Measuring, measuring, and measuring on websites can be somewhat complex, tedious, and even excessively unofficial, but with tools like Google Analytics that simplify tasks and present an easy way to understand most reports, it is worth spending a few minutes to taking advantage of even insignificant things like 404 errors that knowing how to handle them, can generate better results as a result of optimizing the user experience. As a sample, this brilliant article on the Analytics blog that we have translated and adapted to make it even more understandable.
What is a 404 error
As we already mentioned, a website is nothing more than a folder of files (web pages) stored on a server (PC with a special optimization to allow a high traffic of requests) and to which users connect and view from any part of the world from your internet browser. If any of those files does not exist, perhaps because it has been deleted and the user tries to connect to view it, then a 404 error will be generated, because despite there is a connection to the server, no such file is found, or what is it? same, page not found.
Generally 404 errors appear when you change the URL of a page, its location. For example, if previously the contact information for a certain business website was located at business.com/help/contact us and is now simply from business.com/contact, Users accessing the first URL, the outdated one, will crash with the 404 error because the page no longer exists, or at least not there. Sure, it can happen on a small number of pages, but I have chosen precisely that example (errors in the contact section, vital for a business) to show that it can be only one page and the degree of impact will be considerable.
How to get more out of a 404 error page
The good news is that this 404 error can be replaced by a custom page that gives the user some instructions to find what they are looking for in addition to informing them why this error occurs. There are six items that are recommended on the Google Analytics blog -who in turn reference a digital guide called Defensive Design for the Web– which should include an effective and custom 404 error page: the company name and logo, explanation of the 404 error being displayed, a list of errors that could be the cause, a link to the main page or other relevant pages, a search box within the site and finally an email to Contact the administrator, ask for help and / or report problems.
They do not mention it there but it is also recommended to have several social media buttons to facilitate contact and have help information, even from other users who may have the answer. Finally you can use an ingenious, creative and eye-catching design to wrap it all up, for example the 60 collected in Hongkiat including the one from Super Mario Bros above.
How to track 404 errors using Google Analytics
If you also use Google Analytics to track your website, you should know that several of its tools can be used to be aware of these errors and take action on time:
1. How to create an email alertYou can set an alert so that a notification email will be sent to you whenever the number of 404 errors seen by users exceeds a percentage or predetermined values. In this case, 15% of the total number of pages viewed compared to the previous day has been taken as a limit, and the word 404 has been established as a filter for errors using the page title.
To get to this space for creating new alerts, you can follow the guide available in the Google Analytics help center, although it is easier to click on Administrator in the orange main bar and in the third column, the one that says VIEW PROFILE), there is a button that says Custom alerts which leads to a panel to create and manage them.
2. How to follow them through a objectiveYou can register them in more detail by configuring a new objective custom type Destination and it matches the regular expression to be used as an identifier in the URL -important !, an identifier is required-, in this case, / 404.
3. How to follow them regularly through a widget in the main panelIn the section of Panels from the left side – in English the panels are known as Dashboards– you can select a panel or create a new one and add a widget to follow in a more comfortable way the aggregate objectives, in this case, that of 404 errors from the previous capture.
How to analyze and optimize 404 error pages
As always, the statistics and the thousands of indexes that Google Analytics records are only numbers if they cannot be put in context, bring them to reality. The final tips of the Google Analytics blog to analyze the results and avoid the appearance of 404 errors are:
1. Review the Navigation SummaryAt Navigation Summary or Navigation Summary which is in Content (sidebar) >> Site content >> All pages, specifically on the tab with the same name which is between the tab Explorer and Page analytics In the upper part of the line graph -special thanks to this guide because I hardly find that section-, a brief analysis of the input and output pages can easily be seen in a table whose dynamic content can be filtered to know the that have broken links in their content, that is, that lead to pages that do not exist, to 404 errors. Subtract to correct them, make redirects or completely delete the page.
2. Review the URLs of the 404 error pagesIn WordPress, Drupal and other popular CMS, when you access a page that doesn’t exist, let’s say business.com/contacttoasdf, most likely an automatic redirect to the content and appearance of business.com/404 but the original URL (the one that comes with the contacttoasdf), so it can be useful to follow and review all the metrics of this type of URL to also make the pertinent corrections and redirects.
On handmade sites (without CMS) the same may not happen but at least the 404 part will be registered in the URL or page title. Anyway, in any case it will be necessary to filter the word 404 in the table that appears when going to Content (sidebar) >> Site Content >> All Pages >> Primary Dimension: Page Title; subtract click on a certain row to see a more detailed record and make decisions.
3. Analyze the searches made from the 404 error pageFor this you need to activate Track site searches (The instructions are in this link in the Google Analytics help center), a function of analysis of search within the site that will serve to analyze the queries made from the search box that is recommended to also include on the error page 404. Metrics will evaluate new and useful variables such as the percentage of exits from the site, the percentage of sub-searches, the depth of the searches and some additional variables of time and behavior.
For more information about Google Analytics you can always check its complete Help Center that is also in Spanish.