Yes, you need a customized 404 page!

We all have been there, right? Clicking a link or type a URL in a hurry to land on a white screen with “page not found”. How many times this week you came upon this error? Plenty probably. And the majority of the 404 pages were most likely dead end blank pages written in confusing language… You can’t do anything but hit the back button.

Many companies also don’t really care about their 404 page, and they leave the default error page as it is. In most cases, it’s dreary “HTTP Not Found” or “The file or directory cannot be found” page. And the only option it gives is to return to the previous page. If a visitor lands on the 404 page from an outside link (for example they clicked on a link they found in the search engine or an outdated social media post), they have no other way of seeing your actual website unless they turn back and look for your homepage. Do you think they’ll put effort into it if their first contact with your website is a standard error page? Unlikely.

At some point, smart marketers saw this single error page as an excellent opportunity to make their visitors a bit happier, drive more traffic to their website, generate more leads and even get a sale boost. How? Instead of using typical ugly “Page can’t be found” error, they created a customized 404 page with witty content, links to other parts of their website or a link to download a free ebook – and got incredible results with it!

Why do you need a customized 404 page?

✅ Helps you build a consistent image

✅ Lightens up the mood of  an unhappy visitor

✅ Shows your brand’s personality and speciality

✅ Increases your conversions

✅ Builds trust in your business

Incredible right? But before we get to the 404 customisations, let’s start from basics.

What is a 404 Error page?

A 404 is the error page your server shows when it cannot find the page someone tries to access. It is also known as a “Page Not Found” error. There are several reasons why this page suddenly shows up:

  • The URL was typed in incorrectly
  • The page was moved or deleted
  • The link is broken/invalid
  • The server is down

A default 404 error page lets a user know that whatever they’re looking for cannot be found – and that’s it. The only thing the user can do now is to go back to the previous page. No explanation for the situation and no solution, unless you are a developer and can easily understand the error message.

And many let them stay this way, until someone thought “ If a customer will always find a way to hit a 404 page and we also sometimes make mistakes ending in page 404, why not use this page to apologise, lighten up the mood build relationship with our visitors and maybe even boost our sales this way?”

How to create a customized 404 page?

If you are now interested in seeing your 404 page, type in your browser the address of your website with a typo or a random character at the end. Don’t like what you see? So it’s high time for making your own 404 page! To help get you started, here are ten tips on how to make your 404 page more user-friendly and much more helpful.

Match your 404 page with your brand.

The beauty of 404 error page customisation lies in basically infinite ways to show your business and your product there. No matter the brand or the industry, there’s surely a way to show your personality and speciality there.  With a bit of creativity, you can make an original 404 page that is also relevant to your product. While searching the internet, you can find dozens of custom 404 pages created by different companies – shops, SAAS companies, blogs and other. Maybe you will be inspired by them?    

If you don’t have any ideas for a funny message or good graphic, at least put your company logo or a recognisable banner on the page to assure your visitors they are still on your website, not somewhere far away! A 404 page is also a great place to show your brand mascot, if you have one.

Use easy to understand language.

Do you understand the technical jargon that is on the typical “404 not found” page?  Neither do your customers, especially if the error is a string of numbers. Most don’t even understand what “404 error” is, they only know that they didn’t get to the page they wanted. So the first thing to do is to replace the technical jargon with something even not computer savvy visitors can understand – for example, “Oops, there’s nothing here” or “Page is not available”.

Explain, don’t just say there’s an error.

There’s probably nothing more annoying than getting an error message so confusing you have to google it up. And default 404 pages do a great job when it comes to confusing website visitors. Good 404 messages should explain in simple terms what went wrong and what your customer should do next – “The page you are looking for can’t be found, click here to return to Homepage” sounds much better than “File or directory not found” right?

Tell them you are sorry.

No one is deliberately trying to get to a 404 page. The worst thing you can do when customising your page is to make your visitors feel stupid for landing on the 404 page.  Don’t imply the user is to be blamed for the error (“You typed the address incorrectly” or “You clicked on a broken link”) and annoy him further.

Instead, apologise for the inconvenience and give possible reasons for why the link didn’t work (“There might be a typo in the address or “The link might be broken”). Even better if you can offer a small gift as an apology – not only you make your visitors feel better about landing on the error page, but you also get their email address!

