How To Fix A 404 Error Page

Reclaim the 404 Error Page to Win Leads and Generate Sales

By
James Gibbons
404 Error Page

A broken link causes a 404 error page. Often, this negative experience affects the user's journey. Avoid having 404 error pages on your website when possible. Even though many website owners try their best to keep visitors from seeing their site's 404 error, it remains one of the most common web page response codes.

Ready to discover the 404 response code, why, and how it occurs? Learn how to use a 404's negative experience with a custom landing page to your advantage. A well-designed 404 error message can work wonders for your business and lead to new sales opportunities.

Read on to discover how you can reclaim your site's 404 error pages and convert them into leads and sales.

404 Error Explained

A 404 error page is an error message that is displayed when someone tries to access a web page that doesn't exist. Your site visitors will see a 404 page error message if the URL is incorrect or missing. The server generates this HTTP response when users need help finding a page.

404 error page message
404 Error Page Message

A 404 page is a part of the 4xx HTTP Status code, which is returned when a client request error occurs. Learn about all 4xx HTTP Status Codes here.

What Causes A 404 Error?

When you link to an image or media file that doesn't exist, your website may return a 404 response code. It is the most common scenario and can happen even if you've followed the best practices for internal linking.

Website owners often use the same URL for different pages or images but cannot update the link once the page or image has been deleted or moved. As a result, it redirects users to a 404 error page not found.

Other reasons website visitors will see a "Page Not Found" error include the following:

1. The URL was miswritten, linked incorrectly, or mistyped in the browser (misspelled)

2. This website's server is down, or the connection is broken.

3. The domain name system (DNS) can't convert the requested domain name to an IP)

4. It is impossible to redirect the URL to the new domain because the entered domain name no longer exists.

Are All 404 Pages Bad for SEO?

A 404 status code can be terrible for SEO, resulting in a loss of page rank and search engine visibility. However, this does not mean that all 404 pages are bad for SEO. You can use your 404 error pages to your advantage.

How to Reclaim 404 Pages?

Step 1: Understand Your Visitors' Intentions 

Your visitors will have one of two different intentions when they land on your 404 page.

1. They may want to find the content they want within the same session.

2. They may want to go back and try again later.

The "immediate" group consists of people who already know what they are looking for and need to get there quickly. The "later" group is browsing through the site and clicks on a link that no longer works or is mistyped.

To find out which group your visitors belong to, look at the referring URLs for these users. Suppose most users come from search engines like Google but click on broken or nofollow links from other sites like Facebook or Pinterest.

In that case, you should assume that these users fall into the latter category. You need to offer them value beyond just getting them back to where they came from initially.

Step 2: Assess the Value of Your Error Pages

Typically, a 404 status code will only be seen once by each visitor. Thus, you want to ensure that your error pages resolve the problem and provide users with a positive experience.

Suppose the user searched for how to care for an animal and landed on your 404 page instead. Use this opportunity to help them with their specific animal care needs by providing links to related articles or videos.

Alternatively, if you have an email sign-up form on your website or blog, you can also include it. It is likely that these visitors already have some interest in your site and its content. See section: Examples of custom 404 pages to win leads for more.

The key here is to provide value beyond just getting them back to where they were when they first arrived at the site—you want them to come back again!

Step 3: Use Your Error Pages Strategically

It's time to double-check that the pages are easy to navigate based on user experience (UX).

You can link directly to a specific page or add links to other website pages. Adding a sitemap on your website facilitates website search and can help users find exact pages. If there is no way for people to find a particular page, they will never know that it exists. Learn how to create your sitemap here.

As you can see, UX design goes far beyond simple aesthetics and functionality. UX is also about how you can use your website strategically to help you achieve your business goals.

Step 4: Track Your Results

Once you have implemented your updated 404 page, it is time to track the results. Ideally, you want to track which groups of users often land on these 404 error messages.

If most users are coming from search engine referrals and clicking on broken links from other sites, focus more on providing value to these visitors through helpful content or sign-up forms.

If most users are coming from internal links and clicking on broken links from your site or blog, add some additional internal linking throughout the site to better guide visitors around your website.

Either way, tracking the results of your new error pages will help ensure that they are being used in an optimal manner that helps support your business objectives.

How To Find & Fix a 404 Error

If you see an HTTP error 404 on your website, broken links likely caused the error. Make sure all links lead to the correct page.

Find 404 Status Pages in Google Search Console

Search Console allows you to monitor and optimize your website for Google searches. Search Console's ability to help you find and fix 404 errors is one of its key features.

Many 404 status codes on your website can negatively affect your website's visibility and ranking on Google. It can also cause your website's visitors to leave your website.

Fortunately, Search Console can help you find and fix error codes like 404 on your website. In the Console's 'Index' section, head to the 'Pages' tab. On top, you will see all the indexed pages v/s the pages that were not indexed.

If you scroll down, you will find a list of all errors causing indexation issues. You will see a list of all pages returning 404 errors by clicking on it. Check and diagnose these pages. Check if Googlebot can access the pages once you have fixed them on GSC.

