What is a Custom 404 Page and Why Do You Need One?

custom 404 page

In the life of every online marketer, there comes a time when one simple truth is realized: driving traffic to your website is a very hard thing to do.

Yep, it takes time and effort to get each and every visitor to your site. Each visitor is important: their visit is an opportunity to convert them into a lead and eventually into a sale. You can’t afford to turn your visitors away and yet that’s exactly what you’ll do if you haven’t set up a custom 404 page for your website.

What is a Custom 404 Page?

In tech-speak, 404 is the error number returned when a visitor attempts to access a page that doesn’t exist on your site. The two most common reasons a visitor gets a 404 error are:

  • They mistyped the Web address (URL) of the page they were trying to reach; or
  • They followed a link to a page that no longer exists on your site.

No matter what the reason, the default 404 page that visitors see looks something like this:

what is a custom 404 page

Pretty ugly, right? The only purpose this page serves is to overwhelm your visitors with text and technical jargon. Many of them will leave.

Most of them won’t be back.

The result? You’ve just missed the opportunity to convert a visitor into a lead or even a sale and that’s a very poor return on the money and effort you spent to get them to your site in the first place.

The solution? A custom 404 page.

Why You Need a Custom 404 Page

Thankfully, you can create a custom 404 page for your site. Once this page is in place, the disastrous default page shown above will be banished, never to be seen again.

Aside from the obvious benefit (i.e. not scaring away potential customers), deploying a custom 404 page can help you turn an unfortunate incident into an opportunity. Let’s take a closer look at four ways to do so.


Many businesses use their custom 404 page to re-emphasize their branding. For example, GitHub serves the geek community and their page clearly reflects that fact:

what is a custom 404 page

Magnt uses their custom 404 page to emphasize their creativity as well as the recognition they’ve received for that trait (the tabbed box at the bottom contains links to articles where their custom 404 page has been praised):

what is a custom 404 page

Search Engines

Search engines crawl your website by following links to all the different pages on your site. If a search engine is indexing your site and hits a 404 page with no links, it’s not going to be able to continue. The result? Entire sections of your site can be left unindexed and if your pages aren’t indexed, then the search engines don’t know they exist and they won’t show up in the search results.

A custom 404 page ensures that this doesn’t happen by providing links to all the relevant parts of your site (or possibly even a site map) so that search engines have access to your complete site.

A good example of this is Thesaurus.com’s custom 404 page:

what is a custom 404 page


If you want to be successful when marketing online, you need to build trust. One of the best ways to do so is by being useful and helpful, both of which increase the goodwill that leads to trust.

You can do this by making your custom 404 page useful and helpful like the one over at hop.ie:

what is a custom 404 page

In this case, they’ve taken the incorrect URL entered and suggested a page on their site. If that’s not what the visitor is looking for, they can click the “No thanks” link and see a list of the site’s archive. Now that’s useful!

Lead Generation

The last example combines the previous three in a brilliant way, one that can turn a lost visitor into a lead. LeadPages did just that when they made their custom 404 page a landing page:


Simple, elegant and effective, this custom 404 page emphasizes LeadPage’s branding (creating landing pages is what they do), contains links for search engines to follow and builds goodwill by offering a free give-away.

Best of all, this custom 404 page helps them convert website visitors into leads and that’s a great return on the money and effort you spent to get them to your site in the first place


Finally, a custom 404 page can turn a poor experience (not finding what you’re looking for) into a fun one. Over at CHARGEBACKS911, they turned their 404 page into a game that visitors can play:



Thanks to the horrible design and functionality of the default 404 page, it’s likely to drive away the website visitors you’ve worked so hard to attract.

Creating a custom 404 page that replaces the default one, you can take advantage of the opportunities a visitor’s presence provides: emphasizing your branding, supporting search engine indexing, building the goodwill that leads to trust and even converting a lost visitor into a lead.

404 Error Screen Illustration via Shutterstock, Blank Laptop Photo via Shutterstock

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Matt Mansfield Matt Mansfield is the Tech Editor and SEO Manager at Small Business Trends where he is responsible for directing and writing many of the site’s product reviews, technology how-to’s, and lists of small business resources as well as increasing the reach of our content.

3 Reactions
  1. Matt,

    It’s always refreshing when people are able to take a flaw and reposition it as an opportunity to stand out. You’ve clearly demonstrated that here. Custom 404 page is a no-brainer. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Was just working through this with a client yesterday and yes, it’s a huge missed opportunity for most sites. First, it corrects an error (doesn’t matter if it was yours or theirs) and gets people back on track. Second, it lets you point out something they may have missed, or humanizes the brand with humor.

  3. So many website owners are missing out by not customizing their 404 pages. Not doing this will cause people to click back and look elsewhere.