How To Avoid 404 Not Found

That beautiful website you worked so hard on and checked 12 times for glitches before launching harbors a sleeping saboteur. For reasons unknown and mysterious, what once worked will break. And you don’t even have to be in the room.

That perfect image you finally found for your best blog post this month will, instead of the sun glinting on the sea, appear with a blank rectangle framing a question mark.

No sun. No sea. Fail.

Broken links, missing images, videos that won’t play and products you no longer offer but live on your site all have one thing in common: they drive people away from you, but first they annoy them.

One way to sooth the sting of those frustrations is to get creative with your 404 or “error, page not found” page.

Do you know what yours looks like right now? If you do, is it branded?

If yes, you get an A for effort – and there is more to do.

The goal of the page is to assuage and apologize – sort of – for something that could be your fault. They also could have typed the URL in wrong, but let’s discard our need to be right just this once. The seeker has reached an impasse and you have the chance to show them an alternative route to enlightenment. You’ll be the hero of the moment!

Here are 5 things your 404 page can do – the first two are musts.

  1. Brand the page. Write the message in the voice you use in all of your communication.
  2. Include a link to your home page or include your site’s navigation at the top
  3. Use humor because this is a situation that calls for levity people
  4. List a couple of reasons they might have landed there: A link broke, we removed the thing you were looking for, the dog ate it.
  5. Suggest they read one of your best blog posts – with image – then link to it

Here are 4 of my favorites from around the web, so you’ll get an idea of the different ways this important and often-neglected page can make a difference for your business:

    • Hubspot
      It’s branded, they have their nav bar at the top, and they own that something went wrong on their end and ask for your patience while they “put things back together.” Then they direct people to their blog, product page, and offer a link to a free demo.
    • The Onion
      If you don’t know the onion but you love satire and need a good laugh about the current state of world affairs, subscribe to their newsletter. You’ll get a sense of their sarcastic wit from their error page. So well done. And they offer a phone number for customer service on top of linking to their homepage.
    • Dave Barton
      Is a blogger and writes his like a dating ad. Sometimes just getting the message that you’ve gone somewhere in error works.
  • Amazon
    Who doesn’t like a cute dog? Sure to soothe savage searchers. What else they do well is the navigation at the top, a link to the home page, and a link to meet “the dogs of Amazon.” Who knew they had dogs but it’s a great engagement tool.

Speaking of broken links, here are two services that will detect broken links and other potential problems: Link Patrol, which is priced as a one-time fee, and Screaming Frog SEO Spider, which has a free and paid version. Those are not affiliate links and I have not used either, but I am going to go with Link Patrol because for $50 to crawl my site and update-check it every time I add something for one year, it’s a bargain.Let’s wow and love on those who seek to learn more about us and our services, not drive them mad. Things will break and servers will go down. By taking the time to be a wee bit entertaining, we are making the broken world a better place.