When you think about the most important web hosting and design tasks, formulating an impactful 404 page for redirection isn’t likely at the top of your list. Although, if you aren’t concerning yourself with literally every aspect of your site structure and how your web hosting provider supports these elements, then you’re bound to suffer the consequences.
Whether you’re starting your first website, or are looking for ways to increase its user experiences, you must spend time understanding the purpose and investigating the options you have when it comes to 404 page design and back-end protocol. The following tips are considered the most effective in the 21st Century digital marketplace and are an excellent starting point.
Understanding the 404 Page – A Brief Overview
In brief, 404 is a universal response code delivered by your web server when someone attempts to access a non-existent webpage. This often happens when pages and/or URLs are moved/changed without an automatic redirection. When viewed at the HTTP level, the 404 code is often accompanied by the phrase “Not Found.”
To prevent this common situation from harming your reputation and SEO strategies, it’s important to understand how your dedicated web hosting server engages with 404 Not Found errors and what options exist.
Does 404 Error Codes Impact SEO?
If you haven’t already figured this out, almost every online activity from both web hosting servers and on-page designs impact SEO, at least, on some level. When it comes to 404 errors, this situation negatively influences SERP ranking as it demonstrates a mis-configured site structure. For those who are unaware, the actual structure of your website is a major ranking factor.
While it’s best to never have a 404 page, this is an impossibility for most websites. Therefore, your goal should be two-sided: prevent 404 error pages with accurate redirects and working with your web host to establish quick workarounds that save user experiences.
How To Optimize 404 Not Found Page Errors
As with almost every element of operating a website, if you can’t prevent a situation, you must learn how to optimize the experience. In the case of 404 Not Found page errors, here are the most impactful tips:
• Branding – No matter what page a visitor may find themselves on, your brand appearance and personality must remain consistent. This means customizing the appearance and phrasing of 404 pages to perfectly match your brand. If you aren’t sure how to establish a customized 404 page, speak with your web hosting provider.
• Give a Reason – Simply stating “Page Not Found” isn’t good enough. Your visitors deserve a thorough explanation. If the article or blog post was removed, state this as the reason. If there’s a more generic reason for a populated 404 page, use your brand personalty to explain this “whoopsie” moment.
• Link to New Content – Even on 404 pages access by complete error, the resulting 404 page should link to fresh, popular and important pages/posts. Never leave it up to the visitor to navigate out of the 404 page without some level of assistance. When properly executed, this can help reduce bounce rates and retain a positive experience.