Make your 404 pages more useful

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Your visitors may stumble into a 404 "Not found" page on your website for a variety of reasons:

  • A mistyped URL, or a copy-and-paste mistake
  • Broken or truncated links on web pages or in an email message
  • Moved or deleted content

Confronted by a 404 page, they may then attempt to manually correct the URL, click the back button, or even navigate away from your site. As hinted in an earlier post for "404 week at Webmaster Central", there are various ways to help your visitors get out of the dead-end situation. In our quest to make 404 pages more useful, we've just added a section in Webmaster Tools called "Enhance 404 pages". If you've created a custom 404 page this allows you to embed a widget in your 404 page that helps your visitors find what they're looking for by providing suggestions based on the incorrect URL.

custom 404 page widget generator in webmaster tools

Example: Jamie receives the link in an email message. Because of formatting due to a bad email client, the URL is truncated to As a result it returns a 404 page. With the 404 widget added, however, she could instead see the following:

example page where the custom 404 widget generates useful suggestions for the user

In addition to attempting to correct the URL, the 404 widget also suggests the following, if available:

  • a link to the parent subdirectory
  • a sitemap webpage
  • site search query suggestions and search box

How do you add the widget? Visit the "Enhance 404 pages" section in Webmaster Tools, which allows you to generate a JavaScript snippet. You can then copy and paste this into your custom 404 page's code. As always, don't forget to return a proper 404 code.

Can you change the way it looks? Sure. We leave the HTML unstyled initially, but you can edit the CSS block that we've included. For more information, check out our guide on how to customize the look of your 404 widget.

This feature is currently experimental—we might not provide corrections and suggestions for your site but we'll be working to improve the coverage. In the meantime, let us know what you think in the comments below or in our group discussion. Thanks for helping us make the Internet a more friendly place!