Are You Optimizing Your 404 Page? Yes, Your 404 Page.

When you visit a non-existent URL on a website, you’ll often come face to face with an error similar to the following:

“Oops! We couldn’t find what you were looking for.”

or…

“Page not found.”

What you’re actually seeing when you come across this error is the “404 Page”, which is a page that your browser goes to when the page you were looking for was – well – not found.

Common reasons for landing on a 404 page include:

  • A misplaced letter or misspelled word in the URL when typing manually into the browser’s address bar.
  • A misplaced letter or misspelled word in an existing link.
  • The link or URL is typed correctly, but the page just no longer exists (aka. broken link)
  • A redirection error.

Whatever the path may be, when people land on your 404 Page they will most likely exit your site.

It’s sad, but true. People are spoiled, especially when it comes to searching and surfing online, so when they don’t immediately find what they’re looking for – it’s on to the next thing like there’s no tomorrow.

However, there are things we can do as website owners, bloggers and internet entrepreneurs to decrease the chances of people leaving our sites when they do reach a 404 Page, which I’ll outline for you below.

How to Optimize Your 404 Page

Before anything, you should take all the necessary precautions to make sure your links are all typed in correctly and that you don’t have any broken links on your site. You can use a tool like Google Webmaster Tools to do help. Even after that, people can still land on your 404 page by mistyping a URL or clicking on a misspelled link from a site other than your own.

On your 404 Page Template itself, there are a number of things you can do:

  • Include friendly text that clearly mentions that the page they were looking for cannot be found, but that you’re also willing to help them find what they were looking for. Something other than “Page not Found” will really make a difference and get people to engage with you on your page, even though it wasn’t exactly what they were looking for. Then, you can keep them on your site reading content using the stuff below.
  • Include a search function for the content on your site. It’s always nice to give people an option to search, especially if they were looking for something specific and don’t know where else to go.
  • Insert your most popular posts. These posts are the most popular for a reason, so they’ll give you the best chance of keeping people on your site.
  • Insert your most recent posts.
  • Include the categories or tags of your blog.
  • Include an opt-in form for a newsletter.
  • Include an Advertisement or Promotional item – I wouldn’t recommend this, but it is an option. This might work because if the visitor was planning on leaving anyways (because they couldn’t find what they were looking for), you can try to get them to click on an ad or go somewhere else that may help you earn a little bit of cash. I want to keep readers on my site, so this technique is not for me, but I just wanted to throw it out there for you.

Also, it’s important to make sure you design your 404 page to have a similar style and structure as the rest of your website, so visitors won’t feel like they’ve been kicked off of your site.

Lastly, if you’re slick, you can include a form on your 404 page to report broken links to you.

How Do You Design an Optimized 404 Page?

The easiest and most hassle-free way to optimize your 404 Page would be to outsource it to your web designer, or find someone on Elance or Odesk to do it for you. Simply tell them what you want on the page, and boom – done in less than an hour, if they know what they’re doing.

But, since I know a lot of your are curious or just don’t want to deal with outsourcing, I’m happy to share with you exactly what the code on my own 404 Page template looks like.

If you’re running a WordPress blog, every theme (I believe) has a 404 Template that you can edit, which can be viewed in the Appearance > Editor area, and then looking under Templates on the right hand side:

Typically, it will have code that looks something like this:

This is your plain jane 404 code and it definitely needs an update.

Instead of pasting my own, I’ve attached it here in a text file (in rich text format) so you can download it and use it as you wish. Note that it may or may not work perfectly with yours, because you may have different plugins installed or a different version of WordPress which may affect the code somehow, but whatever you do, if you plan to make changes yourself, please save what you had in a separate text file just in case.

If you want to see my 404 Page live, just add some random text to the end of this post’s url in your browser and press enter.

I won’t mention any specific sites, but I went ahead and tried adding random text onto the ends of other popular sites’ urls, and was surprised to see that not all of the top bloggers and top websites that I visit actually implement this strategy. Many are still using the plain ol’ 404 Page template.

I hope you found this “not-so-common” tip useful! As always, thank you for your support.

If this is your first time visiting this blog, please subscribe to my RSS Feed. Cheers!

