You’re browsing a website when suddenly you reach a page that says something like “Sorry, page not found.”
You may have mistakenly typed in the wrong URL or clicked on a broken link. Whatever the reason, it’s important to get to where you need to go.
The best way to execute this is by reaching a nifty, custom 404 page to redirect you.
404 pages can be a serious tool for misguided visitors. It can also be a sign of lack of UX and attention to detail if not customized and implemented properly.
What Exactly Is a 404 Page?
Google defines it as “a 404 page is what a user sees when they try to reach a non-existent page on your site (because they’ve clicked on a broken link, the page has been deleted or they’ve mistyped a URL).”
So, if someone clicks on a broken link, the page has been deleted, or they mistyped a URL, there is literally nowhere to go. That’s when your 404 page appears.
What Your 404 Page Should Include
A valuable 404 page should include:
Clear navigation is the first big step in redirecting your visitor to where they want to go. At the very least, always provide a link back to your home page and a search bar so your visitor can try again. Providing your full navigation menu (that would be present on any other webpage on your site) is helpful as well. You can also include a way to report an issue on your 404 page, whether it’s in the form of sending an email or filling out a form. Chatbots or live chats can invite lost visitors to find what they’re looking for.
It’s important to recognize and maintain your brand’s tone and design on your 404 page. You don’t want visitors 404’ing on your webpage and feeling like they were redirected to an entirely different website. Keep your overall tone and style consistent. Take this opportunity to strengthen your brand’s image or show a side of your brand that otherwise wouldn’t be displayed on your website.
While 404s can be frustrating to some visitors, they are absolutely unavoidable. The main cause behind a 404 page is a broken link. Broken links are inevitable, especially if they are coming from an external website that you have no control over.
The main purpose of a 404 page is to turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one. You can do this by creating a custom 404 page. According to WooRank, creating a custom 404 page can:
- Reduce bounce rate and keep users on your website
- Keep people engaged with your site and moving through your sales process
- Leave them with a good feeling after a positive resolution to their 404 problem
- Maintain consistent branding across your site
- Attract external attention for your brand if you do a good enough job
You can use this 404ing opportunity to boost your SEO by adding several internal links to your custom 404 page. Instead of your visitors hurrying to leave, they’ll be encouraged to follow these links and check out more content.
QuickSpout has an incredibly in-depth guide on how to use 404s to boost your SEO.
There are several ways to get creative with your 404 page: crack a joke, offer some interactivity, display some interesting/cool/fun visual elements, or be thought-provoking. The bottom-line is to customize it. This ensures that for whatever reason your visitor landed on your 404 page, they’ll be entertained before being redirected.
Luckily, the Internet is the Internet, and there are a ton of great examples of creative 404 pages.
Tracking and Troubleshooting
While having a 404 page in place for such inevitable occurrences is useful, you still want to monitor your errors.
Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and Google Tag Manager (ah, bless Google) provide opportunities to report and track your 404 errors.
According to Analytics Mania, tracking 404 errors with Google Search Console (GSC) offers a report of site errors (including 404s) that were spotted by Google’s crawlers. However, there are some limitations: those errors are logged by the Googlebot crawler (not necessarily viewed by users), so you can’t see how it affects users’ overall sessions, and you can’t include it in your analytics reporting.
You can also track 404 errors with Google Analytics behavior reports. This is another option which also does not require any additional development and involves checking Google Analytics All Pages report. Tracking 404 errors with Google Analytics events via Google Tag manager seems to be the optimal method and you can start with that here.
While reaching a 404 page in any instance can be frustrating, landing on an interesting, navigable page can be a nice surprise to lost visitors. Following the four elements of a great 404 page – navigation, tone, SEO, and creativity – can easily transform your users’ experiences.
- What’s the best 404 page you’ve personally experienced?
- Do you find 404 pages to be useful or more of a nuisance?
- Does your brand track your 404 errors?