Onsite SEO for Lawyers: 404 Error Pages
Chris Dreyer | August 05, 2016
What are they?
A 404 error page is a page that is returned when some other page is not available on a website. 404 is the error code interpreted by the browser. Most websites have a default 404 error page template that is used yet it is common for most lawyers to not customize this page.
The error page serves as a message to the user. Regardless of what it actually says, its purpose is to tell the user that the page is not available and offer alternatives so the user can find what they are looking for. Error pages on a website are not a bad thing and all websites have them. Even Google has 404 error pages.
These pages typically follow the same format as other pages on the site. They are only served to users when some other page that has not already been redirected cannot be found.
Even though its ok for attorney websites to have 404 error pages, they should be customized to enhance SEO and user experience. As a rule of thumb, lawyers that have knowledge of pages that are broken should always redirect those pages to relevant working pages. For those that can’t be caught right away, a good 404 page can reduce bounce rates1 and improve the user experience2 on an attorney website.
- Include a search box in the header or somewhere on the page
- Include a good navigational hierarchy (including the site’s default navigation is good place to start)
- Include links to other pages in the body copy of the 404 error message
- Change generic error messaging to be more in line with your attorney brand (don’t be stuffy)
In many WordPress installations there are already default error pages that can be customized. Visit Appearance > Editor in your WordPress administrator interface. This will show you all of the page templates that make up your site. Typically at the very top of the list of page templates you will see the 404 error page template. Click on it to see the code that makes it up.
Depending on the complexity of the theme, lawyers may be able to edit this file on their own. Simply change text that is written in between HTML tags. If you don’t feel comfortable editing your template, get with your developer to come up with a custom 404 error page.
WordPress 404 Plugins
An easy way for lawyers to make great 404 error pages on their own is to just use a plugin. 404ErrorPage custom plugin page creator3 is a great plugin for easily making custom 404 error pages. Lawyers can simply edit the page like they would any other post or page on the site.
Custom 404 Pro4 is another plugin that allows you to override any 404 page with a page that exists in your WordPress interface. Just like the previous plugin, lawyers can create a custom 404 page in their admin panel and then use that as their site-wide 404 error page.
All pages on a site should be directed to available content but it’s unrealistic to make that happen all the time with all pages. During the normal course of website changes, pages are taken down and content moved. That means there could be URLs indexed in Google that no longer work. A good 404 error page is a great way to provide a good user experience when redirection to a working page isn’t available.