The SEO Basics - 404
November 17, 2012 |
When you arrive at a 404 page, it can be disorienting; a good 404 page can help curb the confusion. To fully understand what a 404 page is good for, what it means, and how to use it, read on.
Why is a 404 Page Important For SEO?
A person arriving at a 404 page is, in a way, lost and looking for help. If your 404 page is not optimized, visitors will be presented only with the options of navigating to the previous page they visited, or navigating away from the website altogether. Your goal as a webmaster or SEO professional is likely to keep the visitor at your website for as long as possible, and to ensure a pleasurable user experience. If you have not optimized your 404 page, you may end up losing traffic, and causing your visitors to be unhappy with the user experience of your website in the process. The 404 page is yet another opportunity for you to keep your visitor on your site, and further guide them through the process of navigating your content.
What is a 404 Page?
If a user arrives at a link that is either broken or has moved, the notification on the page they arrive at should be ‘404 not found’. This indicates to the user that the URL that they are attempting to access cannot be reached. Similarly to how a searcher can receive a 404 error, the search engine bots crawling the web will also receive a 404 error when they arrive at that URL, and should then be aware that the URL should not be indexed. If a broken link does not return a 404 message, then it runs the risk of being indexed in the search engine’s pages.
How Can I Use a 404 Page?
It is recommended that you build a custom 404 page so that the default 404 page does not appear when visitors to your site insert a broken link, or one that has moved. Here are some guidelines for what should be on your custom 404 page.
- Explain why the user may have arrived at the 404 page, and where he/she can navigate to from there.
- Have links to other content on your site.
- Tailor those links to what the person may have wanted to find at the nonexistent page.
- Provide a search bar so that visitors can search for the content that they are looking for on your website from the 404 page. Note: Bing webmaster tools recommend against using a search bar as it might be scrolled by search bots. Google does recommend using a search box.
- Try to carry through the general design and user experience of your website through to the 404 page.
- Allow your 404 page to be indexed by search engines; make sure dead or broken links return a 404 error, and not a 200 OK message.
- Be too general with the information on the custom page. Simply writing ‘404’ or ‘not found’ does not explain to the visitor what has happened, and will be unproductive.
- Have a 404 page whose design is completely different to the rest of your website.
- Bing webmaster tools stresses that advertising content should not appear on your 404 page, as the page will yield little traffic, and the advertisement can cause site speed issues.