It’s 2014, and big brands think they have SEO all figured out. While there is no doubt that companies are adopting SEO best practices at a higher rate than any time in the past, most big brands still leave a lot to be desired. Lets take a look at some of these larger brand’s websites, and see how they are handling 404 errors on their websites.
First lets make sure we are all on the same page with what a 404 error is, and what the benefits of using custom 404 pages are.
What is a 404 error?
A 404 (“Not Found”) error is the HTTP standard response code that a server returns when it cannot find a requested page on a server. It is important to note that this error indicates that the server was found, but the unique page requested could not be located.
Depending on the browser you’re using, a generic 404 error page may look similar to this:
Some common ways that a user may encounter a 404 error page include:
1.) Misspelling a URL when typing directly into an internet browser
2.) Clicking on a link in a website or a search engine that is misspelled
3.) Clicking on a link on a webpage or search engine that is outdated and leads to a non-existent page on a website
So why does this even matter???
A generic 404 error page can cause a lot of confusion for users of a website, especially those who aren’t exactly computer savvy. A custom 404 page is an easy solution to this problem. To fully understand what problems a generic 404 page can cause for your website’s users, consider the following:
Major flaws with generic 404 pages:
1.) You can potentially lose valuable traffic from your website because,
2.) There is no consistency between the error page and the website on which the error occurred, which,
3.) May confuse users and cause them to feel as though they made a mistake, leading to
4.) A typical and undesirable response from a confused user such as exiting out of the browser, or navigating to a new website (potentially a competitors)
5.) This can also cause your website users to lose trust for your website. A generic 404 page on your website may cause users to feel that your website is not an authoritative or trustworthy source, and may lead to users feeling uncomfortable with continuing to use your website.
Major benefits of a custom 404 page:
1.) Keep users on your site
2.) Can provide links and information that may help them find what they’re looking for
3.) Can explain to visitors clearly that the page they’re looking for cannot be found
4.) Provide consistency between your site and error message
5.) Can provide a way for users to report the broken link
6.) Can incorporate a search function into the 404 page to further assist the user in finding what they are looking for
While a custom 404 page is certainly not among the highest priority issues that arise in an SEO campaign, it is nevertheless crucial and often overlooked.
As a test, I looked at 100 big brands to see if they were using custom 404 pages. The results were:
Good (36) – These 404 pages were set up correctly from a technical standpoint (returning a proper 404 response code) and were also clever, creative, and kept with the overall theme of the site.
Moderate (26) – These 404 pages were also set up correctly from a technical standpoint, but lacked the creative elements found on the 36 custom 404 pages classified as good.
Technical Errors (24) – These pages had technical errors, ranging from unnecessary redirects, to pages that return a 200 (Okay) response code, rather than the proper 404 (Not Found) response code.
Bad (14) – These are generic 404 pages
It was interesting to see that 38 out 100 major brands are missing the mark due to technical issues with their 404 pages, or by not using custom 404 pages at all.
Below are examples of some great custom 404 pages, and some generic 404 pages, in no particular order:
A&E – Custom 404 Page
Cartoon Network – Custom 404 Page
Hershey’s – Custom 404 Page
Hulu – Custom 404 Page
Lego – Custom 404 Page
American Airlines – Custom 404 Page
Jack Links – Custom 404 Page
Mint – Custom 404 Page
Crayola – Custom 404 Page
KFC – Generic 404 Page
Gatorade – Generic 404 Page
Valero – Generic 404 Page
Ford – Generic 404 Page