Inevitably in the life time of a website, you’re going to have pages that are no longer relevant. Perhaps the information is simply outdated or you don’t offer that particular product or service anymore.
What’s a webmaster to do in this instance?
If you’ve spent any time online, there’s no doubt that you have encountered a webpage saying “Error 404” or something like that. Whether a URL was typed in wrong or you were simply looking for something that didn’t exist anymore, a 404 error message indicates to you and the search engines that this page no longer exists.
Having a lot of 404 redirects isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the eyes of Google and other search engines…however, 404 redirects should be setup in a way that’s inviting to the reader and encourages them to stay on your site.
According to Google employee John Mu, 404 redirects are not a problem for the search engine, especially if the page helps a user find related information within the site.
With respect to site visitors and conversions, static 404 redirects are very uninviting, breaking the conversion process much of the time. Let’s say you sell power tools and someone is looking for a particular model band saw but the product is obsolete and is no longer manufactured. If that prospective buyer finds a link to their preferred saw on your site clicks the link and comes to a static page that says “Error 404” and nothing else, they will most likely go elsewhere to find their saw.
Static 404 pages are also a problem for search engine spiders since they find pages on your site through following links. If there are no links on a 404 page, it will not know where to go.
Five must haves for a 404 redirect page include:
- An apology for the error (even if the visitor is at-fault)
- A search box that’s prominently displayed
- A link to your site map
- A link to your home page
- Links to other main areas on your site
The above example could include a picture of a carpenter who’s frustrated that he can’t find a tool he needs on a job, adding some humor and empathy to the customer’s predicament.
If you’re 404 redirect pages are static, spruce them up by including a template of your site along with some of the elements mentioned above.
The point is – do not have static 404 redirect pages. They could cost you dearly both in terms of search engine rankings and conversions.