How often do you click a link or enter an address, only to receive the following statement: “404 Page Not Found?”
It’s frustrating to a user, and bad practice for a site owner to not clean up these “dead links” that lead to nothing. It is impossible to avoid a user mistyping, however, so it is important to set up a good 404 page for the end user to find what they were looking for.
What does 404 actually mean?
In web development, when you load a page, the server on which the site is hosted has to send the content to your computer, and when it does, it includes a numeric code to let your browser know how the content was handled. 404 is not the only code that is used; there are several common HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) Response Codes that are used across the web: 200 for a successful load, 301 for a permanent redirect, 302 for a temporary redirect, 403 for content that you are not authorized to access, 404 for a file that cannot be located, and 500 for a server error.
So what happens when the server sends a 404 code?
When a 404 error is processed, the site will send the user to a predefined error handling page. Older users may remember the old 404 pages that were generated by the browser, did not allow for customization and did not provide much useful information. In 2016, however, you can fully customize your site’s 404 page to match your styling and branding, as well as adding relevant information for the user. One great example of this is to scan the Universal Resource Locator (URL) for keywords, then display links to pages that may be similar to the page that was not found. Providing useful information on this page can be the difference between a user continuing to explore your site or the user leaving immediately to search elsewhere.