Every now and then when I see this error reflected in my website logs, it bothers me.
So what is a 404 error message?
When a user types in a URL or clicks on a link that no longer exists, the server typically generates a “404 Not Found”, web page.Sometimes, it is because you changed a URL, removed a page, or someone mistyped something…
What are the implications of this error?
It is irritating to encounter 404 errors because it is not the most unpleasant experience for users. It causes disruption in the activity of the users, and if the frequency of 404 errors continue to increase, overtime, this may impact the overall visibility of your website. Users will definitely not want to visit a website that shows up “Page not found” on several instances.
What is the solution?
If the error message is generated from external links to your site, you might want to write to the webmaster of the linking site, to update the link. If the broken links are originating from within your website, it needs to be addressed.
If you have a Google webmaster account, you will get a list of crawl errors, with details about the origin of the errors. In order to control this error, maintaining a uniform URL structure is very essential, that way you minimize the chances errors, but in spite of that, 404 errors happen, and the best practice is to have the correct redirection so that the search engines as well as your users know that this page has moved, or does not exist anymore.
Friendly messages, that inform your visitor about the error and redirect them to the relevant pages, will certainly help salvage the situation. Instead of seeing a page that says “Page not Found” which is by and large formal and cold, and does not provide the visitor with any other information, the visitor will get to see some useful information that might help them find what they are looking for.
If you use word press to publish your content, there are several plugins that are available for free, to address this concern, and display customized 404 error messages.
If not, this page has useful information on creating customized 404 error message pages: –
I am trying out various options to customize the 404 error messages for my website. I chanced upon the “AskApache Google 404” plugin for wordpress from Google. It is very easy to install and use, and has a whole lot of customizable options. You can check out the details here : http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/askapache-google-404/
What I found very useful is the ability to customize it, keep some of the standard features and add some of your own. What more can we ask for?