Making the Most of Error Pages
Error pages or 404 errors are the bane of every business owner. Every time you delete a page, change your navigation or someone follows a broken link, a 404 error is generated. From a web development point of view, each time this occurs its best to go into your webmaster tools and tell Google that you have fixed the 404 error, because if you don’t, the 404s just stack up and Google has a poor opinion of sites that generate lots of 404 errors (and don’t fix them promptly).
That’s one way to look at 404 error, but the other way to look at them is as an opportunity to engage your visitor. How do you do this? Well here are 6 tips that can help you make the most out of 404 errors on your website:
- Orientate your visitor: The person who has landed on your 404 error page has not necessarily clicked on a broken link within your website, they may have arrived from a broken link from an external site. So more than likely they have no idea where they are and on what website they have landed. Without any informative and engaging content on your 404 page, they will simply click out and return to their original webpage or continue to surf the net.
All of this means that you need to orientate these lost souls, so they know immediately whose website they are on and what options are available to them.
- Branded 404 error pages: One of the best ways to engage and orientate visitors who have landed on a 404 page is to brand the page exactly the same as your other web pages. So include a similar template with your headers, footer and sidebar all crafted around the branding of your website.
- Clarify the 404 error: So many 404 error pages are just blank, so the visitor has no idea at first where they are and that they have landed on a 404 error page. So make the error message crystal clear, but remember that this doesn’t have to be boring. You can leave a serious or a humorous message, so long as it clearly informs the visitor that they have landed on a 404 error page.
- Give them directions: First explain to them why they have landed on your 404 page and tell them to check the URL to make sure it was correct. If it’s due to a broken link then give them more options than just your home page. If you have a small site, then being redirected to your home page might be sufficient. The problem is that in larger sites with hundreds of pages, they will have to start their search all over again. So give them an option to search your site for what they were looking for from the 404 page and make their life easier.
- Engage them: Even more than giving visitors directions, it is far more valuable for you to engage your new visitor and offer them a taste of your website. So include a short navigation bar with options to go to your latest posts or reviews, new products or even the sitemap.
- Report the error: Finding out where the visitor came from and why the 404 error has occurred can be a huge bonus for you. So ask them to give you this information on the 404 page.
In conclusion, it important to leverage your 404 pages, by keeping your lost visitors engaged and moving through your website. After all, this is a free visitor who you may be able to convert into a paying customer.
Jason is a Web Developer at Cornerstone who appreciates building websites that delight and inform. He is a curious person, and enjoys work that challenges him to learn something new and stretch in a different direction.