5 strategies for creating a positive 404 error page experience

Posted 248 days ago by Phil Vialoux

14 Mar 2019

We’ve all landed on one at some point… the dreaded 404 error page.

Basically, a 404 error is generated when the server couldn’t locate the page you were trying to land on… whatever URL you typed or link you clicked – doesn’t exist!

Whether due to a broken link on a website or through simple user error where a URL has been incorrectly typed, landing on a 404 error page can be extremely disruptive to the visitor experience you’ve worked so hard to craft, resulting in lost leads and conversions for your business.

In fact, a 404 error page is one of the most common notifications you can stumble across on the internet, and every website needs some kind of 404 page not found set up, which begs the question – can you create a good 404 error page?

Ineffective 404 pages usually state ‘Not Found’ followed by a clumsy error message – the customer immediately knows they’ve landed somewhere they don’t want to be, and that they haven’t found what they were looking for!

The customer has little choice but to hit back, return to their search results and find the next website that CAN help them with their query.

So how do you avoid this?

The best solution is to proactively create a customised 404 error page offering your customer a clear path back to what they were looking for – keeping them on your website.

Here are five strategies to help create a positive 404 page user experience:

1. Prioritise prevention

Obviously, the ideal 404 page experience is not to land on one in the first place!

Regularly audit your website, checking each page carefully for broken links and other errors. There are plenty of online tools available to help with this task.

Don’t forget to check any external links you manage or pay for, plus carefully proof printed material that includes any of your URL’s.

2. Take ownership

When they land on a 404 error page, a customer often thinks ‘what did I do wrong?’

Use language that implies the fault lies with you rather than the customer to soften the blow – simply include the word ‘sorry’ or something like ‘we are working on this’.

Sum up the issue in simple, easy to understand language – “Sorry - we can’t find what you are looking for” or “Oh no! It looks like that link is broken.”

Be honest – don’t try and convince people they have landed on an actual page of your website.

3. Stay on brand

Although the customer has essentially landed on a page that doesn’t exist, there is still an opportunity to give the customer a taste of what your brand or business has to offer.

Brand your 404 page in line with the rest of your website – use consistent messaging, tone, fonts, colours and imagery, and remember to keep the language you use targeted to your audience.

4. Provide solutions to generate sales

This part is critical – to stop the customer hitting back or closing their browser in frustration, you need to offer clear solutions and options to help get them on their way again – preferably still within your website!

Use search boxes – provide a search option so the customer can quickly enter their search term and browse through the available options.

As a next step, you could automatically provide suggested search results, using the contents of the URL they landed on as a search term for a site-wide search.

Have a prominent call to action – think about what you actually want the customer to do when visiting your website. If you have an online shop and want the customer to make a purchase, make this option stand out. If you want them to email or call, make the relevant contact details pop.

Provide quick links – it is highly likely that your customer may have been looking for a main or high traffic page, so include links or buttons that will allow the customer to navigate directly to these pages – usually pages like ‘About’, ‘Shop’ or ‘Contact Us’.

Include contact information – make it easy for customers to reach you and communicate immediately. This has the added benefit of them potentially alerting you to errors on your website that you may not be aware of.

Offer a sales hook – where possible, provide the customer with a reward or some type of added value – a discount code, free gift, or information about a sale, promotion or competition you are running.

As well as being a gesture of good will, this type of added incentive could be that extra push the customer needed to make a purchase.

Lead generation – include a way to capture leads or customer data. Include an email sign up option, provide a link for a popular download, or include a form that captures customer contact details along with their query.

5. Be creative

A 404 page is a great opportunity to make your customers laugh and generate some ‘warm fuzzies’ – use clever language and appealing imagery to help get what could be a boring message, across creatively.

For a really immersive and engaging experience, consider gamification or video elements, but make sure these don’t overshadow the call to action and navigational path you want your customer to follow.

Conclusion
Firstly, practice good administration to avoid 404 errors in the first place.

Consider what action you want the customer to take, then create and implement a customised 404 error page that will draw the customer down your desired path.

Take ownership with effective branding and a message that implies the fault lies with you rather than the customer – keep it light-hearted!

Give the customer options, reward them for their patience and understanding and where possible capture data or leads.

A great 404 page should be brand-appropriate, provide functional features and a clear call to action, and use creative and amusing elements to bring in a bit of fun – turning what could have been a negative event and lost sales opportunity, into a positive experience for both yourself and your customer.

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