Keep the design consistent.

Your standard error page surely looks and sounds like it’s an entirely different page compared to the rest of your website, some customers might even think they left your site and closed the window! To avoid that, your 404 page should be in the same style as your website – meaning, the same colours, fonts, page structure and language.

It’s also an excellent idea to keep on your 404 page the same menu you have on your regular website. Not only it will help the customers in finding the page they were looking for, but it will also show your 404 page is also a part of your website.

Help your visitors find a way out from 404 page.

The thing people dislike about error pages the most is that they often lead to a dead end. There’s literally nowhere else to go, you can only hit the “Back” button and go back to previous back. Why not help your customers by showing them a way out? Giving them directions to the posts with the searched keywords, link to suggested posts, or simply a link to your homepage is a great way to keep the visitors on your website, instead of scaring them out with a dead-end page.

Give them a way to find what they need.

Another good way to give your visitors a way out of 404 page is to put a search engine on your 404 page. It’s possible that the specific post or page your visitor is looking for still exists, it’s just the URL has changed, the content was moved, or the address was incorrectly typed.

If your customer landed on 404 page while searching for specific post or content, using a search engine they can quickly find the post or the material they were looking for. Not only it convinces the visitor to stay on your website instead of going back, but it also gives them a sense of control since they can find the post they’re looking for themselves.

Keep The Choices Limited.

The main aim of your 404 page should be to help your visitors find the content they’re looking for. And to keep them on your website. However, if you give them several links, offers and CTA buttons, you are confusing them even more.  You need to show your users a way out from your 404 page. But this doesn’t mean you should throw every link you have onto your visitors because “the more options, the more likely they’re to choose something”.

If you want your 404 page to give a pleasant UX, limit the options to two, three at most.  Make sure you include the link to your homepage too!

Ask users to report missing pages.

Neither you nor your customers want to land on a 404, even if you have a quirky and helpful one. But it’s impossible to scan the entire website every day for broken links,  what now? Ask your customers to alert you whenever they come across a broken link or a missing page. Add a way to contact you, a feedback form or even a simple “Report” button to your 404 page.

It has two significant advantages. Not only your customers can quickly alert you there’s a broken link on your website, and you can quickly fix it, but it also makes your customers satisfied by feeling they helped you with fixing the issue.

Add a bit of humour to your 404 😉

A bright and witty error page can quickly change how your visitors feel about landing on the dreaded 404 page.  The easiest way to turn your visitor from annoyed to satisfied is adding a bit of humour. Marketers agree that funny 404 pages are the most effective and memorable ones – make your visitor laugh, and they’ll find it harder to be irritated on you and leaving the page. A funny gif? A clever pun in the message? Quirky video? As long as it’s easy to understand, brand appropriate and relevant to your business, go ahead!

Fix Broken Links.

Just because you have a funny and helpful 404 page, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to bother with fixing the broken links. If a visitor lands on 404 page every time they use your website, they will get annoyed with your laziness. If they told you about missing page and you don’t fix it, they will think you don’t care. To make sure your visitors won’t land on a 404 page more often than necessary (typos happen every day, especially when trying to find a page quickly or when using a mobile device), check your website once a month for broken links, missing posts, lost pictures and so on.

If you are deleting older posts, check if you didn’t leave any links leading to the deleted posts behind. To make it easier and faster, there’s plenty of useful tools to help you with tracking and fixing broken links. You will still have to check manually if the tools miss anything though.

Add a lead magnet!

A well made 404 error page can give you more customers and increase your conversions. Plenty of companies are now using their 404 as lead generating page or to get additional sales. By offering a small gift as an apology for hitting the 404 page (it can be a wallpaper, a white paper or an ebook) you are not only brightening your customers’ mood a bit, you are also getting their email address!

If you are an e-commerce website, a 404 page is also a neat place for showing your featured products and new arrivals. Even better if you can offer a small discount as an “apology”.

Getting rid of 404 error page is impossible. Even if you check your website for broken links regularly, your customers’ll find plenty of ways to land on it. So instead of turning your visitors away with a confusing error page, why not show them a user-friendly page that helps them find what they’re looking for? It isn’t expensive nor difficult. All it takes is a bit of effort and creativity to create a great 404 page.

Did you customize your 404 page? Have any tips? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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