Google recently issued its updated Quality Raters’ Guidelines. These new guidelines place a much greater emphasis and importance on supplemental content as a way to enhance the user experience on your website. Interestingly, Google suggests that 404 not found pages can be considered positive supplemental content provided they are done right.
Supplemental content by definition is anything on the webpage that is not the main content. It is additional information that help provide more and related information to the visitor.
Paying a bit more attention to your 404 page can win high marks form Google, which is always a good thing. According to Google’s published 404 error page guidelines, you should do the following:
- Tell visitors clearly that the page they’re looking for can’t be found. Use language that is friendly and inviting.
- Make sure your 404 page uses the same look and feel (including navigation) as the rest of your site.
- Consider adding links to your most popular articles or posts, as well as a link to your site’s home page.
- Think about providing a way for users to report a broken link.
- No matter how beautiful and useful your custom 404 page, you probably don’t want it to appear in Google search results. In order to prevent 404 pages from being indexed by Google and other search engines, make sure that your webserver returns an actual 404 HTTP status code when a missing page is requested.
- Use the Enhance 404 widget to embed a search box on your custom 404 page and provide users with useful information to help them find the information they need.
- Use the Change of Address tool to tell Google about your site’s move.
Many websites try to be funny with their 404 pages. Humor can be a good thing as long as it also includes helpful instructions on where to go from there. Funny without substance gets you poor marks from Google.