Don’t abandon visitors who get to your website through a bad link or error — if you guide them in a friendly, helpful way, you can get them where they want to go while rescuing their opinion of you.
1. Minimize Your 404s With 301 Redirects — Getting an error page in not only a bad experience for the user but also for search engines that have indexed your site. If you have changed your website through a redesign, make sure that your old URLs are redirected to the new ones. Check for errors often to make sure you are catching these errors. Your CMS may provide an easy way to do this. Joomla 3 for example has a Redirect component that displays the URL errors and lets you easily redirect to a new URL. WordPress has several Redirect plugins to choose from.
2. Create a Custom 404 Page — To cover situations where you can’t redirect to an existing page or can’t anticipate a redirect, a custom 404 page will help your visitor find their way. However, the 404 page that comes with your theme/template or that your hosting service serves up is not doing your visitor or your business any favors. All your visitor know is that they can’t find what they are looking for and they aren’t going to work too hard to find it when your competitor has something easily available. If you use a CMS, you will have to check to discover how to customize the page. It may take some work but it’s worth it.
3. Let Them Know Where They Are– Make sure that you include your business with your logo on the 404 page so that the lost visitor at least has their bearings. Let them know that they are outside of the regular website with a short introductory statement. But…
3. Don’t Blame the Visitor– Imagine you walked into a brick and mortar store looking for socks but didn’t know where they were so you wound up in the toaster section. When you asked a store clerk for help, how would you feel if the clerk started blaming you for taking a wrong turn or was condescending? It’s common on 404 pages to tell the lost visitor that they’ve “mistyped” something or “clicked on a bad link”. The visitor already knows they are in the wrong place — you are wasting their time and degrading your customer service if you point that out. Instead…
4. Turn on the Customer Service — Remember this may be the first experience the visitors have of you and your brand. (And the only one if you don’t handle it correctly.) Take responsibility for the problem in a friendly helpful way. In the 404 page for Family Features, we chose to say “We’re sorry, we can’t find the page you requested. Please let us help you get to the right place.” We’re not being cutesy, we’re not blaming anyone. But we are still letting them know they aren’t where they expected to be. And we are acting like a person who wants to help them.
5. Give the Visitor Options for Where to Go — Most 404 pages just send the visitors back to the home page. This is a great opportunity for you to provide links back to other place on your website they might be interested in or that you hope they’d be interested in. For the Family Features 404 page we included screenshots and links to a few popular pages, as well as links to the home page, the login page, and the contact page. If you have a website search, include that link as well.
6. Include Your Contact Information — Perhaps your visitors are looking for something that requires a more personal touch. By providing email and phone contact information you demonstrate your willingness to help them find the information personally.
7. Ask for Their Help — Most visitors won’t let you know where they found a bad link but it’s always good to ask in a courteous way. It demonstrates that you are interested in improving their experience.
8. End on a High Note — In the Family Features 404 page, we thanked the visitor for their patience, to emphasize the way we put their needs first.
9. Include Analytics Code — Remember that the 404 page is outside of your website and doesn’t inherit header or footer information, so you should manually place your Google Analytics code in the page. This will help you track visitors who came to your 404 page — did they follow through with your links? Did they stay on the site?