How to Use 404 Error Pages to your Advantage

  •    Marketing Manager at MarketGoo, an SEO application for businesses looking to optimize their websites for search engines.

An error page, also known as a 404 page, is what a site visitor sees when they try to reach a page on your website that doesn’t actually exist. It may have never existed (this can happen when there’s a typo in the page URL), or at some point it existed but you changed its URL.

Why is it called 404? 404 is an HTTP response status code. If you’re really interested in the origin of this name, read about the History of the 404 Error.

On Weebly sites, most error pages look like this:
1-404

How do you know if you have error pages?
We usually find error pages on our own site when someone else tells us about them or we casually stumble upon one, but it’s important to know as soon as they appear, because they can affect your site, as we’ll explain below.

There are a few online tools which you can use to detect broken links and 404 errors on your page (including Google Search Console) - and if you’re a Weebly user, you can see an SEO Report of your site which will confirm whether your error pages are properly set up, and where they are so you can fix them. This is an easy way to be alerted of any errors instead of having to go out and search for them whenever you have a spare minute.

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See the number in red? MarketGoo shows you how many errors you have, and if you click on it you can see which ones they are in order to quickly fix them.

How can they affect my site?

When you link to other website’s 404 pages
Search engines like Google take links seriously, so if you are linking out to another website from your own page, you’re telling your visitors and Google that this page has quality content. Check that you’re not linking out to any pages that don’t exist anymore.

When other website’s link to your site’s 404 pages
This will affect your site’s traffic and user experience - if another website is telling its visitors to go to your site, and when they click through they get an error page, they will likely leave. Make sure your site has redirects done properly to avoid this.

If another website is pointing their visitors to a misspelled URL on your site, the best course of action is to directly reach out to the site and have them fix it.

Keep in mind that 404 error pages on your site are inevitable because even if there are no broken links and all pages that changed URL have been redirected, someone can always type yourwebsite.com/agljlgasfd instead of yourwebsite.com/page-that-exists, and they’ll get your error page. Don’t worry about these kinds of errors which are beyond your control.
A 404 error page won’t only affect your site negatively, you can also make it work in your favor! A custom page works very well to make sure site visitors don’t bounce once they see that the content they were originally looking for isn’t there.

How can I customize an Error Page on my Weebly site?

Weebly provides all its websites with a 404 error page by default, but you can definitely get creative and customize your own.

The reasons why people choose to customize these pages is to keep users browsing related content on your site, add your own branding to keep your site looking consistent, and generally reducing your bounce rate by keeping visitors on your site even if they encounter an error.

The steps to set-up your custom error page are the following:

  • In your Weebly site Editor, Go to the Pages section and use the “+” button to add a new Standard Page. Name that page “404” and check the box “Hide in Navigation”.
  • Design it with whatever images and links you want (see guidelines below), save it and hit Publish!

What kind of elements should your custom 404 error page have?

  • Get creative! Don’t just publish a couple of sentences.
  • Be sure to include a link back to your homepage, but also to other elements like your Blog, your latest blog post, a video, your customer testimonials, etc. Keep the visitor interested so they don’t just close the tab! Keep in mind that it shouldn’t look cluttered.
  • Use buttons, not just a text link!
  • If you have a livechat on your site, make sure people who land on your error page can see it and chat with you about what they were looking for! If you don’t, provide another way to get in touch - via e-mail, a link to your customer support page, your contact page, your Twitter page, etc.
  • Get some inspiration from the Best 404 Pages we’ve seen, which includes explanations about what makes them so good.

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Some websites even have animated error pages! Source.

Want to see what your fellow Weebly users are doing with their custom 404 pages? Check out this thread in the Community forum and get started on your own!