“Well, dang. Now what?”
Things go wrong: old pages are moved or removed, links can be bad, and users misspell urls. When a user navigates to a page that doesn’t exist, an error message appears explaining that something has gone wrong.
The returning page is called a 404 error page, and it is easy to undervalue what can be done with this page to improve the effectiveness of your website.
Here are some ways you should be using your 404 errors to help keep users on your website.
Engage your visitor
First, make it clear that the user landed in an unexpected location, but still engage the visitor. Stay away from the default “Content Not Found” – that’s boring and doesn’t speak to your visitor. Try something like “Oops. Something broke.” or “We tried and tried, but can’t find what you are looking for”. Use this page as an opportunity to use the tone of the error message to reflect your branding.
Use visuals and layouts to help lighten the 404 page. Refrain from making the the page look like a default computer error and more like a purposely designed part of the website.
Need some inspiration?
Guide your visitors
Next, answer the question “now what?”
Where do you want your user to go? Hopefully your site has a goal-oriented funnel directing your visitor. Suggest things that the user might be looking for, or encourage a visit to a specific page, or guide the user to fill out a form. Don’t underestimate the opportunity to message your visitor. Turn a wrong turn into an effective page with real conversion rates.
Provide alternative content
Simplify the navigation to help get the user to the location he/she was intending to arrive at in the first place. This can discourage the user from using the back button and, instead, start exploring the site.
A few more examples:
Although you never intend for your user to hit this error, and you should make an effort to maximize the return of this page.
Don’t underestimate the ability you have to help lost visitors engage with your site and maintain your digital influence.