Five tips to make the most of your 404 error pages

Believe it or not, one of your most important pages on your website is your 404 error page and enhancing this page can be the difference between getting a customer, or losing them forever. 

A 404 error happens when a visitor cannot find a page. So instead of typing in product, they type in products. Now the page products does not actually exist, so the visitor receives an error. 

The important thing is what the visitor does when they come across your error page. 

If you do not have an error handler the web browser will toss back a very ugly, blatant error message. 

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Here you can see the Google Chrome error page for a domain name that doesn't exist. 

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These pages are often confusing and visitors return to the search and head off to your competitors websites. 

Here are five tips to make the most of your 404 error pages. 

Create a Custom Page 

Don’t let your web host or CMS handle your error page. Make sure that you are creating and managing your own custom pages. 

What is a custom page? Click here for an example of a cool eye catching 404 page by tinsanity.net.

Provide link options. 

Your custom page must have links, or places to go and they must be obvious. 

If I land on your 404 page, and no links are presented then it is the same as turning down a hallway only to be greeted by a dead end. The only option is to turn around and go somewhere else. 

Now if I land on a 404 page, and links are present, I am still in that hallway, but now there are doors and maybe even a window for me to look out. Suddenly I have options where I can go. I still may turn around and go back, but at least there are doors that some visitors will take. 

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Add some humor 

Many times you need to add something to your page that both fits with your website and your culture, but will also cause your visitors to stop. 

We are so used to clicking that, in shear fear, visitors will be clicking out of the 404 page before the page has fully loaded, lest they get stuck in that hallway we talked about. 

However if they look down that hallway and see a picture of a ninja stealing the page, you may stick around long enough to check it out.

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Don’t leave the comfort of your website 

We often think of the 404 page as a separate page, with no menu, styling etc. But why not stay within your website template allowing your customers to carry on the rest of your website. 

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Redirect links 

The last tip is not so much a 404 page link, but to avoid it altogether. This happens a lot if you had the url myexampledomain.com/free-stuff, but for seo purposes you want to change the page url to myexampledomain.com/free-stuff-for-penguins. 

Now all the links that linked to your free stuff page are getting the 404 error. By simply directing the original url to the new one your customers receive a much better experience as they are simply taken where they want to go. No need for a 404 stop. 

There are so many things that you can do with your error pages that you must not leave them blank!

What do you do with your error pages?

What is the best 404 error page out there? 

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Richard Bankert Web Design is a Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada, Web Designer and a Web Design Company specializing in Web Design, Web Development,Content Management Solutions and E-Commerce using CMS solutions. Joomla! is a trademark of Open Source Matters. Richard Bankert Web Design is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Joomla! Project or its trademark owners.