The infamous 404 error web page.
Chances are that you must have encountered it at some stage; either on someone else’s website or on your own.
The 404 error page is considered a ‘dead-end’ as far as websites go, however they are inevitable. You cannot completely eliminate the possibility of a 404 error (I will explain the reason in a second). So, if you cannot eliminate its possibility entirely, what can you do to minimise its negative impact?
Good news is that there are ways to leverage the 404 error page to increase engagement and improve the possibility of search engine rankings, so lets see what can be done.
What is a 404 error page?
According to Google, “A 404 page is what a user sees when they try to reach a non-existent page on your site (because they’ve clicked on a broken link, the page has been deleted or they’ve mis-typed a URL.”
This is how it usually looks:
As you can see, it looks very bland and ineffective, and more importantly, it gives no choice for website visitors to navigate elsewhere within your website except leaving the page by hitting the back button or the website. We will show you how to fix that issue.
But first, let’s look at why it is impossible to entirely eliminate the possibility of a 404 error page on your website.
Why do we see 404 error pages?
There are two main reasons why a 404 error page may occur on your website:
1. When you delete a page within your website.
2. Due to typing in your website address (or typing in a link to another page within your website) incorrectly.
What can you do to improve your 404 error page template?
There are a few ways you can make the 404 errors work in your favour.
1. Add a search bar
The main reason why people tend to navigate away from a 404 error page is because there is generally no other option (see first image above). With the addition of a search bar or mini navigation (directing the user back to the homepage, or perhaps other key pages within your website), you give them another chance to find what they are looking for instead of leaving your website out of frustration.
2. Links to popular posts
Another option is to add links to your most popular blog posts. You should also include a link to your website’s home page too (as mentioned above). If you have an e-commerce store, the search bar becomes all the more important; however, you can also include links to different categories as well as your most popular products.
If a user stumbles upon a 404 error page, it can be useful to explain why the user has ended up at a virtual dead-end. Sometimes it might be a simple case of adding a line of text or description, explaining the error, for example;
“This page has been deleted. please click here (or there) to go back to the homepage”.
4. Increase brand awareness
You can also be more creative with your 404 error pages to increase brand awareness. For example, you can use your logo, colours, or any other branding elements you may have to make more of your 404 error page. Look at this example from MailChimp that has its iconic chimp mascot featuring on their error page:
Leaving your 404 error page in its most basic form — empty and bland — can have a negative impact for both your customers (frustration), sales and user experience overall. Instead of leaving your 404 error page as-is, try to be creative and put some effort into designing a more effective page that is actually useful for your website visitors.
The above techniques will help you retain more website visitors, signpost them onto other important, more relevant pages and will help benefit your search engine optimisation too.