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Creating a Custom 404 Page That Turns an Error into an Opportunity

Posted on by Kent Yunk

As a member of the modern world, you’ve probably encountered a custom 404 page.

And even if you’ve never seen these clever customized error pages, you’ve likely seen the standard version: click a broken link or type the wrong URL, and you will quickly and briefly be informed that the page you’re looking for cannot be found.

Though we’ve all encountered these 404 error pages, they tend to be the most neglected pages on websites. They are often standard and boring, and are frustrating for the user and a missed opportunity for your business. In an instance when a site visitor (and potential customer) might get annoyed, frustrated or confused, you can preemptively and proactively improve their experience and point them back to where they were trying to go . . . or where you would like them to go next.

In this post, we’ll show you how to create a custom 404 page that makes sure the right pages get found—and ensures the people who end up on your site stay on your site until they find exactly what they need.

How Your Page Gets Lost and (Not) Found

If your website doesn’t recognize a link, the server gives visitors what is called a 404 error page: the standard response code in HTTP that is automatically generated when the URL your visitor was trying to locate cannot be found.

These error pages are potentially a very upsetting moment for the visitor—and understandably so. Visitors looking for specific information only find they cannot access that information. And standard 404 pages do little beyond making visitors to your site feel as if they’ve done something wrong . . . without pointing them in the right direction! The standard structure of a 404 page doesn’t have a header with a familiar logo, blames the visitor for ending up in the wrong place and doesn’t offer guidance on where to go next other than backwards—back to another site, back to a search engine or back off their computer entirely.

And that’s not what you want, right?

If a site visitor accidentally types the wrong URL or clicks on an unfixed broken link or your site has unexpectedly gone down—and they get blamed for the error!—they probably won’t stick around for long. But that’s also the reality of websites; migrations happen, links break and URLs change. While business owners should always fix their broken links when possible, it’s also important to prepare for the rare broken links you miss!

By using a custom 404 page, you can retain some of that potential traffic loss and keep visitors to your site on your site—a move that benefits you both.

How To Create a Clever Error Page

Every 404 page should include at least the following elements: a message apologizing for your error, recommended next steps and links to the most high-value pages on your website.

You should also consider including your usual site header (and logo!), footer and a search bar. While you can’t know exactly what a visitor was searching, you can point them in some helpful directions: Start by including links to your home page, other popular pages—such as services, products, solution—and your contact page.

Some of our favorite “Page Not Found” pages are the custom error pages from Intel, Petco and NPR—and, of course, our own. What do they all share in common? Well, they follow our tips by customizing their 404 pages: they take responsibility for the error, they guide visitors to helpful links or resources and they include their familiar branding and navigation.

* * *

Creating a 404 page is easy and getting creative with the copy and design can be quite fun! So long as you remember to take responsibility for the error and guide your visitor where they should go next, you have liberty to be creative and enjoy the experience. The more fun you have, the more your website visitor will, too . . . and the more likely they’ll stick around your site and find exactly what they need.

Website errors may be an issue, but creating your custom 404 page doesn’t have to be an issue. Make sure you are taking advantage of the opportunity.

What simple tweaks can you make to enhance the experience of landing on your custom 404 page? Share one change you’ll make in the comments below.

About Kent Yunk

Kent is currently Advisor and SEO Strategist to Roaring Pajamas a boutique digital-strategy company located in San Carlos California. His in-house SEO experience spans GoDaddy, QuinStreet, Ask.com, Dictionary.com, Adobe and IBM where he did extensive audits and optimization for local and international web properties. He and his team also execute reputation management, link building and social media campaigns.

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