Customise your 404 error page

Posted on May 7, 2009

 

404 error pages are something that you just cannot avoid; no matter how thoroughly you check your website’s structure, your internal links and your page names. Often you’ll find that the errors aren’t coming from internal links at all, they’re from links from other websites, forums and blogs. Maybe you’ve deleted a page because it’s no longer relevant, renamed it and not 301 redirected it, or more likely the website linking in has just linked to the wrong file name.

Therefore it’s inevitable that your website’s visitors will see your 404 error page. For this reason you should use a custom 404 error page instead of the default browser one. Depending on what server you’re on this is easily done in different ways, but we’re not going to talk about the technical ways you create a 404 error page. Instead, we’re going to talk about what your 404 error page should and should not have.

Firstly, it’s not wise to suggest to your user that they have made a mistake in accessing your 404 page. Suggesting that they have typed the address incorrectly isn’t going to make them want to stick around and try another page of your website. Instead your text should suggest that a link they have followed was incorrect, or that your website may have moved the page.

Secondly, adding a link back to your homepage as the only viable option isn’t a good idea. Your website visitor was looking for something in particular, if they wanted the home page they’d have searched for it. Suggest a page that is relevant to what they’re looking for.

This can be done easily with Google’s 404 error JavaScript, which is available in Google’s Webmaster Tools:

<script type=”text/javascript”>
var GOOG_FIXURL_LANG = ‘en’;
var GOOG_FIXURL_SITE = ‘http://www.stuckon.co.uk/’;
</script>
<script type=”text/javascript”
src=”http://linkhelp.clients.google.com/tbproxy/lh/wm/fixurl.js”></script>

This code will output a search box that contains the name of the page your user was trying to access. Then they can click search and see what options Google has for your website. The code also offers alternative options for your user if Google has indexed them. These are not always available, it depends how thoroughly your site has been indexed by Google.

By using this code you should ensure that your visitors don’t leave as soon as they see your 404 error page, thus allowing you to make use of traffic that would have otherwise been lost to you.

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