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404 page tips that can actually help your SEO

Ah, the dreaded 404 page. Website owners want to avoid them and users hate to see them.

You may be thinking that the title of this post is misleading because 404’s aren’t ever really good for SEO.

While that’s certainly true, we can also turn an SEO loss into another SEO opportunity and in this article I’ll explain why and how simple it really is to get there.

Wait…don’t 404 errors hurt your SEO?

Yes but no. But mostly yes.

A 404 error itself doesn’t hurt your SEO, but a pages that results in a 404 does.

If Google has indexed a page and that page no longer exists, your users get a 404 error because the referring link doesn’t exist.

This is most commonly known as a broken link.

Pages with broken links reduces your link quality, which affects your authority over time.

broken link 404 path illustration

If you want to maintain a high-quality website in Google’s eyes, the amount of 404’s your site generates matters.

Obviously, the best tactic is to regularly check for broken links and resolve any 404’s in the first place.

But why not be prepared and make sure that if your users get 404’d, you can at least try to repair the broken experience by keeping them on your site.

Your users will encounter a 404 on your site at some point, even if it’s a temporary server hiccup.

So you’d might as well leverage that error page with tactics to keep users around.

If you’re gonna lose in one way, why not try to gain in another?

The first thing to understand is that applying the tips I outline in this article won’t undo any lost authority from the referring page’s broken link.

That said, if your error page’s content offers ways to keep users on your site, you can gain in other areas.

This includes additional page views, user engagement, and giving other pages potential for interaction that may have otherwise been lost when the user leaves your site altogether.

Maybe you’ll even even recover what would’ve otherwise been a lost conversion, which for eCommerce sites can be especially important.

From an SEO and user experience perspective, it comes down to this:

When your website serves a user lemons, turn it into lemonade.

A 404 page should have a purpose

In the (hopefully) unlikely event your users get a 404 page instead of the content they were expecting, the last thing you want to do is leave them at a dead stop.

Unfortunately, quite a lot of these pages do just that.

The first and obvious one is to communicate to the user that there was an error in loading the desired page or asset.

The second and most important purpose a 404 page has is to keep the user from leaving your site altogether.

Think of your 404 page as more of a life preserver for your site.

You may come across a rundown list of entertaining 404 pages that uses things like funny images, puns, or other eye candy.

They may give your visitors a chuckle, but if that’s the only thing your 404 page delivers then you’re openly choosing to lose visitors and even goal conversions.

Having fun with your 404 page is great, but you need to make sure users have options so they don’t abandon your site and choose your competition.

What to include on your 404 page

It doesn’t take much to beef up your 404 page with options for the user.

The screenshot below is from my own error page.

Because my site is a blog, my error page recommends other blog articles and a search form, both potentially helpful options for those who stumble across the page:

404 page layout sample screenshot

The point is that the user has options instead of being left with that dead end you want to avoid.

If you run a website that offers services or products, you could also display a list of recently added or popular offering pages.

If you’re lost as to what to try adding, look at your analytics for some inspiration.

Check your 301 redirects

Page redirects are a normal practice and are especially important when it comes to your SEO.

Be sure to regularly check any redirects to ensure they’re still working.

It’s also a good idea to try to avoid too many redirects or you risk losing some page authority should you have too many redirects in a chain of links.

Tools for fixing 404 errors on your site

Prevention’s always the right starting point, so if you want to reduce the likelihood of your users getting 404’s, here are some tools you can use to check for broken links.

Have fun!

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