It is important to note that 404s do not always mean a page is missing. There could be other reasons for a 404 error, such as a page being moved or deleted. If you see multiple errors marked as 404 on your website, investigate and fix them using the above methods.

404 response codes in Google Analytics

The 404 response codes are an inevitable part of website operation, but they can be minimized and tracked using Google Analytics. By understanding where 404 status codes originate, site owners can correct the underlying issues and improve the user experience on their site.

There are several ways to find 404s in Google Analytics. The methods outlined below are some of the most common and straightforward approaches.

1. Filter 404 Errors in Site Content

One way to find 404 pages in Google Analytics is to filter them out of site content. Navigate to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. From this report, click on the drop-down arrow next to the 404 column header to filter the errors.

The report will show only those pages that generated 404 response codes. You now have a list of the most problematic pages.

You can additionally filter pages by Page title. If your 404 page returns a 'Page Not Found' title tag, you can find 404 pages by applying this title.

2. View 404 Errors in Real-Time

Another way to find 404s in Google Analytics is to view them in real time. To do this, navigate to Behavior > Real-Time > Overview. Under the Errors section, you will see a list of the pages currently generating the 404 response code to the users. Now you can troubleshoot problems as they occur.

3. View Error: 404 by Source/Medium

Navigate to Acquisition > Source/Medium. See a list of all the sources and mediums causing a negative user experience and taking users to a 404 page.

4. Filter 404 Pages by Landing Page

Go to Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages and find a list of all the landing pages generating 404 errors.

5. List 404 Status Code Pages by Browser

View 404 response codes filtered by browser type by navigating to Audience > Technology > Browser > Browser Version. Now you know what browser version is causing the most problem and where to prioritize your efforts.

Using the above methods, site owners can easily find and track 404 status codes in Google Analytics. Identify and correct the underlying issues causing negative 404 user experiences.

How to find 404 Errors in GA4?

If you have shifted to GA4, you can find 404 pages by

1. Log in to your Google Analytics 4 property and go to Reports > Engagement > Pages.

2. Under the list of pages, you will see a column for 404s. Find a list of the total number of 404 errors originating from that page.

3. For a detailed breakdown, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.

4. You can also find 404 pages by navigating Behavior > Events > Top Events or Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals.

Find 404 Pages with Third-party Tools

Google tools are not the only way to find and fix broken links on your site. You can also use third-party solutions. Broken link detection tools crawl your website and provide a list of all broken links.

1. Open Site Explorer is a free tool by Moz that lets you see which sites are linking to your website. You can also use the tool to find broken links on your site and get information about the linking site, such as their Page Authority and Trust Flow.

2. Screaming Frog helps you find broken links, redirects, and other errors on your website. You can export a list of all broken links and then use the Repair Broken Links tool to fix them.

Once you've found the broken links, you can fix them. In addition, a new page or content will need to be created for the broken link. Broken links can negatively affect your SEO if they remain on your site.

Start by looking for pages without content or that are deleted. You may encounter such an issue if you link to a page that does not exist. Alternatively, if you link to an image or media file that does not exist, replace deleted pages or media files with their closest matching URLs. Replace the old links on the site with new ones.

Best Practices to Fix 404 Error Codes

Search engines like Google are known to penalize websites with broken links. A website's ranking can be negatively impacted when it contains broken links, which affect the user experience.

The most important thing to remember when creating a 404 page is that it should be simple and easy to use. Visitors will leave and never return if they have difficulty locating the information they are looking for on your website.

Another issue that can arise from an HTTP 404 status code is a damaged reputation. Users will begin to see 404 pages as a sign of bad design or coding. It can hurt your brand and reputation.

You need to create a positive user experience that does not frustrate users, causing them to abandon your website. Hence having a custom 404 page is essential.

Benefits of a Custom 404 Page

A custom 404 page is the best way to tell users that their search didn't work and encourage them to try again or use another source. Some ways n which a custom 404 page can benefit your website include:

1. Present a Consistent Brand Image

With an original 404 page, you can show off your brand personality while delivering a consistent message. Additionally, it will let visitors know they are still on your site and not on a blocked server.

2. Turn a Lost Cause into an Opportunity

With the right 404 page, you can prevent the loss of those conversions and turn an unpleasant experience into something people will remember. Engage users on 404 pages with clever copy and engaging tactics.

3. Increase Leads and Conversions

Convert visitors to customers with your 404 page. If people land on your 404 page, offer them a discount or an opt-in offer. You could alternatively provide an email or contact form so that they can get in touch for assistance.

Creating a Custom 404 Page for your Website

Some content management systems (CMS), such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, auto-generate a 404 page for broken links. The HTTP 404 page is a standard error message, but it can customize using specialized CMS extensions.

Your CMS may not allow you to alter your 404 response page without a developer. You can create an error page in such a case by following these steps:

1. In the root directory, make an error page ('404.html' or '404.php')

2. Open the .htaccess file by typing in 'ErrorDocument 404 /404.html' and hit save. With this code, it will generate an error page.

