How to squeeze the most out of your 404 pages

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How to squeeze the most out of your 404 pages

You might not know this, but a 404 page can be a blessing in disguise for your website.

The famous ‘Error 404’ page is a common occurrence on the internet, so much so that people have started making jokes about it. “It's been a while since I've seen a good 404 joke. I was going to upload one but I couldn't find any.” (Reddit). In fact, the concept is so popular on the web that there’s even a movie titled ‘404: Error not found’. It was a horror movie, because this is what the error usually comes down to for many website owners.

Basically, a 404 page is a page that is no longer in use. The link is either broken or the page does not exist. It alerts the visitor that the page they wanted to view is not available anymore.

We have all stumbled upon a 404 page on the internet. Sometimes, we get angry at the ‘Page Not Found’ prompt and at other times we are simply indifferent to them. When we don’t care, its mostly because the page is designed in a clever way, which is why the 404 page becomes a blessing in disguise for website owners.

After spending countless hours on the content of your website, you may feel like you should go with the generic 404 error code to save time. This is what it looks like:

However, you shouldn’t use pages like these because they create a negative user experience.

404 page is one of the most ignored design elements on a website. However, if designed well, it can make people laugh a little, eventually making them move on to another functional page. You have to learn to disguise the disappointment so well that it doesn’t seem like a disappointment at all.

Here are some ways to make the most of these 404 pages:

Be apologetic

Firstly, you need to tell your visitors that you are sorry about the situation. Never tell a user that it is their fault, or that their browsing led them to a broken page. Instead, apologize and tell them that you really mean it.

When writing anything for this page, don’t use absolutes to describe the situation. Instead, go with words like ‘you probably found’ or ‘may be broken’ to show that it’s not the user’s fault.

Here is the fun part; many websites have now started being apologetic and taking the blame. Poking fun at yourself is genuinely funny. Here’s a great example of Email Center UK. Upon landing on one of their broken pages, they ask you to punish a member of their staff:

When you choose one of these people, here is what happens:

It’s a little game that not only distracts a user, but also tells them that as a website owner you are sorry. Moreover, it doesn’t make people bounce off the page.

Diffuse anger with humor

Most of us get frustrated when we land on a broken page. People are in different moods, sometimes they might be looking for something important when they land on a broken page. Keeping that in mind, you can design pages which lift their spirits and cheers them up.

Yelp does it well with their broken pages:

The page features Detective Darwin who handles the situation lightly with dad jokes. Yelp users can navigate away from the page using the homepage link, or perform any other function they like. The element of humor distracts people and takes the frustration out of the situation.

Boost your brand

While you’re at it, you should try to maintain brand familiarity on your broken pages. If possible, they should carry the same colors and font of your website. Look at this page on Spotify’s website:

It keeps the same theme and directs the users back to the previous page. It is minimalistic and also depicts the brand very well.

Boost traffic by internal linking

A great way to deal with a broken page is to use it in internal linking. The audience can be redirected to another page using a link.

Neil Patel says that he boosted his website traffic by 9% in a month by redirecting traffic to other pages of the website. Additionally, it also gives Google a positive response from your website and the pages get indexed. It may be that the broken page is of immense SEO value, so you can use that factor to increase traffic to your other pages.

If you have a large website, you can redirect users to important (and relevant) pages. If you have a smaller website, you can redirect users to a page that is yet to be indexed.

Use exit intent

Exit intent can help you save your reputation and your audience at the time of need. Any exit intent software can help you with it; all you have to do is install the software and use it on your broken page.

When users arrive on the page, they can be greeted by a pop-up, directing them to something constructive on your website. It can be a free e-book or a chance to attend a free webinar. It could also be a free coupon code, if you run an e-commerce site.

Exit intent software helps reduce bounce rate of your website. It can prevent up to 70% people from leaving your website. Apart from reducing bounce rate, exit intent helps users find their way back to a relevant page. Search bars are the best bet at that. It also gives you one last chance to keep the visitors on your website.

Use opt-ins

Your broken page can also turn into a highly-converting page if you design it well. You can place a link on your page which directs the users to something they were looking for in the first place. For example, in the case of e-commerce pages, you can show users an outstanding product or give them a very good deal to entice them.

Modcloth gives you a chance to browse other styles if you land on one of their broken pages. They keep the design interactive, so people can find something interesting.

No matter how creative you are, you must understand that the error should not arise in the first place. Therefore, you should monitor your website pages regularly. It is advisable to check the site for missing information, articles or products at least once a month.

Prepare a website's audit checklist every month so you can keep track of its performance. While setting up goals, make sure that you have a performance review session with constructive criticism when the team achieves these goals. Nobody wants to host their customers to a missing page.

Try to fix your broken pages and while you are at it, be clever in how you design those 404 pages. While you do the broken link building, make the page user-friendly, using appropriate language to depict how apologetic you are for causing the trouble. Provide useful resources to your users so they can find their way back to a functional page again.

If you have ever encountered a 404 error page which taught you something new, please tell us more about it in the comments’ section below.

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