Is there any topic more exciting than 404 errors?
It’s brutally boring, BUT I’ve decided to spice things up a little.
In this article, I’m going to analyze 404 error page designs from the 100 most popular websites in the world.
I’ll also show you how to fix 404 errors at the end.
Let’s jump in.
What is a 404 Error Page?
A 404 error occurs when you land on a page that doesn’t exist on the host website.
It can be frustrating when you’re a user and that’s why it’s important for SEO. What’s important for users is important for your SEO campaign.
This doesn’t mean you need to “fix” all the 404 pages on your website either.
More on this in a second. There is one universal truth that applies to every website:
Your 404 page design and UX needs to be effective.
Model the some of the terrific 404 pages I found from the most popular websites in the world. Take a look:
Model These 404 Pages
I’ve ranked these 404 error pages based on effectiveness. Not how clever they are. Here we go:
eBay’s 404 page is perfect. It’s helpful for users and it’s also built to convert.
Healthline’s 404 page works well because it’s on-brand. It also directs users back to the important parts of their website.
RetailMeNot uses a nice conversion-focused 404 page. You should consider testing this model if you’re running a coupon site.
4. Go.com (Disney)
Go.com combines creativity (which is on-brand for Disney) and effectiveness by offering a search function on their 404 pages. Great job!
CNET has a clever and effective 404 error page. It’s effective because of the display ads placed in strategic locations. I also love the “All-Time Favorites” content section.
This is an effective way to send users back into their website’s rabbit hole. They know more dwell time equals more ad revenue.
Facebook’s 404 page design is on-brand and simple. It gives users enough options to find what they need. Well done.
YouTube’s 404 error page is simple and effective. You only have one option and that’s to search.
It would make sense for Google.com to model YouTube’s 404 page. Not sure why they wouldn’t when search is their bread and butter.
404 Pages NOT to Model
Amazon’s 404 page caught me off guard. Marketers study Amazon because of its conversion-focused mindset. So what’s going on here? Why are they pushing the “Meet the dogs of Amazon”? agenda on a 404 page?
I understand if they’re trying to make their company more relatable and “human” and that’s fine. The timing is a little strange.
Let’s step into the mind of the user for a second.
They were looking for something specific and now they’re presented with a distraction. A percentage of people will click to learn more about “the dogs of Amazon”. Then a small percentage of those people will forget what they were even doing on Amazon in the first place.
So, if we’re examining this from a pure conversion perspective, it’s an odd strategy.
The good news is Amazon still shows a prominent search function. It’s not a “bad” 404 error page. It’s just a weird strategy.
Surprisingly, Google has a bad 404 page. The page isn’t helpful for users at all. It informs them that they tried to reach a page that doesn’t exist, but what happens next?
The only option is to hit the back button on their browser or exit. You would think the biggest search engine in the world would have a search function on their 404 error page.
The funny part is another division of their company (YouTube) has a better 404 page. See above.
I don’t know if Reddit’s team is trying to be clever or this isn’t intentional. It’s a bad 404 error page regardless. It doesn’t direct users anywhere and it gives no guidance.
My only assumption is the Reddit team has concluded their user base is intelligent enough to find what they need on their own.
Here’s an interesting fact about my research:
13 of the 100 most popular websites have 404 error pages like Reddit.
Spotify’s 404 page looks okay on the surface, but there are some issues with the links. It’s a common UX best practice to underline links initially or on a hover. Spotify doesn’t do either.
How to Fix 404 Errors
The best way to find and fix 404 errors is to use Screaming Frog SEO Spider.
But before you dig in, when should you fix a 404 error?
The answer is sometimes.
Here’s a simple criteria to follow:
- 301 redirect a 404 page if there’s a suitable alternative on your website.
- 301 redirect a 404 page if it has existing backlinks, traffic, sales, or any other positive KPIs. If you don’t have a relevant page to 301, then redirect it to the homepage.
If a 404 page doesn’t have any positive KPIs, then let it be a 404. Google will crawl it and remove it from the index. I recommend going into Google Search Console and marking the 404s as “fixed”.
It’s not necessary, but it doesn’t hurt.
How to Find 404 Error Pages
Open up Screaming Frog SEO Spider, enter your target domain and start the analysis.
Click on the “Response Codes” tab. Then click on the “Filter” dropdown and select “Client Error (4xx)”.
Export all the 404 errors.
The next step is to take all of your 404 pages and analyze them using Ahrefs. Go to Ahrefs, click on “More” in the navigation and click “Batch analysis”.
Enter your URLs and start the analysis.
Click on the “Domains” column and you’ll see what 404 pages have existing backlinks.
Now 301 redirect the 404 pages (with existing backlinks) to a relevant page.
5 Qualities of Perfect 404 Pages
Here are a few 404 page qualities to emulate based on my analysis of the top websites in the world:
1. Be user-focused
Landing on a 404 page can be frustrating. Help the user as much as you can.
2. Stay on-brand
The best 404 pages stayed on-brand and were creative. Especially Disney:
Attention to detail goes a long way.
3. Keep it simple
Don’t overwhelm the user more than they already are. Give them exactly they need to find what they were looking for.
4. Make links look like links
UX 101 right here. Your links should always look like links.
5. Try to drive conversions (if it makes sense)
Not every website can try to make sales on a 404 page. But if it makes sense in your situation, test it.
Optimizing 404 pages won’t have a huge impact on SEO performance, but it can’t be overlooked. Design a quality 404 page and 301 redirect pages that are worth redirecting (based on KPIs and relevance).
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