content they heard about. Suggest that if they don’t have time to check out your blog today, they can always subscribe to your RSS feed to keep up with future articles.
- Your support area. Current customers who are looking for help will love this.
- Your contact page. Better yet, just add a contact form so people can just ask you about what they were looking for7yuy7.
- Your social links. Just in case they aren’t interested in sticking around your website, see if you can lure then into connecting with you on your top social networks – preferably the ones you are most active on like Facebook and Twitter.
In conjunction with your main menu bar, this should be enough information to keep visitors who meant to find your website there. Anything less and they might leave.
404 Page Analytics
There are lots of great tutorials on how to get Google Analytics to track your 404 page hits, so I won’t go into the lengthy details here. Instead, you can see the following.
- Tracking 404 Errors in Google Analytics – A modification to the _gaq.pus(['_trackPageview']); for your 404 page that allows you to see what URLs are attempting to be accessed and where those URLs are being linked to..
- Simple Way to Track 404 Error Pages with Google Analytics – The same code as in the above post, but this one is specifically for self-hosted WordPress users.
- Monitor 404 Backlinks Pages – A custom report (3rd one in the post) to track landing pages with a 404 error and their referral links.
These will help you see the latest pages on your website that cause a 404 error and the websites that referred them.
Preventing 404 Page Errors
So how do you prevent 404 page errors? First of all, recognize when missing pages may be created.
- When you redesign / restructure your website.
- When you change your permalink structure.
- When you change a blog post title after it’s been published.
Whenever you do these things, think about the links that might have changed and makes rue to set up a redirect for them in your .htaccess file. WordPress users can install the Redirection plugin to set up redirects within the WordPress dashboard.
You can also visit your Google Webmaster Tools and look under Health > Crawl Errors > Not Found to see what pages are currently causing the most 404 errors in rode of when they were last detected. You’ll want to redirect these pages immediately to transfer their link value to a page that is live on your website.
What other tips do you have for a successful 404 page? Please share your tips or your favorite 404 pages in the comments!