When visitors reach a 404 error page on your site, they are likely to leave. In fact, we've seen that approximately 74% of the people who reach a 404 page will leave your website.
To combat this, you need to need to make sure your 404 page does everything it possibly can to keep people on your website. You need to clearly explain the error and need to make the 404 page helpful. By doing so, you are likelier to reduce the number of people leaving because of the 404 error.
Our free 404 Snapshot Tool helps you determine how well your 404 page might perform for people who reach that 404 page. To do so, SpringTrax's 404 Snapshot tool looks at five key areas that we've identified as being an important part of a "good" 404 page.
It is important to remember that a "visitor to your 404 page" might be more than a human being. That "visitor" might also be an automated program, such as Google's robots that crawl the web. To service these visitors, you want to ensure your site's 404 page returns the proper header response code. We explained the various technical types of 404s and related header response codes a few weeks ago, but the short version is to make sure your website's not found error page returns a 404 response code to clearly indicate that the file requested was not available.
If you redirect your error page elsewhere, then visitors (human, in this case) cannot see the URL that was broken in their browser's address bar. This makes it harder for people linking to you to correct the error. It also makes it harder for automated visitors to understand the error, especially if you are using certain types of redirects. The snapshot tool will tell you whether or not your 404 page redirects.
Web design makes it clear to human visitors (and, some automated visitors) what type of page they have reached on your website. You want all of the errors on your website to follow a consistent and predictable design. That way, when visitors encounter an error, they immediately know they have reached an error. The quicker you explain to a visitor that they have reached an error, the quicker you can move that visitor along to another page on your website.
Related to item #3, you want your 404 page to be similar to the remainder of your website. A 404 page with a design that is too far removed from the design of the rest of your website won't make it clear that the visitor is on your website. However, you also want your 404 error page to be distinctive from the rest of your website; you don't want people confusing your 404 page for a valid page on your site.
This might be the most important of the five areas the snapshot tool checks. Your 404 page must contain suggested links. Without suggested links, visitors (humans, or in this case, let's call them potential customers) don't know what to do next on your website. After reaching an error, you have to take hold of the visitor's virtual hand and guide them where they wanted to go on your site. If you don't do that, visitors will leave your website and look elsewhere for what they wanted (possibly your competitor's site).
SpringTrax's 404 Snapshot tool is a great first step to understanding your site's 404 page. But, you need to really know how your 404 page is affecting your visitors. How many of your visitors are reaching a 404 error? Are you losing customers because of 404 errors (and if so, how many)? To find that information out, you need to sign up for a SpringTrax account.