How to Optimise Your 404 Error Pages To Drive More Traffic?
A 404 error can occur when a user tries to access the page that doesn’t exist on your website. It might have been deleted or moved to a new URL. A 404 page can also pop up when a user types the wrong page address in the browser. Either way, it’s bad for your website and business.
Why is 404 Error Bad?
Your website visitors hate a 404-error page because it brings their browsing adventure to a sudden halt. Confused, they usually find no other way out and hit the back button, reverting to the search results to click on another result. This tells Google your website wasn’t able to provide the information the user was looking for.
Hence, too many 404 errors can negatively affect your search rankings.
404 errors also deprive you of some of your customers. Imagine trying to access a product page and landing on a 404 page. It can happen to the best of websites.
The product was discontinued or the page was updated and moved to a new URL, but someone missed a 301 redirect. Whatever the reason, 404 pages can make your bounce rate skyrocket and you can lose visitors and rankings.
Ways To Fix 404 Error
So, what can you do to fix the 404 error? Actually, two things:
1. Find and Fix Broken Links
You can find the broken links on your website by logging into Google Search Console and clicking on Diagnostic under the Crawl Errors section. You can also run a Screaming Frog analysis or use Broken Link Checker, which might be simpler to use than Google webmaster tools.
Once you have identified the dead links, try and fix as many of them as you can by having 301 redirects if the page has moved to a new URL or by creating a new page if the old one was deleted somehow.
2. Have a Custom 404 Page
No matter how good you are at SEO or how particular you are about maintaining your site, 404s will happen. Google Answers indicates an average of around 6% out of the total clicks go to a 404 page, for whatever reasons. Someone just has to type a wrong page address after your root URL, and bam!
When that happens, it’s better to have a custom 404 page than to scare away the visitor with a generic page. This way, the visitor won’t feel like they have lost connectivity or have done something drastic. A customised page reassures users they’re still on your domain and not on some Martian website.
How to Customise the 404 Page To Drive More Traffic?
Your 404 page should have the same theme as the other pages on your website. It should have your logo and colour scheme, along with a simple message in plain English, telling the visitor the page they’re trying to access is not available.
Here’s how Amazon does it. In addition to looking cute, their 404 page includes a link to the homepage, a search window, and a doggy. Clicking on the doggy takes you to the ‘Dogs of Amazon’, a page that Amazon couldn’t have found a better place to feature.
Similarly, you can also provide a link to your homepage and other pages that you want people to visit. If 6% of the clicks go to the 404 page, you should get a good traffic to those pages from the 404 page. The Amazon page also includes a search window, and so should you.
It’s a good idea to tell the visitor what might have gone wrong, but don’t go overboard and start explaining the technical details. Facebook is a good example:
The great thing about 404 pages is that you can get as creative as you want. Use humour, cartoon characters, or interactive elements to provide some entertainment as a consolation for the inconvenience the user has suffered.
Here’s another example from Chipotle’s 404 page:
Netflix has a minimalist page that automatically redirects you to the homepage in 10 seconds.
Here’s Buffer App’s 404 page that comes with a simple message and dozens of links:
As you may see, your 404 page can be anything that you want it to be. Your creative strategy would depend on your audience and product but looking attractive or entertaining is not the only purpose of the 404 page. You can use this page to squeeze out some SEO juice and improve your rankings. Here’s how:
Using the 404 Page to Your Advantage
Include Links to Key Pages
In the above examples, almost every page features links to the homepage as well as other pages on the website. This strengthens your internal link structure apart from helping your visitors navigate back to where they want. Hitting the back button isn’t their only option.
Include a Search Box
Search is another feature that these pages have in common. The lost visitor can just type a few keywords and go directly to the page they want.
Engage the Visitors
Companies go to great extent to increase the page stay and decrease the bounce rate on the 404 page. The ways to engage visitors can include gamification, video, interactive elements, or even discount coupons.
This cosmetics company offers a gift code to sooth the visitors and to make them stay on the website.
Include Links to Product Categories
E-commerce websites can feature their product categories on the 404 page. Hobbies Unleashed has a long page, which features a time-barred discount code and all the product categories, in addition to instructions for the lost visitor.
Tools for Customisation
You can customise your 404-page using the WordPress 404.php file. Or, if you don’t want to get into coding, just download and install one of the 404 plugins. Most of them allow you to customise your message and include images to make your 404s more interesting.
You can’t afford to turn a blind eye to the 404 page, which is likely to pop up once in a while no matter how careful you are. A generic 404 page can confuse your visitors and make them bounce back, affecting your SEO ranking. The solution is to customise your 404 page. Make it more interesting and engaging and use it to drive traffic to your other pages. Your aim is to increase the page stay of your visitors and reduce the bounce rate, so as to the overall SEO performance for your website.
If you need any assistance in fixing or customising your website’s 404 error pages, get in touch with us and we will help you out.