We’ve all seen our fair share of 404 pages. Even today, you’ve probably stumbled upon a none existent page, clicked on a broken link or misspelt a direct one. But how can we be sure we’re using 404 error page best practice? Read on to find out.
What is a 404 error page?
Otherwise known as an ‘error page’ or ‘Page Not Found’ page. This is where you’ll find yourself if you’ve reached the domain you’ve requested, but the URL path didn’t match with any existing information.
There are three main reasons you’ll land on a website’s 404 error page:
- You type in a link yourself and misspell it
- A link within a website points somewhere that no longer exists (broken link)
- A search engines serves up a page that no longer exists
Why is having a custom 404 page important?
Most people that find themselves on a 404 page get there from external sources, rather than from within the website.
Research shows that typos, broken email links and bookmarks make up as much as 45.87% 404 errors. Broken links account for just 17.58% of 404 errors. That means that most of the 404s generated on your site are out of your control.
Statistically, 70%+ of people who reach a 404 error page won’t bother to search again and will leave the website immediately. Only 23% will try again to find the missing page.
It’s a problem that’s worth doing something about.
How can you use your 404 error page to your advantage?
The standard 404 page below is unhelpful to the website visitor, with absolutely no user interaction and no navigation to help them find what they’re looking for. Imagine you land on a 404 page and it looks like this uninspiring mass of grey. I doubt you’d be keen to stick around to explore the rest of the site.
Compare this to some of the other clever 404 pages around the net, such as this one from Lego. It’s funny, on brand and provides a call-to-action; to start shopping.
There are thousands of similarly awesome 404 error pages out there. Hubspot have put together this list of 24 of the best 404 error page designs.
And you can take a look at mine here.
What should be included on a 404 error page?
To help you design an engaging and useful 404 error page, I’ve put together a short list of 404 error page best practice advice:
At the very least, your 404 page should reinforce your brand presence and use a design that holds the user’s interest. The visitor hasn’t found what they were looking for, but this is your chance to pique their interest and keep them on the site. Many of the best 404 pages use humour to do this, often making puns that are relevant to their business or industry. They often poke fun at themselves.
You know that the user is lost; so offer them a few options to get them back on track. If your site is small this could be a full sitemap. For a larger site you might offer them a Homepage link. If you have a shop, you may decide to offer them a list of product categories.
Most Popular Blog Posts or Pages
If your site has an active blog, you may want to offer a list of your most popular posts. This can draw lost visitors further into the site, or they may even find what they were looking for in the first place. An alternative is to provide a list of your blog categories or tags.
As your visitor is already in search mode, providing a search bar on the 404 error page makes sense. However, this should only be provided if your site’s search capability is good. If your search is likely to provide further error pages, skip this element. You don’t want to further frustrate the user.
Ask for Feedback
Finally, you may decide to ask your lost visitors to let you know that the page you were looking for can’t be found. This is not only a good way to show positive customer service, but it can also allow you to open up a conversation with a potential customer (although you should never add them to your mailing list unless you’ve asked explicit permission).
The 404 error page is a staple of the internet; one that you can use to further your brand’s impact with potential clients. If you provide a great design, a little humour and the ability for your lost visitor to find their desired page, your 404 error page can be a great asset to your website, rather than a negative experience for the user.