Have you ever clicked a link for a website and been greeted with an error page? A page saying something like “Page not found” or “Error 404”?
I know I have and it’s never a particularly good experience. We only click on links we’re interested in so being told that what we wanted to view isn’t available is always disappointing.
But, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way for your website! Rather than leaving an opportunity for your visitors to be disappointed you can be sure they always leave with a positive experience.
Let’s go over what a 404 page is, how it’s commonly found, and how you can optimize your blog’s 404 page.
What is a 404 page?
A 404 page is simply the default error page you’re brought to when attempting to navigate to a page that doesn’t exist. Rather than defaulting you to the website’s homepage or showing some generic error screen from your web browser, you’re bought to a specific page of the website you’re attempting to go to.
The path will look something like “www.thewebsite.com/404”.
There are many reasons that you can find yourself on a website’s 404 page. A few specific reasons it can happen are:
- You click a link with a mistyped URL
- You manually type an address into your web browser and make a mistake
- The page was moved or deleted
The typical 404 page experience
Typically 404 pages end in a disappointing experience. Rather than being presented with the great content you were searching for, you’re met with a total dead-end.
As an example, here’s what my 404 page previously looked like:
Now, that’s a problem. I don’t know about you, but if I clicked on a link for a blog post I wanted to see and was presented with that page, I’d just close the tab I was on and move along.
There are several problems with what you see above:
- I’m allowing my readers to be disappointed with my overall blog and brand which is never good
- I’ve created an absolute dead-end. There’s nowhere else obvious for my readers to go!
Now, if someone is really interested in my content they might click the Blog link in my menu or the homepage link in the error text. But it’s more likely that they’re simply going to leave.
Let’s fix that, shall we?
How to quickly improve your 404 page
There are 3 particular items you can add to your 404 page to make the experience better for your visitors.
An explanation and apology
First, be sure to explain what happened. When someone is presented with something that doesn’t match their expectations there will be some confusion. Explain that what they’re looking for no longer exists. A simple explanation is all it takes to change someone’s reaction from “What the heck?” to “Oh, okay”.
Something else to consider adding is a quick apology. Make sure your visitors know it’s not their fault and that you’re sorry for inconveniencing or disappointing them. It doesn’t have to be a novel, just a couple words will do.
Give some direction
Like I said above, the 404 page you see is a complete dead-end for your website visitors. If you care at all about bounce rates, page views, and conversions you definitely want to remove all the possible dead-ends.
Giving your readers somewhere to go next is a great option. You can do this by including:
- Recent posts
- Popular posts
- Your recommended posts, or
Don’t simply present them with a search bar because most people (me included) are too lazy to think of search terms and type them in. Make it as easy as a single click.
Give something away for free
Remember, it’s possible that the person on your 404 page has never been to your website before. You don’t want them to leave with a bad experience right after discovering you, right?
That’s why you want to give something away for free on your 404 page. It’s a quick and easy way to turn a bad experience into a fun and rewarding one!
Now I’m not talking about giving something away for free in exchange for an email address. I mean 100% free, no strings attached. Letting someone leave with a positive attitude rather than a negative one is totally worth losing 1 email address over. And that awesome free thing they got will serve as great encouragement for them to opt-in in the future!