Occasionally you stumble across a page, that no longer exists, has moved or been renamed. When the server can’t find the Web page it’s looking for, our browser displays this error, this is quite a common error on the internet, and it’s code – 404.
Once you’ve missed your intended destination, either thought a broken link, or a typo in the page, you’ll hopefully get a helpful error message. However, by default these messages aren’t helpful – I mean, you are looking for the page, not for the reason you can’t find the page, duh!
404 Best Practices
Well, there’s good news! – You can serve server error messages just the way you display any other page. It’s not only a more professional way to deal with errors, but is also extremely useful for keeping users on your website (good user experience), no-one likes getting lost with no way out.
Unfortunately, most websites do not provide useful error messages, but it’s time to change that. Below are several key factors for successful 404 error pages.
1. It should still look like your website
For the most part, stick to your websites visual style so visitors know they are still on your website, it helps ease the sense of not ending up where you expected to be. This is also an opportunity to use aspects of your brand.
2. Explain what can be done from here
Communicate with your users, after landing on a 404, or any error page, the user wants to know why they ended up in the wrong place, where they can go from here and how to solve this problem.
3. Let them search
It’s possible the page still exists, it’s just the URL that has changed or it was incorrectly typed somewhere. This gives the user the opportunity to search for what they were trying view before they give up and leave your site.
4. Give browsers options
Maybe the page isn’t broken, it just doesn’t exist any more. In addition to search, you should list commonly visited or popular pages and articles on your site, if possible also offer an overview of potentially related articles or pages.
5. Provide alternatives for navigation
Different users browse websites in a variety of ways, it’s a good idea to keep this in mind by letting the user decide how to navigate.
6. Be user-friendly & keep it simple
Keep the written text and technical jargon on a 404 page to a minimum, most users will not read everything and will scan the content for something related to what they are looking for.
- Don’t provide too many options.
- Don’t provide too little options.
- Don’t use complicated words or jargon
7. 404 Reporting
It’s not the user’s responsibility to let you know if you have broken pages or dead links on your website, so it’s a good idea to set up 404 reporting so you can be notified when something goes awry. You can do this by tracking 404s in RankMath’s 404 monitor, checking out your Google Analytics data, or reviewing your webmaster tool 404 reports.
It’s important to address these errors by finding out the cause of the error and, if necessary, redirecting users to the relevant page where possible. This helps improve the user experience and also ensures that search engines can properly index your content
Additional 404 Page Ideas
Use interesting or create visual elements
404 pages don’t need to be serious, or boring, spice it up with something creative, something different.
Nobody is actively trying to land on your 404. Most likely they came from a bad link and aren’t very happy about it, so this is an opportunity to let your users know you’re sorry, it also makes it feel more personal.
Even serious sites can get away with a little humour on the 404 page. This is definitely a good opportunity to let loose and do something entertaining.
By implementing these best practices, you can ensure that 404 errors are handled effectively. This will improve your overall user experience, maintain your SEO performance, and allow website visitors to find what they were looking for.