Updated January 11, 2023Reading Time: 3 minutes
Page Not Found
An often forgotten part of website design is your 404 page. A well-run business always has a plan b. Just like having a contingency plan for if your office has a power cut, you should have a plan for if a user visits part of your website that doesn’t exist anymore. Customizing your 404 is part of that plan.
What is a 404 Page?
The 404 page is a page that will be displayed in a web browser when a user tries to access a page on your website that no longer exists. So say you were running a Christmas sale and you used to have www.aabbcc.com/christmassale2016 and you didn’t set up a redirect to www.aabbcc.com/christmassale2017 then the 404 page will be shown. This is different to a DNS (when you’re whole website crashes). If you have a DNS then your server cannot provide a response. So it won’t be able to show anything at all for your website.
Should you Ever Have 404s?
In short; no. Ideally, you will create redirects to old URLs that are no longer being used. But in practice, you may miss one or two. This could be especially true if you migrate websites. Having many 404s will not directly impact your SEO performance (as long as you have migrated the content), but they will damage the usability of your website. Mainly because the user will be looking for something that isn’t there anymore and they won’t have you guiding them to the next best page.
Building your own 404 page is a bit like building a contents page, or an old-fashioned site-map. You need to help your user find what they’re looking for quickly and simply.
You’ve probably noticed now that websites with their own custom 404 pages often take a tongue in cheek approach with text like like “Oops, we just lost that page” or “Snap! Something went wrong there!”. As with anything, try to keep it consistent with your brand. If your running a bank humor might not be the best approach for your own 404 page.
Try and add an explanation. Nothing is more frustrating than not understanding where something has gone. Explain that the page no longer exists. This way users will know it isn’t a technical problem with your site. Add in some useful navigational links, above the fold, to help them get back on track.
Another thing you should consider adding is an in site search, that way the user can try again to find exactly what they were after.
I Still, Haven’t Found, What I’m Looking For
If you build your own custom 404 pages you’re essentially covering yourself for any future mistakes you might make. Get it done, then if you miss a redirect you don’t need to panic.
Have you got tips for building a great 404 page? We’d love to hear what you do to keep customers happy.