The 404 ‘Page not found’ page is the least known-about page of any website. Every site needs one, and whatever the response, it is always negative. So is there anything we can do to limit the damage?
Limiting the negative reaction
Most visitors react to the 404 page with rolling eyes or a sigh of irritation; it is the page the visitor is redirected to when an error occurs. This error message usually appears when a URL is incorrect or non-existent. For webshops, this will happen when a product is no longer available for sale. Every error message brings the visitor to the 404 page.
By limiting the negative response of a negative message (you can’t go to the page you want to go to), the dreaded 404 can turn into an additional and worthwhile marketing opportunity. Unfortunately, it is not only your visitors who see the 404 page but search engines, too. They will penalise you every time this page appears by deindexing you from search results; SEO suicide.
There are two options which can turn this page around into something relatively acceptable; a really stunning and eye-catching 404 page, or an http, 301 or 302 redirect.
An HTML redirect will automatically send your page visitor to a new site after a certain amount of time. This method is never recommended; your visitor has to wait, and it gives the impression that there is something wrong with the site. Many visitors will think they are being sent to an unsecured site.
A 301 redirect indicates to search engines that this page has been moved permanently. A 301 redirect is a manual operation. You or your website developer will have to associate every 404 error with the page you want to index. This means that any value from backlinks that point to your old pages will flow through the redirect and avoid search engine deindexing. It is also a useful redirect to add for visitors who use or don’t use, the ‘www’ when typing in an address.
A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect. If your site is under maintenance or being redesigned, you can avoid losing potential visitors, users or clients and totting up deindexing rates.T here’s a slight problem; some search engines understand that a 302 redirect is sometimes used instead of a 301. The longer the period the 302 is used, the higher the chance the search engine will see it as a permanent feature and begin to penalise you.
Another alternative: the hard to forget 404 page
If you do not regularly maintain or test your site, placing redirects is often a case of fixing the stable door after the horse has bolted. In order to avoid this situation, it might be an idea to turn a boring 404 error page into something your visitor is bound to remember, or might even mention on social media.
Make it funny
Showing your company’s fun-loving side is not detrimental to your company health; many of the world’s top brands have embraced the funny side of life and changed their 404 error pages into something that can raise a smile, instead of cause frustration. We’ve included a couple of examples below.
Make it addictive
Some websites prefer to add a little extra to the 404 experience by making the page interactive. This has been successfully done by adding games, or in the case of Hot Dot, creating a page where you can change the form of the script by moving the mouse. Whatever your choice, it certainly beats the boring 404 Page not found design that immediately creates a negative – and therefore damaging -reaction.
Make it into a piece of art
Perhaps turning your 404 page into a work of art is more appropriate for your business. Those that might wish to bypass the humour opt for high-end creative designs that evoke curiosity and concentration rather than a quick giggle. Incorporating your logo or products into a high-spec design is also a worthwhile marketing ploy, taking full advantage of the most negatively judged page on the web.
Turn your error into a strength
Making the 404 Page not found error into a feast for the eyes or adding fun interactive features is the immediate solution to the sudden appearance of this undesired but necessary page. However, even if your 404 page is captivating, you still won’t want it to appear at regular intervals as this will backfire where your SEO is concerned. A combination of impressive page design, regular maintenance and a working redirect is the best way to reduce those negative connotations so often caused by the dreaded 404.