The Value of a Website 404 Page
Website 404 error pages appear when a user tried to access content that does not exist on a server. This can occur when content (page files) are deleted or changed, and a redirect has not been properly coded, or when a user simply enters a URL incorrectly. A good 404 page not only helps the user find the content they need, but it can be an opportunity to display a little about your brand, or even an opportunity to get that person into your sales funnel. Our creative team has put together some hints and ideas to improve the value of your website’s 404 error page.
Why 404 Pages are Important for the User Experience
Anyone in marketing and web development will tell you that avoiding broken links is critical. The last thing you want as part of your user experience is for a customer to come across a page link that doesn’t exist, or a 404 error result. The standard screen for a missing page looks like the image below – a plain white page with auto-generated text that equates to a big OOPS.
For the user experience, it means your site visitor has reached a dead end. They need to self-solve this issue, navigating using the “back” button on their browser, or going back to your site’s home page directly in the URL. However they solve it, in addition to their first experience of your brand being just a white page, your site hasn’t helped them move forward.
While complete avoidance of 404 pages would be ideal for the user experience, there is undoubtedly going to be a time when a user sees this page. It could be deleted content still indexed on search engines, a bad link from an outside site, or just a plain old mistake. 301 pages can help here, which are set up by your webmaster and “redirect” the user from one page to another. These are manually configured in site files, and basically tell a search engine or the server “this page is old, and this page replaces it”, and automatically redirects the site visitor to the new, replacement page. If you are launching a new website, you’ll want to use 301 redirects to avoid issues.
In Marketing Everything is an Opportunity
As a full service marketing agency, our team is always searching for unique ways to convey your brand and its benefits. First, we want to fix all those broken links to decrease the likelihood that a user ever reaches a 404 page (hint: as a first step, you or your webmaster can run a broken link checker). But, we think a 404 page is also a branding opportunity.
Site owners have control over 404 pages, meaning you can create a customized page and design to make sure that your “error page” feels like a part of your overall site. We often suggest that a website 404 page displays links to other suggested (working) parts of your site, helping your visitors access the content they need and giving them the resources and tools to move on from the error. The design of the page immediately shows the user they are in the right place (not a blank white screen) and then works to solve the problem.
Better yet, consider having a little fun with the mistake. People know that, for some reason, the page they want to view is not available. Use this as an opportunity to say something about your brand. Give your organization some personality with a fun message or icon. You don’t need to be over-the-top, but don’t underestimate the value of showing your company is more than a faceless corporate entity.
Potentially you can point the user to the information you most want site visitors to see – maybe you can tell that by the folder url they have accessed – and you can lead them into your sales funnel (even if that funnel starts with a 404).
Fun Alterative Ideas to the Standard 404 Page
Below are a few examples of sites with fun and helpful 404 pages. All of these organizations have made sure that – while they hope viewers won’t find a mistake – if someone does, their site is not leading them into a dead-end journey.
Our own site’s 404 page has a simple message and then displays the entire site map, allowing users to find the information they were actually looking for. We also use a quick, text-based icon, to show the “whoops” we want to address in a fun way.
Dropbox takes a similiar approach but limits the amount of page options it redirects users too.
Salesforce takes the missed opportunity to show viewers a demo video of their product offerings.
Lego Toys naturally takes a more fun approach using some of their characters to visually show that something has gone wrong.
And last in this brief showcase is one of our creative teams’ favorites, UK web designer Nouveller, who recreated the error screen and interaction from the original Jurassic Park Movie.
Why 404 Pages are Important for the Search Engine Optimization
While giving personality to your brand and helping your site visitors find the content they need is critically important, ensuring your site is optimized with redirects is just as important. Dead pages indexed by search engines, or high bounces from your website, can negatively impact your site’s position and performance.
Marketing Focused on the Details
As a B2B marketing agency we are focused on the details – regardless if they are technical engineering specifications in a brochure or customizing your website’s 404 error page to improve the user experience. From web development to search engine optimization to branding and more – contact us to discover how we can help your organization Power Up Your Marketing.