January 10, 2017

UX and SEO benefits of having a custom 404 page

The dreaded 404 error. Does it have to be so dreaded? Your 404 page is your chance to turn a negative situation into a positive one and if you haven’t taken advantage of it already, you should.

Some people are under the misconception that they should overlook 404 pages because they are the last place you want your users to end up on your website. However, not having a custom 404 page can be detrimental to the user experience of your website and reflect poorly on your search rankings.

Reasons to have a custom 404 page

For SEO

For UX

What to do

Above all else, your 404 page should explain why your users are seeing the unexpected error message and direct them back to helpful links on your website so that you don’t lose visitors. Own the error with some humor and personality to make the situation less frustrating for your users and help them find what they are looking for.

Examples

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Airbnb uses a light-hearted animation of a girl dropping her ice cream to distract from the unfortunate situation of landing on a 404 page in addition to a list of helpful links.

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GitHub uses humor and pop culture references on their 404 page that is on-brand, and directs users to a search bar to find what they are looking for.

What not to do

There are a few things that your 404 page should never do. One of those is to make your 404 error be a copy of your home page, contact page, or really any other unexpected page without any explanation. You don’t want to leave your users confused, or worse have them leave your site to find business elsewhere. And although it’s important to have a custom 404 page, it’s also important that people aren’t landing on it too often – stay on top of your broken links and eliminate/reduce them as much as possible. 404 pages aren’t harmful for your SEO efforts unless it becomes a crutch for too many links.