Google has launched a new tool in their Webmaster Tools suite that allows website owners to create custom 404 pages. 404 pages are those that don’t exist and therefore return a “not found” error when users try to view them in their web browser.
Visitors can stumble on to a 404 page for many reasons including:
- The URL they are entering has been miss spelt.
- They have followed an old link to content that has been moved or deleted.
- The link they are following has been truncated in an email message etc.
When visitors land on these pages, it’s very likely that many of them may just leave because they can’t be bothered searching through your website to find the correct URL. To combat this, instead of returning a “File not found” error page, try using Google’s “Enhance 404 pages” tool to create a much more useful 404 error page.
The first step is to configure your web server to display your new 404 page. This is usually quite simple but varies for each hosting setup, so please check your server or web host documentation on how to do this.
Here’s how it works, from the Google blog:
Example: Jamie receives the link www.example.com/activities/adventurecruise.html in an email message. Because of formatting due to a bad email client, the URL is truncated to
www.example.com/activities/adventur. As a result it returns a 404 page. With the 404 widget added, however, she could instead see the following:
In addition to attempting to correct the URL, the 404 widget also suggests the following, if available:
- a link to the parent subdirectory
- a sitemap webpage
- site search query suggestions and search box
Google says the feature is currently experimental and they will work on improving it in the meantime. If you’ve successfully used custom 404 pages on your site, let us know how its impacted your visitors experience!