Why The Best Websites Have Custom 404 Error Pages.

Even the best websites will occasionally display a 404 error page.  These unwelcome pages are simply a result of a URL that cannot be found on the server.  Many things can cause this such as a mistyped URL, an out of date bookmark, a typo in a marketing piece, broken links in old emails, dead search engine links, or an internal link the webmaster failed to notice.  A tool like broken link checker will help reduce the number of 404 errors by checking for broken links in your site.   But, it’s nearly impossible to prevent broken incoming links, which is why all sites have the potential to display a 404 error page.

You have a choice.  Will your visitors see the generic, default 404 error message?  Or, will they see a custom, branded 404 error page that links back to a “real” page on your site? 

Custom error pages provide a visitors with a much better experience.  An error page branded to your website shows visitors they have at least landed on the right site.  And, error pages that also contain active links encourage visitors to keep browsing your site instead of clicking on the back button to resume their search.

We have found that the most useful 404 error pages are appropriately branded, with a simple apologetic message that contains a touch of humor and a few links to popular pages on your site. You can see ours here.

Here are a few attributes of the best 404 pages:

They clearly state there has been an error.  The best 404 error pages don’t have redirects that send the visitor to the homepage or elsewhere on the site.  They offer an admission that the visitor has gone to a URL that doesn’t exist, and they provide a link to a page that does exist.

They look like they’re a part of the site.  Along with displaying the branding, useful 404 pages include the header, main menu, and footer.

They present an apology for the error.  There is an acknowledgment of the inconvenience to the visitor and an apology for the broken link.  The apologies are brief and not overstated.

They provide an explanation for the error.  A simple statement like "It looks like this page has moved" usually works great.

They give the visitor something to do.  The error message suggests a visit to the portfolio page, storefront, or blog.  Attractive icons or photos, as well as a link, are always a nice touch.

While the 404 page-not-found is the most common error visitors encounter, and the most important, there are four others you should consider when setting up your custom error pages.

The five custom error pages to implement on your site: 

  • 400: bad request – this could be anything!
  • 401: unauthorized access
  • 403: forbidden access (when someone tries to see your directories)
  • 404: page not found
  • 500: server error


If you are redesigning your website, make sure the developer has considered custom error pages.  Error pages are especially important with a redesign since many of your pages may have new URLs.  If you don’t currently have custom 404 pages, give us a call.  We can help ensure that even your lost visitors have a great experience.