What is a Useful 404 Error Page?

The 404 page on your Web site is what a customer sees should they click on a broken link, mistype something or simply try to access a page or information on your site that doesn’t exist. The 404 page you create for your audience is your chance to put that customer back on the right path, to give them some options, and to, occasionally, make the situation a little less scary by making fun of it. But you can only do that if you take the time to create a custom 404 page. One that doesn’t look nearly as terrifying as this:

What is a Useful 404 Error Page?

What is a Useful 404 Error Page?

While the standard 404 page can vary depending on your ISP, it usually doesn’t provide the user with any useful information, and most users may just surf away from your site. If you’re a customer, the error page shown above represents nothing but a dead end. It’s also what you want to absolutely avoid serving.

If you have access to your server, we recommend that you create a custom 404 page. A good custom 404 page will help people find the information they’re looking for, as well as providing other helpful content and encouraging them to explore your site further.

Because a 404 page can also be a standard HTML page, you can customize it any way you want. Here are some suggestions for creating an effective 404 page that can help keep visitors on your site and help them find the information they’re looking for:

  • Tell visitors clearly that the page they’re looking for can’t be found. Use language that is friendly and inviting.
  • Make sure your 404 page uses the same look and feel (including navigation) as the rest of your site.
  • Consider adding links to your most popular articles or posts, as well as a link to your site’s home page.
  • Think about providing a way for users to report a broken link.
  • No matter how beautiful and useful your custom 404 page, you probably don’t want it to appear in Google search results. In order to prevent 404 pages from being indexed by Google and other search engines, make sure that your webserver returns an actual 404 HTTP status code when a missing page is requested.
  • Use the Enhance 404 widget to embed a search box on your custom 404 page and provide users with useful information to help them find the information they need.
  • Use the Change of Address tool to tell Google about your site’s move.

So what information is important to include on your 404 page? Here are some best practices.

1. An explanation of what just happened

Depending on the technical savvy of your customer, they may not even realize they’ve hit an error page on your Web site when landing on your 404 page. And that could lead to confusion about what exactly it is they’re looking at and why they can’t find the information they requested. You don’t want your customers to leave confused. Actually, you don’t want them to leave at all! Somewhere on your 404 page you’ll want to state that something has gone wrong in the process and that they’re viewing an error page. This will help them to understand what has happened so they don’t think you’re simply unable to solve their problem. Once they understand where they are on your Web site you can provide other information to get them back on task. But you have to set the stage first.

2. Links to core/popular pages

Once you’ve let your users in on what happened, don’t just leave them stranded! Provide links to core and most high-trafficked pages on your Web site to get them back on the right path. This will include, but won’t be limited to:

  • Your home page
  • Your blog
  • Product/Service landing pages
  • Popular blog content
  • Your FAQ page
  • Other high-trafficked pages

By giving your customers somewhere to go you encourage them to keep looking around your site and not simply leave. They key is to create something that helps a user complete their tasks instead of just leaving them hanging.

3. Links to contact information

In addition to providing links to your most sought-after content or site pages, don’t forget to include links to contact information (phone and email), customer service pages, your About page and other information pieces someone may need to get a hold of you. For a customer who just took a wrong turn on your Web site, these are important trust cues and may be exactly what they’re looking for if they’ve fall into a hole and need a way out.

4. A little bit of humor…

No one likes to get lost or be caught doing something wrong. It makes us feel bad about ourselves and question our own intelligence. So consider using some humor to lighten the mood before getting people back on their way.

For example: http://haloseeker.com/404/

404 Error Page Template

404 Error Page Template

While these 404 pages are fun (if not distracting), your main goal for your 404 page should be creating something that is useful to a user. If they’re lost, your 404 page is their roadmap back to that conversion path. Add some humor when you can, but focus on directing them back to the other areas of your Web site. If you use Genesis Framework, you also read this post: How to Create Custom 404 Page in Genesis Theme.

What does your 404 page look like?

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