In the early days of the Internet, a 404 page was pretty basic and utilitarian. Now, they”;re so well crafted that they don”;t look like an error page anymore.

A 404 page can be a useful marketing tool to increase conversions, boost revenues, and decrease bounce rates.

With a customized 404 page, you can turn lost visitors into loyal customers and audience members. Here”;s how you can create one.

Why 404 Pages Affect Your SEO

A 404 page is a natural part of the Internet as products are removed, content is deleted, and sites are created or retired. A basic one tells visitors that the page they were looking for can”;t be found.

But they were so technical that they didn”;t explain anything and encouraged people to navigate away from your site.

Now, there”;s nothing you can do if the 404 was caused by the visitor, like if they typed the wrong information, such as when someone tries to navigate to a URL on Business2Community that”;s not really a URL:

It”;s not the site”;s fault the person typed the wrong URL, so it shows me the 404 error page to help me out.

Errors caused by something a site owner can control, like a broken or dead link, are different. Visitors are going to hit the Back button and check out another entry on the search results list.

If they hit another broken link, they”;ll go back and forth again. Some SEO experts call this “;pogo-sticking,”; and it”;s a bad sign for your site. It tells Google that your content isn”;t adding value to that keyword, so you”;re dropped down the search rankings. (Remember, content relevance and value is a ranking factor.)

How to Reduce 404 Pages and Use Them to Boost Your SEO

So, while you can”;t eliminate all the causes of 404 pages, you can significantly reduce the number of ones caused by your website and even boost your SEO rankings.

Fix Broken Links

If you”;ve got a WordPress website, use a plugin like Broken Link Checker to find and fix your broken links. If you have any other type of website, you can use an SEO tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs, or a backlinks checking tool like Monitor Backlinks.

These tools will generate a list of your broken links and categorize them so you can investigate why they”;re broken. For some, it”;s because you deleted or moved content, for others, it”;s because the external link you hyperlinked to is no longer available. Check this list regularly and fix them. The next time a search engine crawls your site, it”;ll re-index those links and eliminate them from the results pages.

Create a Branded 404 Page

For all other 404 page situations, you”;ll want to create a custom, branded 404 page. You can use a WordPress plugin to create one, look at your WordPress theme to see if it”;s got a custom 404 page template, or add a new page to your website to use as a 404 page.

The goal of your 404 page is to recapture visitors who followed a dead or broken link. Use these tips to create an awesome custom 404 page.

Add an option to redirect the user back to your homepage. This prevents them from hopping back and forth from the search results page to your site multiple times.

Make it easy for them to search directly on your site. Past research into site search”;s effectiveness found that retail sites could convert 50% more visitors with site search

Add internal links to your 404 page. These links increase your internal linking score for SEO, give visitors something else to view and create a smoother user experience. For example, include links to your best content, your homepage, or links to product pages if you”;ve got an eCommerce site.

Match the branding with the rest of your site. When you match the branding of your 404 page with the rest of your site, it reassures visitors with a similar brand experience they may already know. IMDB.com adds move quotes to their 404 pages that remind you exactly what the site is about with subtle branding, a movie quote, and a link to the homepage.

Use human, conversational language on the page. Phrases such as “;Oops! Something”;s broken,”; “;Sorry, but that link”;s not working,”; or “;Page not found”; make it easy to figure out what happened. Hootsuite does that with a playful 404 page that offers several reasons why visitors didn”;t find what they were looking for, including “;The page has moved”; and “;You like 404 pages.”;

Avoid blaming the visitor for the error. Visitors don”;t care why they didn”;t find the right page, just that they didn”;t find it. There”;s no need to blame them for the error or offer highly-technical explanations of what happened. All visitors need to know is that they didn”;t land on the page they were expecting. That”;s why Lego”;s 404 page is so great. It”;s playful and helpful at the same time while avoiding blaming the visitor.

There”;s no way to eliminate 404 errors on your website. They are going to happen one way or another. The best way to handle them is to customize your 404 page so you can encourage people to stay on your website and find the content they meant to see in the first place. Or offer them an option to check out something new.

A customized 404 page will protect your site from negative SEO and even improve it. You”;ll create a more enjoyable visitor experience on your website as it helps them find the information they were looking for.

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