Have you ever clicked on a link expecting to be taken to a blog post that contains information that you expect to be useful, only to find an ugly 404 error page, with a message that simply says “NOT FOUND”. So you leave the site and look elsewhere for the information you craved.
This has happened to me more times than I care to remember, it is at the top of the list of things that annoy me on blogs. Blogs are always changing, post can get deleted and moved all the time, this means that 404 error pages are very common on blogs. Yet so few blogs actually think about the effect on the visitor, if the visitor is encountered by an ugly 404 error page they are likely to just move on and find the information they need elsewhere, even though your blog could still have information useful to them.
Once way to combat this, is to optimize your blogs 404 error page so that you can still attract the visitor into your blog, even though the initial information they were after was not available. It is actually a really simple process, yet one many blogger still choose to ignore.
Let’s look at a few examples to get a feel for what we are trying to achieve.
First off lets look at 2 bad 404 page examples that were obtained by trying to access a page that does not exist:
- Balkhis.com – This page does not offer anything to keep the visitor on the site in any way, just a short message to acknowledge that the page does not exist then some ads to send the user to another site.
- Skelliewag.org – While this is not the worst 404 page I have ever seen, it offers little in the way of alternative content, the search box provides the user with a chance to search for content, which could help to slightly improve the bounce rate.
Those example offered little in the way of interacting with the visitor in an attempt to keep them on the site.
So what does a good 404 page look like? Here have two more examples which offer the user some alternative content, in an attempt to keep the visitor on the site:
- Bloggingtips.com – Right here at bloggingtips.com, the 404 page offers the visitor with some content that they might find useful, listed by page, month and category, this will help to improve the bounce rate on this blog.
- JohnTP.com – This page is an example of a good 404 page as they ask the user to check spelling in the URL, they then offer the visitor the ability to search the site for the content they were after. There are also links to top posts and related posts. This page is optimized with the view of keeping the visitor on the site.
One of the key things to remember is – the visitor came to your blog looking for something they thought would be useful, so they may be interested in other posts on your blog.
If you are using WordPress you can usually find your 404 page by looking at your theme files in the theme editor. There might be a file called 404, or in some cases the 404 information is stored inside the other theme files such as on my blog ProTycoon.com, so I can use a different 404 for pages, posts and archives etc.
Remember that you are looking to offer your visitors alternative content, top posts, recent post and a search facility, if you can integrate these into your 404 page then it should help to improve your blogs bounce rate.
WordPress users may also find the 404 notifier plugin developed by Alex King useful as it can let you track your blogs 404 hits daily, this way you can also look at the content people are trying to access and make it more available to them.
Have you seen any success in optimizing your 404 page to retain visitors? What do you think makes a good 404 page?