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Custom 404’s – Don’t Make Your Users Feel Stupid

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 15 years and 6 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

Don’t make your users feel stupid. Make them laugh. Check your 404 page today and make sure it’s not the same old default techie drivel that sites lose users to every day. Preserve your web traffic with a few easy changes.

Just in case – what is a 404

Probably my single most “SEO pet peeve” is default 404 pages. Don’t ask me why, but it just bugs the hell out of me. Probably because it’s a really easy thing to do once someone tells you how, and it often gets neglected until someone points it out.

Don’t make your users feel stupid by serving them some uber-techie looking page…if anything, this is your chance to appear HUMAN and show that you make mistakes and you can fess up to them. 404’s are a great way for even the most stuffiest of corporate websites to display a little humor. It’s okay…EVERYONE serves 404’s sometimes…you’re not gonna get around them, so you might as well use them. Don’t be a contentious asshole…admit you made a mistake and have a bit of fun with it.

404’s aren’t really an “SEO thing” as much as they are a usability thing. More and more, however, I am realizing that I lump all things internet business and marketing into SEO, since search algorithms go much deeper than titles, h1’s, keywords, and a few links anymore.

I had to put this post off a little bit, after realizing my own 404 page was a lil’ foobar, and after a bit of digging through my hacked to bits version of wordpress, I fixed my 404 page.

Creating the ultimate 404 page

Recipe calls for:
-(1) Customized message to include: enough humor to elicit a response and prevent boredom, a few words of self deprecation and apology for the error, and written instructions on how to proceed.

  • -(1) search box
  • -(1) basic sitemap – directory style
    -optional: Funny picture because it’s an error page and you can do that kinda stuff on the web no matter how “corporate” you are.

    Cool examples of custom 404 pages:

    Examples of terrible use of 404 page

    • Geeks rock – clean it up guys
    • Boingboing – blame the people who link to you?
    • Even the ultra-brilliant Doc
    • Mr. Battelle too
    • Squidoo 200 doo-doo
    • SEOspeedwagon bombs, but the mothership does it up right.
    • Guy doesn’t even list his domain

    I’m sure there are plenty of others I could pick on, but these were the ones that I checked out first. I’m not saying I’ve never been guilty of it myself…just that it is a very easy mistake to fix 9 out of 10 times, and that the default settings for 404’s generally suck. This is MUCH more disturbing when it happens on commercial websites

    How to Create a Custom 404 on IIS

    How to Create a Custom 404 on Apache

    Other notes on 404s

    Always serve 404’s. Always have “customize 404’s” on your list of SEO to-do’s. You can create pretty custom pages for different types of 404 errors, but NEVER bypass the 404 process unless you have a very good reason. Serving 301’s, 302’s, and 200 codes instead of 404’s can create some serious issues, much more serious than just using the ugly default page not found responses.

    Note to Yahoo Store Management and Yahoo store users

    There is a 404 setting in yahoo store that is an absolutely TERRIBLE idea. It redirects all 404 traffic to the homepage with a 302 redirect. This can create some serious issues and should be avoided at all costs. I don’t believe it is a default setting, but it can really create some problems and should not be done this way. Use a sitemap with a brief 404 message at the top to let users know what’s going on.

    If you work for yahoo stores, please beg for yahoo store page level permanent 301 redirects for us too.

    Do you have favorite 404’s, examples of poor 404 use, or advice for creative uses of them?

    More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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    • Neil Patel

      I prefer using a sitemap as my 404 error page because it gives the visitor the freedom to pick where they want to go. Some of the worst 404 error pages are when you don’t tell the visitor “the requested page was not found”.

    • Paul Short

      Nice, now I have to go change all my 404 pages. Hmph. The best 404 page I’ve seen yet is at though.

    • Thomas

      404’s are so easy (technically speaking) and something every site needs. I always show Apple’s 404 when citing a nice one.

    • Loren Baker, woah!!! Blast from the past dude :)

    • Shimon Sandler

      I like the idea of the humor thing. Almost gives you a chance to get viral. Viral 404’s, ah maybe not.

    • Pingback: feed my brain » Blog Archive »

    • Jason Hendricks

      Here’s the page my business partner created…


      A programmer’s sense of humor. Definitely need to add your suggestions to that page to that page though.

    • Tony Spencer

      Howdy Todd,
      I disagree with your interpretation that the Squidoo 404 page returning 200 is a bad thing. Look at all the indexed pages they get out of it:


    • Nadir

      Yeah, the 404 page should ideally look like the other pages of your site and allow visitors to keep browsing. So you should always explain what happened and invite him to click on other links.Like Thomas, I also show the Apple’s 404 page to clients.

      However, this one is very funny:

    • Cary

      Hey, eye-opening post… I’m fairly new to web publishing, and it never crossed my mind to do a cutom 404 page.

      I took your suggestion, plus added a list of recent posts sp that I would be less likely to lose the reader.

      thanks :)

    • KoH

      I have an interactive 404 where users can submit their own 404 messages (and I can remove ones I do not approve of).

    • cats11112

      how u make 404’s im stuck

    • ReManufactured Toner

      I personally like this one

    • Gregg

      It may just be because I’m a big fan of Strongbad, but this is one of my favorites:

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