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How can you create an SEO Optimized Custom 404 Page for better retention

What is 404 Page?
Source: https://ubiq.co/tech-blog/how-to-create-custom-404-page-in-apache/

What is a 404 Page?

A 404 page, or error page, is the content a user sees when they try to reach a non-existent page on our website. It’s the page your server displays when it can't find the URL requested by the user.

A 404 page can be tackled by redirecting it to a relevant URL or the homepage. Redirection to a relevant URL is the best thing to do but, what if there are no URLs that the 404 page can be redirected to? Now most websites would tackle this situation by redirecting the 404 pages to the homepage. This might look like a good solution, but it can result in a bad user experience for a couple of reasons:

  1. Users might feel confused. They might wonder how they ended up on the homepage when they clicked for something else.
  2. Users might not be able to get the information they wanted by clicking the Page URL.
  3. Users end up on a completely irrelevant page that hampers their search intent.

John Mueller in one of his explanations said that “The 301 redirect to the homepage probably isn’t helping that much for search because we will see that as a soft 404. So, we will see that all these pages disappeared, and they are now pointing at the homepage, so we assume that those pages just don’t exist anymore & we will drop them from our index.”

Why should you Customize your 404 page?

Why should you Customize your 404 page?

404 errors can be frustrating for users, so the main purpose of a custom 404 page is to turn the potential negative user experience of encountering an error into a positive one.

Now the server’s default 404 pages are generally not optimized to provide the best user experience. They might be unbranded & could be bland with a straightforward message saying, “An error occurred”. The user might drop down from the website when they see this message as there is nothing else on the page that the user can interact with, impacting your retention rate & bounce rate.

Imagine you go to a website & click on a URL & you see this:

404 - The requested page was not found

Frustrating right? Also, you cannot do much but go back to the SERP & look for some other website for the information you wanted.

Now Imagine something like this display when you encounter a 404 Page:

This page is on vacation

Interesting right, now you have the option to click on the relevant link & continue your search on the same website plus you gained the user’s attention with the catchy phrase. This helps to retain the user on the website & improves user experience.

When to Use a Custom 404 Page?

A custom 404 Page can be used in the following circumstances:

  1. Misspelled URLs: Let’s say a user wanted to land on a page with the URL “example.com/custom-404-page-examples” but instead they type in “example.com/custo-404-pag-examples”. This is a perfect situation where you can control the Custom 404 page they land on & if that page keeps them on your website, you can still retain that traffic because they can still find what they need.
  2. URL Migration: Let’s say you changed the URL for a Page & forgot to add a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new one. Anyone searching for that URL or clicking on a previous link to it will land on a 404 page. A custom 404 page will ensure what they see when they get there is in your best interest.
  3. Removing Old Content: It’s common to delete old, irrelevant, and/or underperforming content from your website, but what if there were links to that content somewhere on the internet and one of those links happened to be the only way a user would find you? A custom 404 page displayed at this time would help to retain the user on the website & help them to navigate to relevant information that they want.

We looked at the situations where the Custom 404 page can be your savior, but now let’s look at some situations where the Custom 404 page might not be the best option.

Custom 404 pages help your users who end up visiting a broken page to get the best experience possible & could also retain them on your website. They can also help Google move on to other pages on your site via your links. However, there is one thing your 404 page will not do & that is “Link Juice”. They cannot pass link juice because Google doesn't index pages that return a 404 status (which your 404 page should do). That means they aren’t assigning any of the values passed by links that point to pages with 404 status codes.

So, when not to use your custom 404 Page?

For the pages that fall under any of the below categories you should focus on redirection to a relevant page:

  • Pages that have very important backlinks or external outgoing links or lots of links
  • Pages that receive a lot of traffic or a substantive share of your website's total traffic
  • Pages that have an obvious URL that the user/linker is trying to reach

Tip: Replace pages that get a lot of links, visitors, or conversions to preserve SEO value instead of relying on redirects.

Page not found
Source: https://www.coengoedegebure.com/ghost-custom-404-error-page/

Best Practices for Creating an SEO-Friendly Custom 404 Page?

The fact that 404 errors are nearly unavoidable is as solid as a mountain. So, what we can focus on is to make the user experience better when they encounter a 404 page. The best thing to do is to have a custom 404 page that is served with proper information, links, a search bar & support segment.

Below are the things that will help you to have an optimized Custom 404 page:

  1. Add messaging and calls to action on the page: Catchy phrases can help gain the attention of users & keep them on the page where you have placed the relevant links.
  2. Add links to help the user navigate back to a useful part of the site: Having relevant page links on the page will help retain the user on the website.
  3. Add links to help the user convert: This is useful for e-commerce websites where if a product page is 404 then related products can be shown on the 404 page that the user might be interested in.
  4. Add search functionality: This helps the user to search for the relevant information they are looking for.
  5. Add a feature to report broken links: This will help you address the situation where a useful link is showing 404 & you miss it.
  6. Support feature: Adding a support segment with the help center contact information can help with building user trust & experience.
  7. Mobile Test: Ensure the 404 page is consistent for desktop & mobile

Below are a few examples where the Custom 404 page has been used the best:









Steve Lambert:

Steve Lambert

So, Is the Custom 404 Page Worth the Effort?

As we discussed earlier 404 errors are nearly unavoidable, but the best plan of action is to use your 404 page to your advantage by giving users access to the pages that can help them navigate to relevant information, reinforcing your brand & being honest. These things are achievable with a Custom 404-page implementation & can directly impact your site’s user experience, retention rate & bounce rate.