After some time on the job, web kids tend to pick up a few quirky habits when visiting other sites. Many of us like to view the page source and see what other developers’ practices are like. Personally, while exploring a website, I might be tempted to go to a url that I know would (or at least should) not exist, just to check out their 404 page. Once in a while, I run into something quite spectacular, such as Poem of Quotes’, Limp Fish’s, or Bluegg’s 404 pages.
These error pages aren’t purely meant for designers, developers, and content writers to show off their talents, however. Errors aren’t fun, so of course they should be kept to a minimum, but sometimes these errors are inevitable. Pages get deleted, websites get redesigned, and every once in a while, posts like this get written that tells Google, “Hey, check out these awesome 404 pages.” Instead of throwing technical error messages at an unsuspecting visitor, designers and developers often take advantage of these pages. When done correctly, custom 404 pages can actually help increase your website’s traffic, user engagement, and even conversion rates.
First of all, let’s start with the most powerful source of traffic: Search Engines. It may seem counter-intuitive, seeing as how experts generally suggest preventing redirects and errors altogether, but custom 404 pages actually help with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Again, errors, especially missing pages, are often unavoidable. Once a search engine like Google sees a page, it may take a while before it realizes that page no longer exists. Many designers take advantage of this and use a custom 404 page to direct the web crawler to other pages on their website. Neil Patel, an expert on marketing and entrepreneurship, suggests linking to a bundle of random pages on your website. In his blog, he mentions “I used this strategy to increase Techcrunch’s traffic by 9% in a month. I linked out to a random 25-50 internal pages by running an algorithm.” The training and instructional service, Fizzle, utilizes a similar technique and lists all major pages on their website in their 404 page.
Listing links in your 404 page isn’t just for those web crawling robots, however. Users get frustrated when they can’t find what they’re looking for, so offering a bit of direction while being creative is a good way to keep your users engaged. According to self-proclaimed WordPress SEO Coach, Shae Baxter, “The problem with not having an effective 404 error page is that when people do arrive at your 404 page, they’ll often immediately click the back button or simply disappear and never return to your website. People are just too impatient.” Default 404 error pages are boring, and are way too technical for the average user. Designers can use this blank canvas to engage their audience by introducing a game or some humor to give users that human touch and make your site memorable in hope of keeping the user intrigued and willing to spend more time on your site. Another why to create a connection with your audience is to help them solve the problem. Providing a search bar to allow them to find what they need on their own can ease the frustrating of landing on a 404 page. Some developers even go the extra mile and build out an entire game for the user to enjoy!
Because default 404 pages are boring, full of technical jargon, and are unavoidable, why not take advantage of this and propose possible conversions you want the user to make? You can use this opportunity to target products you want users to check out by providing a like to those products. Chelsea Adams, a senior content writer at Bruce Clay, Inc., sums it up nicely in her blog, “Your 404 error page is your damage control page, but it is also your opportunity page. Remember, we’re striving to turn adversity into opportunity, here! Think of this page as an opportunity for you to keep the ball rolling… and why not tilt the ramp so the ball rolls strategically toward one of your conversion funnels? Always keep the user first, but there’s no reason to assume that customer happiness and conversion completion are mutually exclusive.” Adams uses HubSpot as an example for this, as their 404 page links out to their blog, products page, and an application to receive a free demo of their product.
A custom 404 page can go a long way in helping increase your website’s traffic, user engagement, and even conversion rates. Don’t let your 404 page be the black sheep of your site, make it memorable! And turn that frustration into an opportunity.
Let’s here from you! What fun 404 pages have you run into? Does your company use creativity on your 404 pages? Comment below or contact us!