9 Ways to Make a Proper Job of 404 Error Pages

Someone clicks on a link to a web page on your site, but you retired the page some time ago. What happens? Ideally, they present with a 404 Error page, a page telling them that the content they are looking for no longer exists and telling them what to do next.

404 Error pages matter because they redirect people to a relevant alternative page on your website, rather than being left to assume your business no longer exists. Here’s how to do a brilliant job of your 404.

Use your 404 page as a mini-marketing opportunity

Look at it from a marketing perspective, and a 404 page is just another point along the customer journey. Which means it is a small marketing opportunity, your chance to make a positive impact, something you should look to maximise.

Redirect people to your best, most relevant content

First off, a 404 lets you redirect people to content that’s even better, even more, relevant to them than the original content they were looking for when they clicked a broken link. You can quickly direct them to your best marketing advantage, say by providing a list of links to current pages to choose from or one link to the page most like the one that doesn’t exist anymore.

Make it a pleasure to experience

Second, it helps to make your 404 page visually attractive and exciting, bringing your brand into play and using the same style and tone of language you use in all your other web pages. It works much harder than simply using a boilerplate template 404 page, containing a couple of lines of boring, bland text with no colour or imagery, let alone any level of customer engagement.

Let people search your site from the 404 page

Third, it can help to provide people with a search box on your 404 page, leaving them to decide what they want to know about your business.

Using a 404 as an active lead gen and sales tool

Fourth, have you thought about harnessing your 404 as an active sales tool? You can do all manner of positive things with it, as long as you do not require people to spend too much time there or make the ‘sell’ too hard. How about lead generation, for example? Maybe offer them a chunk of vital information, perhaps give away a popular digital download, and potentially ask them for their email address in exchange. If you do not want to do that you could amuse people, inspire them, engage with them in all sorts of positive ways that help them remember your brand. Get creative, not bland.

Redirecting to an individual landing page

Fifth, how about redirecting people from your 404 to a dedicated landing page covering a particular subject? Again, you have to be careful not to hard-sell too much, or you will put people off, especially when they are busy, but handled with sensitivity and marketing nous it can lead to significant response levels and even actual sales conversions.

Is a contact form the best solution for your visitors?

Sixth, would a contact form be good for people who land on your 404 page? Plenty of companies includes a contact form in their 404 as a way to generate leads as well as an excellent way to encourage people to interact with a business directly, letting you know you clicked on broken link. The internet is still an altruistic place, and a surprising number of people will lend you a helping hand.

Can you do funny?

Seventh, some experts say it is cool to use a humorous approach. It can work well, but it depends on your business. If you are a funeral director, for example, a funny 404 page will not go down that well. The same goes if your business tends to be severe and professional in other ways, or if your audience is notoriously busy. On the other hand, if you are a comedian or entertainer, a humorous 404 can work wonders, making friends and influencing people much more powerfully than something sensible and po-faced. Just exercise common sense and always bear your audience’s expectations in mind.

Avoid lazy redirects

Eighth, don’t redirect 404s to your home page automatically. It is lazy, the direct opposite of targeted marketing. It is good practice to take some time to think about the most relevant place to redirect people to next.

Don’t forget your 404s exist Check back regularly

Ninth, last but not least, remember you have a 404 in place and check back regularly to make sure the content you are redirecting people to still fits the bill.

In some rare cases, a dynamic 404 page might fit the bill best, one that surfaces different content depending on where the visitor originated. In that case, it is even more important to keep an eye on your 404s to make sure they are still relevant. Bear in mind that the task could easily run away with you and turn into a nightmare. Moreover, remember that most of the time a single generic 404 should do the trick, including different visitor options to cover various eventualities.

Does your web design agency know how to put together an effective, impactful 404 Error page? If not, find a creative partner who can help. If you think that’s us, then get in touch!