  • http://www.independentmusicadvice.com/ Independent Music Advice

    Hi Pat. I’ve customized my 404 page (Have currently got “What to do next” text and a search box). I’ll probably add a few of my post on it as well after reading this, have seen your 404 page and like the way it looks.

  • http://www.webuildyourblog.com/ Andrew @ Blogging Guide

    I’ve been using a 404 seo plugin. Time for me to change, I think. Thanks for sharing the text file.

    Andrew

    • http://www.my4hrworkweek.com Eric | My 4-Hour Workweek

      Do you or anyone know if there is a plug-in that allows us to optimize the page rather than manually editing the code like Pat suggests in his post?

  • http://www.making-your-own-website.com Nabeel | Create Your First Website

    Hi Pat,

    Never thought about this. I have not read this advice anywhere.

    I agree, it will make a big difference to the visitors. It will show that you care about your visitors. It will also show that you are a ‘savvy’ blogger/internet marketer.

    Many people undermine the importance of these little things, which can make a big difference because of the sheer size of the web.

    Nabeel

  • http://www.makemoneyonlinework.biz/ Jonathan Beebe

    I admit I haven’t optimized my 404 page as best as I can, but at least I provide a link to the blog archives and a link to my free report (for subscriptions). I plan on adding a nice graphic and an actual opt-in form to maximize its effectiveness though.

    Thanks for the reminder Pat!

  • http://astateofmind.eu Nathan

    Indeed, I do optimize my 404 – there’s some random arts, some best arts, invitation for RSS subscription and newsletter sign-up box. Since I put that on my site, my page views have increased – people finally don’t end up in nowhere…

  • http://www.obliviousinvestor.com/ Mike Piper

    I added a search box to my custom 404 page, but I’d never thought of adding links to popular posts. Good idea. :)

    Also, on the topic of finding broken links, I’d suggest Xenu. It’s a program that you actually have to download and install (though it’s free). But it gives you real-time data, which can be handy if you’re making lots of changes at once — changing your permalink structure or moving domains, for instance — and want to check to make sure nothing went wrong.

  • http://www.technshare.com Dev | Technshare

    Hey Pat,

    Nice post. It’s time for me to optimize my 404 Page. Thanks for the kick pat.
    And your guest Post on DBT was really awesome. Great work :).

    ~Dev

  • http://www.youngprepro.com Onibalusi Bamidele

    Really great post Pat!

    I haven’t really being optimizing my 404 page and I will work on this soon.

    Thanks a lot for the great post,
    -Onibalusi

    BTW: Your guest post on DBT was awesome.

  • http://www.ecommercewebservices.net Hannah Blair

    Pat.. This is something new for me, I have never thought for. Actually I was not aware that optimizing 404 is necessary. I will do it now. Thank you for making me learn something new today.

  • http://www.profitaddiction.com Profit Addiction

    Pat,

    I read this tip awhile ago and it definitely makes sense. Maybe I’ll actually get around to it and do something about it!

    Thanks for the post,

    Jeremy

  • http://www.my4hrworkweek.com Eric | My 4-Hour Workweek

    Hey Pat – Awesome advice; it’s something I’ve never thought of or read about before. I’ve heard about configuring 404 pages, but really have never seen anything about optimizing them.

    This really just goes to show you that every element of your blog/website can be optimized…even pages that you don’t even envision as part of your website (like a 404 page).

    Thanks for the helpful tip!

    - Eric

  • http://PinoyNurses101.blogspot.com PinoyNurses101

    Thanks for sharing this awesome post..

    God bLess!

    • Pat

      Cheers, thanks!

  • http://www.myadventurepath.com Karen | myadventurepath.com

    Hi Pat,

    Question:

    You wrote:

    ‘If you’re running a WordPress blog, every theme (I believe) has a 404 Template that you can edit, which can be viewed in the Appearance > Editor area, and then looking under Templates on the right hand side:’

    When I go to the Appearance menu, I only have “edit CSS”. Does this have something do with wordpress.com vs wordpress.org? Did I start my blog using the wrong wordpress??

    Thank you so much for all the amazing information on your site. I need to take a whole day and just read and read to take it all in!!

