Before we dive into the topic of why having a custom 404 page is important, let’s first understand what a 404 error is. Error 404 or Page Not Found is what we call an empty state, and is the result of an invalid URL, content already deleted by the site administrator, or an incorrect search. And as with everything, 404 pages have both, dark and bright sides.
A plain 404 page is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. However, many webmasters and developers try to avoid having empty 404 pages by redirecting visitors to the main page, which is also not the best solution. Users can easily become confused because they can’t find what they were looking for, they don’t understand why they are back on Home, and therefore, leave.
So, whether you decide it’s not worth your time to customize the basic 404 page or you decide it’s just easier to redirect users to your home page instead, the end result is the same. Your users will have no idea what happened, what led them there, or what to do next.
In case you have an e-shop, you might have just lost a potential purchase. But no matter the conversion goal, you lost that user forever. So having a proper 404 page is a must, and when done correctly, you can only benefit from it. Which brings us to today’s topic, custom 404 pages.
How to create a useful custom 404 page
So, the first step in creating a useful custom 404 page is to decide what message should it carry out and create content based on it. However, you should take this opportunity to show your qualities, and focus less on pointing out your mistakes.
Another crucial step is designing. The 404 page should be different from the original page, yet you should still engage your creativity and play with the graphics. As for the format, it must be immediately clear to the visitor that they did not get where they originally intended, but they have options for the next step. Also, keep in mind the language you are using when creating the error message.
Remember that the 404 page is part of your website, not a completely new one. Make your custom 404-page experience seamless and familiar so you don’t scare your users away. Use your brand, the same familiar tone you use around your site, and also use humor. In general, users perceive 404s as what they are, error, a sign that something went wrong. So, use a light, humorous tone to brighten their mood and help them relax while also presenting them their options.
Finally, when creating a 404 concept, keep in mind who are your visitors, and adapt to their needs. For example, if you are selling goods or services online, you might want to include the best sellers or newest option within the error message. Just as the right merchant knows who his target group is and what to focus on, the resulting 404 design must correspond to the visitor and their preferences.
How to retain visitors with your custom 404 page?
The goal of 404 is to keep visitors on your site, by enabling them to find a solution when they “get lost”, instead of a problem. Don’t underestimate the importance of basic navigation to get the user closest to what they were looking for. Visitors care less that a certain part of your site is not working as it should as they do about not finding what they were looking for.
By creating a fun, memorable custom 404 page that also provides options and solutions, you get a “second” chance and even gain the trust and respect of your users. Instead of them being angry and frustrated, they will appreciate the time and effort you put into that experience and they will remember you.
Moreover, if you have an e-shop, you can use E-commerce tools and remarketing to learn your users’ preferences and offer them a substitute for the product whose page has been removed. Alternatively, you can redirect the visitor to the desired page if they simply had a typo in the URL.
Tips for a useful 404 page
Here are some suitable elements to keep up the customer on your site:
- A link to the homepage, from which it can then get to the required place;
- A link to the FAQ section where the visitor can find the answer to his question;
- Links to relevant sections;
- A search box;
- Contact information or a contact form;
- A sitemap that shows the visitor the structure of your website;
- Eye-catching text that explains the situation and mitigates the impact of a negative experience – it should be based on the overall tone of communication (with respect to the target group) and Copywrite of the site.