How Can 404 Error Pages Be Part of Your SEO Strategy?

Nicolas Pagnotta
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Anything related to the word ‘error’ leads to an unhappy (or at least, unpleasant) thought. Especially in the world of digital marketing and the internet in general. So it’s kind of natural that many marketers don’t know about how to seize 404 error pages. In fact, it’s very likely you’re not even 100% sure what these pages are about. In this article we’ll give you a simple yet solid explanation on 404 pages and even so, how you can actually use them in your SEO strategy.

A 404 error page is basically an HTTP status code that means the server couldn’t locate the page your visitor tried to access. So when someone lands to that page, that user is generally greeted with an image like this:

seo strategy for 404 errors

 

If you put yourself in your visitor’s shoes, you’ll understand that it’s very likely he or she will leave your website as soon as this message pops up. And it’s very likely they’ll go to Google to try to find another website.So yeah, leaving your 404 error pages like this is not a good strategy. So what can you do?

SEO Strategy Common No Nos for 404 Error Pages

One of the most common mistakes people make with 404 error pages is to use them to redirect to the website’s home page. Doing this can backfire simply because it offers a poor user experience. The visitor might be confused by being led to a page that is not the one you promised and landing to the home page could be just plain irrelevant for his or her query.

So using a 301 or 302 redirect to your home page is definitely a bad choice for your SEO strategy. Some webmasters do this in order to preserve any link juice generated by the removed or non-existing page. This strategy tends to backfire not only because of the poor user experience I mentioned before but also because it can lead Google to think your homepage is actually a soft 404 error!

So does that mean you shouldn’t redirect your 404 error pages? Well, you can do that with some of them. And if you do so you should have a way to determine which pages are relevant to redirect to. You should lead your 404 content to pages with similar categories or products, or just the same information. 

Still, there’s something else you can do better.

A Better Use of Your 404 Error Page 

If you don’t have the chance to update the page that leads to the error message, you can actually improve your 404 error page in a way that the negative experience turns into a positive one; and thus, retain the user that otherwise would leave. And one of the basic ways to do that is to add relevant links to your 404 error page.

These links are the easiest way out of the error for common users that may not have found what they were looking for, but at least you’re giving them a chance to find it. Some of the most common links you can implement in your 404 page are:

  • Some of your most popular or relevant blogs
  • Popular or relevant products or categories
  • A contact page or form to report the broken link
  • Your site’s homepage
  • Your site’s HTML sitemap

Another good option is to turn your 404 page into a search box. So in case the links that I mentioned above don’t provide a solution, the visitor might as well look for it. You can also seize this page to use your brand’s identity and provide a much friendlier, more welcoming experience than if you left the usual, blank error page. Our own WEBITMD 404 error page is an example of what I mean:

404 error seo strategy

As you can see, we’re using our brand’s colors, with a simple yet friendly messaging, that leads you directly to a solution (the search bar). On-site branding + search functionality; rather than a HTTP 404 Page not found that sparks ideas like ‘error’, ‘spam’ and ultimately, ‘LEAVE’ to any visitor.

Search engine optimization and creative web development go hand-in-hand at WEBITMD! We have experience working with virtually any platform; from WordPress, Shopify and Magento to Squarespace, Wix or GoDaddy. WEBITMD is also a Hubspot Platinum Partner agency so we can help you make the best out of your Hubspot website. 

Learn more about SEO and the new approach to revenue in SEO strategies by downloading our FREE guide here:

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