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Running a successful website and maximizing ROI not only requires doing the big things right, but also doing the little things right. Even when attention to detail won't make or break your business, it can have a meaningful impact.

One page that publishers often don't pay enough attention to is an important one: the 404 page. While you would hope that every visitor to your website will land on the page he or she intended to land on, that's often not the case. And the page he or she is greeted with, the 404, can determine whether you lose a visitor (sometimes for life) or make lemonade out of lemons.

Here are five tips for making sure your 404s are working for you, not against you.

Set up your 404

The worst way to let your users know that they've landed on a page that doesn't exist is usually to display the default message your web server will spit out if you haven't set up your own 404, or to show them a white screen of death.

Avoid an identity crisis

A 404 deserves the same papering you've probably given to all of the other pages on your website. Ideally, your 404 will look like the rest of your site, but at the very least, it should make visible the identity of the website (use your logo).

Don't be too terse, or technical

There are a lot of ways to say "Page Not Found" but as a general rule of thumb, your 404 should highlight the problem ("The page you're looking for was not found on thissite.com") and provide a simple explanation ("It's possible you entered the address incorrectly or are looking for a page that has moved").

Don't send the user away 

Just because you can't deliver what a user is looking for doesn't mean that you don't have what he or she wants. Your 404 should contain the navigation elements present on your other pages, and if possible, should provide a search form or other functionality that gives the user the opportunity to find the content originally sought or otherwise relevant content.

Track your 404s

Bad links happen, files get accidentally deleted, etc. That's why it's a good idea to keep track of the 404s you're serving up. If you see the same URLs over and over again, you may be able to 301 users to a page that has been moved, or direct them to a more relevant page.

Patricio Robles

Published 6 August, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2429 more posts from this author

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Rob Drummond

Patricio this is an excellent, and often overlooked point (I'm going off now to review my 404 pages - so thanks for that!). I especially like the idea of having a page that reflects the style of the rest of your site, and many content management systems allow you to set this up easily.

over 6 years ago

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Depesh Mandalia, Head of Digital Marketing at Lost My Name

Here's a tip for affiliate marketers that don't have decent 404 pages (I've seen many, you can't hide from it!): add a title about "Sorry XXX page not found" and below it a line that the page may no longer exist or the user may have mistyped with a few relevant 'keywords' about your site. Then drop some adsense. The worst thing for an affiliate marketer is to lose traffic so if you're going to lose it on a 404 (and frankly 404s do happen for many reasons) then monetise it as a last resort (it also improves the customer experience by providing them with a useful resource)

over 6 years ago

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karl

> are looking for a page that has moved This is bad ;) If the page has been moved. HTTP is here for handling redirection. It would mean that the people haven't used the proper redirection mechanism. Suggestion for the message: "You might have followed a bad link or entered the wrong address. Search what you are looking [/searchform box/] or visit the home page of our Web site."

over 6 years ago

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Sam

Adding a search box/feature on a 404 can help with stickability depending on your line of business

over 6 years ago

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Bill

My 404 page text says "Page Not Found Sorry, the page you were looking for, "/test", could not be found, and we weren't sure what you were trying to find. Please try our menu, our sitemap, or search.", with links to the sitemap and the search feature (on my list is to make it actually a searchbox). I also have the page email me every time there is an invalid link, and I add php redirects to appropriate locations for each missing page.

over 6 years ago

Robin Gurney

Robin Gurney, MD at CRE8ORS

Not sure why my comment did not show up but anyway i recommended Plink Labs Area 404 (exmaple and advice about 404) http://www.plinko.net/404/area404.asp and also welcomed anyone to our fun page www.altex.ee/bvjh

over 6 years ago

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