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

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

By Pat Flynn on

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.”


“Page not found.”

What you’re actually seeing when you come across this error is the “404 Page,” a page 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 (a.k.a. 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.

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