Custom 404 Pages Are Good for Your SEO

How to create a great 404 page for the users? - hero image

A 404 error is a standard HTTP status code that a web server returns to a client to inform that the requested resource couldn’t be found. The 404 code can appear for various reasons, such as:

  • The page was deleted,
  • The user made a typo while typing the URL,
  • The link pointing to the page was incorrect.

A 404 error is a common and unavoidable situation on the web. For more information on when it can harm your SEO and how to prevent it read our guide on fixing 404 and soft 404 issues in Google Search Console.

This article will focus on creating custom 404 pages and using them to your advantage.

Custom 404 pages vs. Generic 404 pages

A generic or default 404 error page is provided by the web server or the application server whenever the user tries to access some unexistent URL. It contains a simple piece of text on a white background that just says “Not Found.”

A screenshot of basic "not found" message.

You can replace it with a custom 404 page specifically designed per your visual communication system and business goals.  It usually contains a more detailed message explaining the error.

Custom 404 pages create an opportunity to suggest to the user how they find the information they are looking for, for example, by using the site’s navigation menu. A custom 404 page can also include a search feature, which can help users find what they’re looking for on your site.

How can custom 404 pages boost your SEO?

Reaching a 404 page is not a pleasant experience. But thanks to the customization, you can make sure it’s not the final experience a user has with your website.

Custom 404 pages are also helpful to search engine crawlers as they create more opportunities for discovering your content.

Let’s discuss three advantages custom 404 pages provide your website with.

Improving user experience 

Custom 404 pages can transform a negative experience into a positive one for users. 

When users reach a 404 page, you can provide them with helpful information and links to other pages on your site rather than simply being faced with an error message. Thanks to tips on navigating further, the 404 page can become a step toward finding information instead of a final failure.

Enhancing useful internal linking

Links provided to reduce your user’s frustration and help them navigate to the information they want are also useful for search engine crawlers. By providing new links, you can increase the chance of your valuable content getting discovered and indexed.

Promoting your social media profiles

You can use your custom 404 pages as another way to invite users to visit your social media profiles. Although you shouldn’t overdo the invitation, there is a chance that the user will find the important information in your social media announcements.

Best practices on custom 404 page with examples

I hope I managed to convince you that 404 pages aren’t just a necessary evil but a potential help with boosting your SEO. Let’s explore the best ways to incorporate them into your online strategy.

Provide a clear error message

A good 404 page should always include a clear message that it’s an error page. No matter the design you choose, you should always let the users know that something went wrong and the page was not found. Avoid technical jargon or vague language, and clearly state that the page couldn’t be found.

IKEA 404 page

Ikea is a good example of providing a clear error message. Their custom 404 page includes both the 404 code and a short explanation which makes it easily understandable for users.

IKEA custom 404 page: The number 404 is arranged with cutlery and a plush toy.

Create a search bar

A search bar allows users looking for specific content to give it another shot and search for what they were looking for on your website.

Moz 404 page

A good example of a 404 page with a search bar is

In the middle of Moz's custom 404 page, there is a content search bar.

In addition, Moz’s 404 page is kept in a cheerful manner. Including humor or a lighthearted tone, if it fits with your brand’s personality, can help alleviate frustration and make the experience more enjoyable for users.

Include a list of resources

If a user ends up on a 404 page but doesn’t have a specific thing in their mind to type in the search bar, you can provide a list of resources that can be found on your website. Provide links to popular or relevant content on your site.

Tripadvisor 404 page

Tripadvisor has a custom 404 page with a simple design that fits the website and a list of essential pages. With a bit of humor and four simple buttons, Tripadvisor provides an easy option to browse through the sections that might interest users the most.

TripAdvisor's custom 404 page links to lists of hotels, restaurants, and attractions.

Not only is this page helpful for the users, but it also allows Tripadvisor to show off its content and encourage people to explore the website.

Include a CTA button

By including a CTA button, you can show users the next step they can take. 

The simplest use of a CTA button is to direct the users to your home page. A simple yet effective way of giving users some guidance.

There are also other interesting and valuable ways to use the CTA button on the 404 page, such as sending the user to the contact form or encouraging them to take another action that coincides with your business goals.

Blizzard 404 page

The custom 404 page by Blizzard Entertainment contains an example of a creative and fun CTA button that leads the user to their homepage.

Blizzard's custom 404 pages make fun of their game's Murloc heroes, who are sent to escort the user to existing pages.

Kinsta 404 page

Another solution is to include a “Contact us” CTA button. For example, if a user came with a specific question and the 404 page made it impossible to get the answer, they might want to contact you to ask for details. 

Users might also use the “Contact us” option to report the error to you.

Kinsta includes both a “Main Page“ and a “Contact Us” button. Users can go through the website or get in touch with the company. Thus, it provides a solution for people who want to explore the website or find an answer to a specific question.

Screenshot of esthetic Kinsta's custom 404 page.

9gag 404 page

The CTA button should help your users but also fit your business goals. For example, you can include an option to leave an email and subscribe to your newsletter. 

9gag uses its 404 page to encourage people to download its app. The addition of a background gif fits perfectly with the 9gag style.

9gag's custom 404 page contains a meme and a link to download the app.

Link to your top content

Your popular content has the best chance of keeping the users engaged. It gives you the opportunity to grab your users’ attention before they leave your 404 page. 

Links to your most popular content can be especially beneficial for eCommerce websites because you can promote your top-selling products on a page that’s otherwise somewhat of a dead end.

Urban Outfiter 404 page

An excellent example of a 404 page that presents top content is shown on Urban Outfitters’ website. It has a “Most Popular” section with the possibility to buy the items right away.

Urban Outfitter's 404 page lists their most popular products.

Don’t forget about your brand identity

By customizing your 404 page and aligning it with the design of your website, you can show that you really care about the entirety of your customer’s journey through your website. The 404 page shouldn’t feel like it’s disconnected from the rest of your content.

A 404 page can show your brand’s tone and personality. A creative design that fits the website’s style can make people smile and maybe even encourage them to share the page with friends. 

Pixar 404 page

Pixar is using one of its well-known characters on the 404 page. Even though the page doesn’t provide extensive navigational features, the graphics and heartwarming message fit perfectly with the brand’s style.

Pixar's custom 404 page depicts Sadness from "Inside out" movie crying over nonexisting content.

Keep the correct server’s response

Even if you fully customize your 404 page, ensure that the server still returns a 404 HTTP status code. It’s a bad practice to set up a 200 code, suggesting a successful response when the page actually doesn’t exist. 

Use relevant and accurate HTTP status codes when returning 404 errors to users. This will help users and search engines understand that the page couldn’t be found rather than thinking there is an issue with the quality of your content. 

Wrapping up

Don’t leave your users on their own with a standard 404 page. 

Users should never be left with no information about what happened and what they should do next. 

Instead, strive to create a good experience throughout your site. That includes error pages that, when customized, can help you:

  • Show a lighthearted and caring side of your brand,
  • Lead users to the most helpful resources on your site,
  • Utilize CTA buttons that redirect visitors to your home page, contact form, social media profiles, or other places,
  • Provide your users with a search bar, and
  • Increase the chance they won’t drop off from your website.

Hi! I’m Bartosz, founder and Head of SEO @ Onely. Thank you for trusting us with your valuable time and I hope that you found the answers to your questions in this blogpost.

In case you are still wondering how to exactly move forward with fixing your website Technical SEO – check out our services page and schedule a free discovery call where we will do all the heavylifting for you.

Hope to talk to you soon!