    • Pat

      Hi Karen, if you don’t have the option in wordpress to edit the code of the pages, and only the css, then you may be using a different version of wordpress. Did you go through .com?

      • http://www.myadventurepath.com Karen | myadventurepath

        Yes, I did go through .com, not realizing at the time that there was another option. Does this mean no 404 editing for me?

  • http://nichenana.com Cathy

    I was going to change my 404 page but just checked and with the theme I’m using, (Socrates) it already does it for you. Gives you a search option and a list of your posts. Cool!
    I will use this on the sites where I have a different theme though. Thanks!

    • Pat

      Awesome Cathy – that works!

  • http://www.NetworkingExamAcademy.com Blake Erickson

    Wow thanks Pat. I really enjoyed this post. I wonder what other wordpress tricks you have up your sleeves?

    Oh and by the way everybody… remember that “New Year Resolutions” post Pat did at the beginning of the year??? Well I posted a comment that I would be earning $2,000 a month by Aug 31st. Well I’m not quite there yet, but I did finish my first ebook a couple months ago and have made over $200 so far! And I know that a couple more months of hard work will get me to my goal.

    I want to apologize for not participating as much on your blog lately, but also thank you for all the wonderful content you provide that has helped me get to where I’m currently at.

    Thanks Pat, your awesome!

    • Pat

      Congrats on your success so far Blake! You can only go up from here, remember that, and get ready to crush it in the upcoming months! No worries about not participating, as long as you’re getting stuff done on your own side, that’s really what matters. Congrats again, and all the best to you in the future!

  • http://www.OptimisticJourney.com Jarrod – Inspirational Words

    Hey Pat, Great advice! I agree it is beneficial to customize the 404 page or offer other tools that you mentioned here to keep readers on the site longer or at least until they find what they’re looking for. Thanks for sharing!

    • Pat

      No problem! Thanks Jarrod! Cheers!

  • http://themoneyscoop.readersandwritersparadise.com/news Daniel Johnston

    Definitely very important to work on your 404 page, or, as you said, people will leave. Certainly something I’ve done and something every needs to take care of. Many WordPress themes even have specific ’404 title’ hooks that you can use to edit it without getting into the code. Great post.

    • Pat

      Yeah, actually you’re right – many themes have the ability to edit the 404 page without even going into the code. Some, however, do not. Everyone who wants to change their 404 page should definitely check beforehand so they don’t go into the code unless they have to. Cheers Daniel!

  • http://www.WebsitesByWes.com Wes Asbell

    I definitely agree that a 404 page should be optimized, I recommend this to all of my clients. Check out this example where adding an image based 404 page vs. a text-based one increased sales by 73.62% – http://www.whichtestwon.com/archives/2254

    • Pat

      Wow – this is a fantastic example that EVERYONE should check out. Thanks Wes – I learned a lot from those examples, and it’s definitely making me rethink my 404 page a little. Cheers!

  • http://www.torontodatingcoach.com Evan @ Toronto Dating Coach

    Hey Pat,
    Great Article!
    I’m going to implement this ASAP.

    I love your blog,
    Keep the killer content coming.

    Evan

    • Pat

      I definitely don’t plan on stopping. Thanks Evan!

  • http://evengrounds.com/blog Julius

    This really increases the chance of the readers staying despite of not finding the page they’re looking for. They may even find it through the lists of recent posts as what you’ve suggested. Excellent ideas! We’ll find time for these things

    • Pat

      Yeah – I think recent posts and most popular posts should definitely be placed on the 404 page.

  • http://www.lalalamusic.com Patrick

    Hey Flynn! I’ve been regularly checking out your content now and have finally started my own website. I really appreciate all the effort and work you put into your articles, thank you very much! I am still designing the layout of my site and have to create some content now. This tip on the 404 page will definitely be useful.

    Cheers
    Patrick

    • Pat

      Thanks Patrick, for all of the kind words about what I do. Good luck with your new site!

  • http://www.seo-doctor.co.uk/ SEO Doctor

    They don’t have to be boring either…come and see mine ;)

  • http://www.vantageestate.com.au/ Vantage

    Great idea. I’ve seen people interesting 404 pages. thanks for this post.

