When you’re developing a new website or crafting a content strategy, one of the key steps in the process is a content audit. It gives you an idea of where the watermark is for your website. This involves, among many other steps, a crawl of the site through a tool like Screaming Frog to check the statuses of all your tags and pages. What you’ll find more often than not is that some to many of your URLs that are indexed are coming in as 404s or “page not found”. While this can sometimes be bad for SEO if there are links pointing to this page or if it is still coming in for search results, there is an opportunity here often missed by marketers: the branded 404.
The 404 error is one a lot of SEO professionals dread, often creating complicated 301 redirect solutions to retain link juice. Sometimes, these are beneficial but other times provide no real benefit if the content hasn’t been moved. A 404 signals to Google that the content no longer exists, while a 301 redirect signals to Google that it has simply been moved. The best way to look at it is the honest one: does this content exist somewhere else on the site when removing a page? If so, redirect. If not, you can let it 404 so long as you’re managing your index closely.
If a page comes back as 404, typically an error is shown on the screen. They vary from site to site however there are a few of ways to get a little more out of this error.
They add to the user’s experience in an number of ways. By giving the user a potential “next-best-action” be it a link to additional content, or a search bar, it allows them to continue to attempt to achieve their goal. This means fewer bounces, and fewer exits from the website. This improved your websites overall performance including SEO. It also allows for the user to see the amount of care you put into the development of the site, it shows that you as a brand went an extra step and this perception can only help the brand. These little details help build trust in your brand in small increments, and trust is a vital step in the digital buying process.