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How to Create a Smarter 404 Page

 2:04 pm on Jan 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

While checking the number of 404 hits in my GA account I found the numbers are pretty high (increased drastically during events season) and can contribute descent percentage to the goals if used effectively.

I have 2 things in my mind; objective is to make the 404 page smarter:

1. Use a meta refresh code (5 secs) to redirect the user to my home page after showing the customized 404 page.
2. Redesign the 404 page and show the entire home page content/something similar in that page itself. A message bar just below the top navigation panel will be used to let the user know that the page he is looking for doesn't exist, blah, blah.

Which one do you feel is better? OR Do you have a better suggestion?



 6:10 pm on Jan 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

I don't think the meta refresh is a good idea. If a user encounters an error page, it's going to take him more than a few seconds to absorb any error message and if that page suddenly gets replaced with a different page it's only going to be confusing.

Have you checked out Google's 404 widget? It helps the user find content on your site when a 404 occurs. You can always supplement the included search box with other useful navigation aids and/or a contact form. I think that if a user was sent to your site, you want to make it as painless as possible for him to recover from any such errors and stay on your site when other sites are just a click away.


 10:34 pm on Jan 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

I agree that meta refresh is not a good idea.

With regards redesigning error page to look like home page, I do not think this is a good idea either as your visitors may get confused where they are.

On error page you may use main navigation as per the rest of your site, with a clear message for user that the page requested was not found and offer them option to either go to home page and perhaps also offer them site search box to find what they want that way.

Robert Charlton

 12:14 am on Jan 17, 2011 (gmt 0)

All that rainborick and aakk9999 say. Note also that on a custom error page it's safest to use absolute navigation links, since the page will be served in the context of the original url request, and the browser will resolve relative links on the page based on the originally-requested url.

And thanks to Jim Morgan for this particular bit of wisdom.


 4:31 am on Jan 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

I use Noindex on 404 error page and displays content from my homepage.I am agree with solution 2.


 9:57 am on Jan 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks everyone for sharing the ideas/opinions. I agree that meta refresh isn't a good idea although I wonder if there are any negatives from SEO aspects? From user point of view yes I can understand point raised by rainborick.

Contact forms are nice, Search box is already part of my top navigation and the clear messages to let the user know that its a 404 page is mandatory.

But the question I am asking to myself here is: How to redirect/refocus the users landing on 404 pages to buy my products and contribute descent percentage to the goals.


 11:59 am on Jan 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

What you can do is make your 404 page attractive with a few links to products, perhaps something along the lines:

Sorry, the page you were looking for cannot be found. To help locate what you are looking for, you can:

1. Visit our home page or use menu navigation on top of this page
2. Use Search box to search our site
3. Visit our Sitemap

Alternatively, you may wish to check some of our bestseller products listed below:

Link to product or category 1
Link to product or category 2
Link to product or category 3
Link to product or category 4


 8:17 pm on Jan 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

I do what aakk9999 suggests in that last post. Almost like a mini-sitemap but just to the top level categories on my site.

I considered an automated search facility which took the incoming url, broke it down into individual words, searched my database and displayed links to products which contained those words. But not got around to it yet and that will only work if the URLs that are 404'ing contain product keywords.


 8:32 pm on Jan 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

I totally agree with aakk9999 and would add...

The page has to be for the user (i.e. to find what they want) but it can work for you too by highlighting areas/ products you want the user to visit. I like your way of thinking and it is definately an opportunity - think of it as a catch-all landing page.

I also use the google search widget - I think it helps get your site indexed in a weird way.

No-one has asked why the 404s occur? You could look into this and if there are common pages that aren't being found 301 redirect them to appropriate pages - its not good to have too many 404s even if you are handling them well.


 4:48 pm on Jan 20, 2011 (gmt 0)

I totally agree with what everyone has said, especially regarding the use of Meta refresh - not a good idea!

My point is the same as ColedogUK, No-one has asked why the 404s occur?! Before worrying about how to structure error pages (500's, 403's etc should also be considered) I would be inclined to address why the 404 errors occur in the first place and what can be done to limit this.

You mention 'events season' so I assume seasonality causes pages to be published and removed again relatively quickly? These pages could potentially be acquiring links therefore by removing the pages and causing a 404 you are potentially losing valuable link juice.

Obviously this is an outsiders opinion however I would look deeper into what can be done to avoid the 404 errors.


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