  • http://jonathanbutterworth.com Jonathan Butterworth

    Great list of suggestions for a 404 page. My 404 page is in need of a redesign since it has none of the suggested items. Thanks for the reminder Pat!

    • Pat

      No problem Jonathan. Always glad to help. Cheers!

  • http://www.sallyneill.com Sally

    Hey Flynn,

    Indeed I do have all error pages set up on all of my sites, and trust me, people hit error pages all the time.

    I tend to add an aweber sign up form on my error pages, and from the aweber stats I can see the amount of displays is massive, not sure if this is a good thing or not though ha ha.

    Nice post, Sally :)

    • Pat

      Great tip Sally! What’s your conversion rates for your opt-in form on the 404 page?

  • http://privateLabelUnlimited.com/build50klist/build50klist.html Gary David | Build Your List Fast

    thanks for sharing this Pat. I wasn’t aware of this, but will definitely give it a try.

    Regards,

    Gary

  • http://www.blog4cash.co.za Dave Higgs

    Hi Pat,

    I have never thought of this! I have changed mine (another blogger suggested that) but not all this! Great ideas.

    BTW you have another RSS subscriber :)
    Dave

    • Pat

      Cheers Dave! Thanks for subscribing dude!

  • http://www.ecoverexpert.com/ Steve Saha

    Hey Pat, I certainly dislike the look of the default 404 page. Optimizing the page is a great idea. I can put my thoughts on that page to help people further.
    Thanks,
    Steve

    • Pat

      Anytime Steve – cheers!

  • Tim Moreland

    Pat,

    I had a custom message but didn’t know how to edit the HTML to add the search form and categories. Thanks for providing your HTML as an example. Very helpful!

    Tim

  • http://seo-website-designer.com Tiggerito

    Here’s an extra tip.

    If you are not using a pre-made plugin to handle your 404 pages then make sure your custom page returns the required 404 Status Code and not the normal 200 Stasus Code indicating all is OK.

    I see this mistake a lot and it can lead to search engines getting confused about what pages they should really be indexing.

    • http://www.whatdoestonydo.com Tony Marciante

      any tips on good WordPress plugins to either design or handle 404 errors best?

      • http://seo-website-designer.com Tiggerito

        Out of the box WordPress does good. It returns the correct 404 status code and displays a friendly message using your own template.

        There are some plugins to enhance the page, but I’ve had no personal experience with them so can’t recommend any.

  • http://www.foreverfreeapps.com/ B.Bambao

    Great post, Pat. Very useful info for me, and with good timing as well (have been thinking of what to do with my 404 lately… )

    I’ve only got a small site for now, but still, need to keep the 404 in mind.

    Cheers!

  • http://cebuanddavao.com/ Nonoy

    I have actually done my own version of optimizing the 404 error page. it’s been on for months until today. I tried checking my 404 page, by clicking a 404 error urls. What happened was, it shows nothing but a white page with little texts that says, 404 error. The design, the theme has gone. I wonder why. I hope you can help me.

    Thanks a lot for posting this.

  • http://www.ganpati-industries.com Pankaj Verma

    Great post. Love it. Thanks.

  • http://www.ultra-snob.com Bath Robe Manufacturer

    Thanks for great post. It really helped us to do our project. Looking forward for more details in future.

  • http://opticmemory.ca Wil

    Wonderful tip Pat.. I will definitely be looking into optimizing not just the 404, but all other error landing pages on my site.

  • http://www.easobuy.com Online Shopping In India

    TI was searching the same information which is on your site since few months. But I thank to God that I am lucky that I visited your post today. Its of a great help to me. Thanks for your hard work.

  • http://www.sharanyan.com Sharanyan

    Is’t ok to insert a Relevant non Commercial video to reduce the bounce rate in 404 pages ?

  • http://7Payouts.com Jeremiah Say

    Thanks for this great tip. I believe it will have a tremendous impact on my business in future. Thank you

  • http://www.derasachasauda.org Famous Religious Places In India

    Thanks for this great tip

  • Steve

    Didn’t feel like reading that. Deleted a letter from the URL & looked at your 404 page myself :)

  • woot manga

    is 404 code is like 301 redirection? Should we send that to browser or Crawler-bot?