3. If it worked, try accessing an unavailable webpage to see if the browser displays the error 404 message.

Examples of Custom 404 Pages to Win Leads

You lose potential leads and sales by not having a custom 404 page. With the right strategy, however, you can convert those 404 error messages into lead-generation opportunities that benefit you and your sales team in more ways than one.

Using the 404 pages to engage your visitors and offer them a solution, you can turn these negative experiences into positive ones. Here are five things your 404 page can display in addition to an error message.

1. Add a search bar so people can still find what they're searching.

Users receive a 404 Page error when they cannot see a specific page. A search bar is the best quick fix for this problem.

Are you looking for something specific? Use the search bar to find internal pages instead. WordPress is an excellent example of the same.

WordPress 404 Page
WordPress 404 Page

WordPress' 404 page has more than a search bar, links to useful pages, and a call to action button.

Even if the exact page the user is searching for does not exist, a search bar can generate the closest match and help users find something that still satisfies their search intent.

It will ensure that users do not bounce off your website and instead remain on your domain to interact with another page.

2. Add a quirky message and own up to your fault.

Usually, 404 pages only have a 'Page Not Found error message. Instead, you can add content that acknowledges your fault and keeps the user engaged. See how Marvel.com does it.

Marvel's 404 Error Page
Marvel's 404 Error Page uses catchy copy and graphics

Another way to turn a 404-page interesting is by offering a reward. Say a gift card, free demo, or free one-month trial of your service.

A reward highlights two things. One, it can be an internal company rule to display as few 404 errors as possible. In addition, if a user finds a 404 message, they get rewarded instead of being frustrated.

See the example of Land's End turning a 404 page into a lead gen magnet using rewards.

404 error page of Lands' End
Lands' End 404 Page has links to critical shopping categories

404 Error Page - Tattly
Tattly uses its 404 page to redirect users to a hidden product.

3. Use the 404 page to promote your latest blog post or product.

As mentioned, a 404 page can be something other than a dead end. Instead, it can be a route to redirect users to a page that you would want your ideal customers to see. You could display various options or a catalog of your services like Adobe.

404 error code page -Adobe
Adobe's 404 page shows a link menu across different product categories

Add links to a new blog that discusses how your service benefits the users and encourages them to sign up for a demo. You could also link to a collection of the most frequently ordered products.

Simply adding links to these pages will not help. Adding an enticing copy or an image will encourage users to click and be redirected to the desired page. See how HubSpot uses copy to add multiple helpful links.

404 error page of HubSpot
HubSpot's 404 page ha the most creative copy we have come across

4. Show a video 

Video adds more appeal than an image. Thus, instead of having a static 404 page, try adding a video message or using GIFs.

Purée Maison is a creative agency specializing in communication strategy. Its website and the 404 page are full of delightful animations. See how:

5. Leave a Long lasting impression

Your 404 pages should not be dead ends. Even if you cannot turn them into a lead-gen source, they are a great way to keep users engaged.

Perhaps it is so fun that users type in the wrong URL to enjoy what your 404 page offers. See how Wendy's does the same by adding a game on its 404 error page.

404: Page Not Found - Wendy's
Wendy's 404 page has an interactive game

Turn 404 Pages into Lead Magnets

A ‘404: page not found’ is an HTTP error code generated when the server cannot locate the page a user imputed or clicked on. It is a standard error and can be caused by many reasons. A 404-page signals search engine crawlers not to index the page URL and remove it from SERP listings.

However, a 404 page does not have to be only about displaying an error code. You can use this page to win leads and generate sales by using creative marketing tactics.

A 404 page can provide an opportunity rather than a dead cause. Now you know what a 404 page is and how to reclaim its lost opportunity.

404 Error Page FAQs

What is a 404 Response Code?

A 404 response code is an HTTP status code that indicates that the server could not find the requested page or file. This code is often seen when a page has been moved or deleted or when a URL was mistyped.

What are the Main Causes of a 404 Error?

The main causes of a 404 error are a mistyped URL, a broken or incorrectly linked page, an outdated or deleted page, or an issue with the server hosting the page. Additionally, this error can be caused by an incorrectly configured .htaccess file or a permission issue.

How to Fix a 404 Error Message?

The first step in fixing a 404 error message is identifying the issue's source. The URL should be updated if the requested page or file was moved or deleted. If the URL was mistyped, the correct URL should be entered. It may also be necessary to clear the browser cache, delete cookies, and refresh the page.

About The Author

James Gibbons

James Gibbons is the Senior Customer Success Manager at Quattr. He has 9 years of experience in SEO and has worked with multiple agencies, brands, and B2B companies. He has helped clients scale organic and paid search presence to find hidden growth opportunities. James writes about all aspects of SEO: on-page, off-page, and technical SEO.

About Quattr

Quattr is an innovative and fast-growing venture-backed company based in Palo Alto, California USA. We are a Delaware corporation that has raised over $7M in venture capital. Quattr's AI-first platform evaluates like search engines to find opportunities across content, experience, and discoverability. A team of growth concierge analyze your data and recommends the top improvements to make for faster organic traffic growth. Growth-driven brands trust Quattr and are seeing sustained traffic growth.

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