As in all walks of life there will always be mistakes on the internet. Every once in a while someone might type your URL wrongly or you might forget to remove or change an old link and your visitors are going to land on a 404 error page. This particular page shows up when the server cannot find the requested page.
Marketers don’t pay so much attention to this page, as they wrongly believe that this is a tech issue. However, if this issue is allowed to fester it can have devastating effect on the performance of your site and thus affect your ROI.
So, why is this page so important and how do we address the problem?
Limit the damage
The need for 404 error page will never diminish even if you cleanup your site and remove all the bad links. People will continue to type your URL wrongly, especially if they are using a small smartphones with even smaller keyboards. Or other people that link to your site might make a mistake.
However, the most damning and embarrassing 404 errors is one which is prompted by your internal page. This is the type of mistake which is well within your control.
To see that this is not happening, use Webmasters Tools account or a 404 checker. Replace all bad internal links with appropriate ones.
How to locate 404 pages
There are several tools that you can use to find such pages. Some of them are Link Sleuth, Screaming Frog, or Google Webmaster Tools. However, the easiest tool is Check My Links from the Chrome store. It is a browser extension tool to help you identify broken internal links. Once identified you have to check the source of the broken link and this can be done using Google Webmaster Tools.
What role does SEO play in all this?
Most SEOs are tempted to use a 301 redirect to direct your visitors to the homepage instead of showing a 404 page. Although this is a safe option to retain the strength of your incoming links it is not always recommended. A 301 page should be used only when you get rid of a page on your site which was directing high quality links to your site. This will help search engines direct traffic directly to your homepage or an alternative page, if one exists.
Your role should not stop at redirecting the links to the homepage or alternative page. in fact you should actively get in touch with other site owners and request them to link correctly to your URL.
Having said this it is better that you direct visitors to a 404 page instead of redirecting them to the homepage as sometimes visitors find this very frustrating.
Create a good 404 page
Like any other page on your site a 404 page is editable. Make sure your 404 page has the following attributes:
- Content: Make sure the language on the error page is welcoming and polite. Politely ask the visitors to take the desired action.
- Appearance: Branding and appearance of the 404 page should be consistent with your other pages. If you neglect the appearance of the 404 page, visitors will be tempted to go back to Google results page and click something else.
- Help users: Guide your visitors on what action you want them to take. Either give alternative links, or options to search for the information elsewhere on your website.
You cannot avoid 404 pages. Someone somewhere is going to make a mistake and will be shown a 404 page no matter how careful you are. The best way forward is to check some great 404 pages and take inspiration from them.