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Improve Bounce Rate By Optimizing 404 Pages

Posted by on 1st May 2008 | 15 comments

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?


A blogger and SEO expert from Bristol, UK. I have run many successful blogs and written as a ghost writer on some of the top blogs on the Internet. I can currently be found blogging on my personal blog: David Shaw Blog, where I share tips and advice on blogging, Social Media and SEO.

15 comments - Leave a reply
  • Posted by Rob O. on 1st May 2008

    I think our 2Dolphins 404 page is pretty functional and ties in pretty well with the theme of the rest of the site. Only element I don't have is the recent or top posts because I haven't found a way to do that with Classic Blogger.

    I'd certainly welcome some feedback if anyone has ideas for taking our 404 up a notch…

  • Posted by Syed Balkhi on 1st May 2008

    It is sad to see that my blog made it in the worst example list. By no mean that was the intention, but I am glad that someone actually decided to mention the issue so I can fix it.

    Unlike this blog, my blog always offered a sidebar with categories and pages so I didn't think I would need to add the same elements over, though I have added a little extra on the page to make it fit the needs of my users. I will see how this optimization works out.

    Thanks again for pointing out what you thought about Balkhis.

    -Syed

  • Posted by cohnsey on 1st May 2008

    I totally agree with you on this. I once managed a site where we put a whacky pirate skeleton on our 404 page. People loved it and it definitely lowered the bounce rate.

  • Posted by Louis Liem on 1st May 2008

    You can also use 404 error page for your SEO improvements. You can begin by replacing the standard “Nothing found for bla bla bla” with your blog’s title and adding some intro to your site while spreading keywords you're targetting evenly.

  • Posted by James Mann on 2nd May 2008

    I went for a long time without modifying my 404 page but I finally got around to it.

    What I did is add code for recent posts and comments along with a search box.

    I also included a link to my contact page.

    Now I just have to do the same thing for my other blogs.

  • Posted by David Shaw on 2nd May 2008

    @Rob O

    Your 404 page offers the visitor an alternative to simply leaving which is a good start.

    @Syed

    Sorry to have put your blog on the negative side, at least you now know about it and can make some improvements.

    @Louis

    The 404 page can be used effectivley for SEO purposes if used correctly.

    @James

    Yeah, make sure you optimize it on all of your blogs and you should see some improvements.

  • Posted by Syed Balkhi on 2nd May 2008

    David I am glad that you did put it on the negative side and made me aware. I have already fixed it last night when I saw the post :)

    Will be looking to hear from your response. What else can I change….

    Let me know

  • Posted by David Shaw on 2nd May 2008

    @Syed

    The page looks alot better now! Should improve your Bounce Rate.

  • Posted by FFB on 2nd May 2008

    This is some great practical advice. I just went and adjusted my 404 page. Here's my question though…How can I see what my 404 page looks like? I've tried going through different pages but they are all coming up. I want to make sure my changes work properly. And I like the SEO advice too!

  • Posted by David Shaw on 2nd May 2008

    @FFB

    In the examples I just chucked my details onto the end of the URL, as there would not be a page called that, so for your site you are looking for this:
    http://freefrombroke.com/davidshawprotycoon

    Hope that helps

  • Posted by FFB on 2nd May 2008

    I'm learning so much with WordPress every day! I just figured out how to view my 404 page! Thanks again for the great article.

  • Posted by David Shaw on 2nd May 2008

    @FFB

    If you need help with WordPress head over to my blog at:
    http://www.protycoon.com

    You can use the contact page to send me any questions you may have!

  • Posted by Jacinda on 2nd May 2008

    I like the way yours is set up, but is there a reason you don’t have a search box in it as well? I know there’s one in the top right corner of every page, but would having one right at the top of the site map not help at all? I don’t think it would hurt at least.

  • Posted by Koka Sexton on 12th May 2008

    Good work on the 404. My site has a set of links to my most popular posts and I have been wondering what else I could do. Thanks for the tips.

  • Posted by David Shaw on 12th May 2008

    @Kola

    It depends on what pages you are looking to optimize.

    I would suggest a link to your category pages. Maybe links to your recent posts.