December 13, 2013 by Roman Ožana

Make the Best of It: Optimizing Your 404 Page

While you and your team work hard to make sure that every link leads to a page on your website, chances are that every once in awhile visitors will be faced with a 404 error page.

Hey, it happens.

No matter what the reason, it’s best to make sure you are prepared for them. In this post, we’ll review a few techniques to optimize and improve your 404 error pages for a better user experience.

A quick review of 404 pages

Here’s a quick rundown of the most common reasons why visitors land on 404 pages for anyone who needs a quick refresher.

  • A user is misspelling a URL when typing it in manually to their browser
  • An existing link is misspelled either on your own website or someone else’s
  • Broken links (the page no longer exists)
  • A redirection error

What’s the point of optimizing my 404 page?

Most people will leave your site after they land on your 404 page. It’s harsh, but true. The average internet user these days is spoiled. They’re used to finding what they want when they’re browsing online, so when they don’t find what they’re looking for – they move on. Fast.

Even though errors are bound to occur sometimes, it’s important to take the time to optimize your page to help frustrated visitors find what they’re looking for and avoid losing traffic.

That’s why it’s important to take the necessary steps to decrease the chances of someone giving up and moving on to the next site.

Prevention is always the first step

Before you optimize, you should always try to do everything you can to avoid 404 page errors.

First, make sure you know times when a missing page could be created.

  1. Permalink structure is changed
  2. Redesign or restructuring of your website
  3. Changing a post title on a blog after it’s already been published

You should also check you’ve typed in all your links correctly and regularly test your website for broken links using a tool like Testomato or Google Webmaster Tools. Tools like these can help you locate errors before any real visitors find them.

If you have a lot of traffic on your 404 page, find out where it’s coming from by tracking it in Google Analytics. Go over what steps people took to reach your 404 and what sources might have broken links to your website.

For more information about tracking your 404 page hits, check out the following:

Monitoring & Analyzing Error Pages (404s) Using Analytics

How To Track 404 Errors in Google Analytics

How to optimize your 404 page

Before you start getting too fancy with your 404 pages, you should consider what type of website you’re running and the the type of traffic you’re hoping to generate.

Don’t add insult to injury and confuse visitors even more by adding a complicated 404 page. As always, our team supports keeping things simple.

However, here is a short list of must-haves for 404 pages (depending on what type of website you have):

  • A jargon-free, friendly message that the page they were looking for cannot be found. Something other than “Page Not Found” makes a big difference and helps people engage with your website even though they haven’t reached what they were originally looking for.
  • Links back to your homepage and/or other pages that might be useful. It’s the best way to bail out a frustrated user and gives them an immediate solution to their problems.
  • Help users find what they’re looking for. If your website has a lot of content, add a search box to your 404 page to make it easier to locate the content they want.
  • Keep it clean and simple. It’s okay to get creative, but stay focused. Present a clear action for users to take and make their lives easier!
  • Humor works for some, but not all. If you think your audience will like some geek humor, don’t be afraid to use it. Just remember to think about what works for your users, not for you.

Here’s some fun examples of optimized 404 pages (personal favorites of our own developers):


GitHub (with parallax effect)

If you’re looking for more awesome 404 page examples, this article is a great resource from Canva. This easy-to-use design platform is great for creating blog and social media graphics, posters, invitations, and more! Plus, they have a great educational platform with interactive workshops, tutorials, and blog posts filled with lots of great tips and advice.

What other tips do you have for a successful 404 page? 

Please share your tips or your favorite 404 pages in the comments or on Facebook. You can also tweet us directly @testomatocom.

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