How a Custom 404 Page Can Keep Lost Visitors On-Site
An 'Error 404’ message is shown to visitors when they attempt to access a page on your site that doesn't exist, either because they’ve entered the wrong URL or clicked on a broken link. It might seem like a fairly harmless error, but the presence of this unexpected error is actually one of the main reason visitors give for abandoning a site.
A 404 doesn't have to mean the end of the line, see it more as an opportunity. An opportunity to shine light of a ‘bad’ situation. With some basic customisation your error message can help keep users on site and find the information they were looking for. Before you rush into creating your own message, here are my top tips for creating an effective 404 page:
First and foremost, your 404 page needs to clearly explain to the user why they have been served such a message. Explain the 404 nature of the error, whilst carefuly considering the technical knowledge of your average visitor. Remember, many users wouldn't have a clue what a 404 entails so your explanation needs to reflect this.
Don't just tell visitors that they've arrived at an error, keep them on site by providing helpful information to work around it! Include a link back to the previous page or a search bar that encourages visitors to discover more content that might be of interest to them.
Your 404 page is an interaction between you and your visitor, just like every other page on your site, so follow the same rules in terms of branding. Not only does this make your 404 page more professional, it also works to reassure your visitors that you've not redirected them to a third party site.
Some website owners are reluctant to brand their 404 message, with a fear of users drawing an association between their brand and an error. This shouldn't be a concern, if your 404 page provides opportunities for visitors to move forward then it will not be perceived in a negative light.
Landing on a 404 can sometimes be frustrating. Adding some light humour to your message helps relieve any tension from the situation by showing visitors that you're human, and not some faceless organisation. Obviously this approach isn't appropriate for all organisations, and the likes of solicitors and public services should think twice about using this approach.
You know your visitors better than anyone, take time to consider what would defuse their frustration and make them smile again.
Help Prevent Visitors Landing on a 404
To prevent visitors from landing on a 404, you firstly need to be aware of the cause - whether the broken link is on your site, someone else's or in a search engine result.
Provide visitors with a way to quickly and easily report any broken links they have come across.
We have created an easy to follow guide for those of you that would like to add a custom 404 page to an existing WordPress site.