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How To Build Friendly 404-Not-Found Page?


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Does this image look familiar? Yes, it is the default 404 page shown in IE when a file or page is not found in your server.

Did you know that many web hosting companies allow you to customize your 404 page?  Most serious webmasters are already doing this for their company websites.

Why does someone encounter a 404 page?

The most common factors are:

  • Mistyped URL (when a visitor types it in the address bar)
  • Broken or truncated referral links (from other websites or emails)
  • Moved or deleted content (you made the changes and did not employ proper 301 redirections)

Why it is important to have a user-friendly 404 page?

In a default 404 page, there is hardly any sign of your presence except the URL. The visual clues like the website template or a custom message are not present in the default 404 page, which may sway the user to get confused, aggravated, or just lose interest, and flee to another website.

From an SEO point of view, if the 404 page is returning a 200 ok status (meaning that the server successfully returned the page), it may damage your website’s reputation, and this is the last thing that you want Google to index. Make sure that it returns a “Server Response” of 404 Page Not Found.

How to set up a 404 error page?

The process is very simple but depends on the server type. For example, in an Apache server, if you have the option to modify the .htaccess file, add the following code there:

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ErrorDocument 404 /error.html

Upon doing this, create a custom error.html page and upload it in the root directory.  Make sure to check the website to see if the 404 error page is working properly.

Please note that using an ErrorDocument 404 will return a 200 ok.

Do not use a metarefresh to redirect the visitor to the sitemap or homepage. Different search engines treat metarefresh differently. There are high chances that a metarefresh may be treated as a 301 or 302 redirection which is not a good signal.

What are the elements of a great 404 page?

  • A simple explanation of what just happened
  • A personal look and feel that allows the user to soften up and continue their search for your website
  • A visible link to your home page
  • Common navigational menu
  • A search box to let the user easily find what he or she is looking for
  • A link to the contact and sitemap page

These elements are enough to make the page more user-friendly. The rest depends on the positioning of these elements and the user base response.

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Written by: Paul Shuteyev

I am an internet-marketing specialist.