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A Smart (and Extremely Easy) Way of Preventing Frustration in Your Website’s Visitors

By Erin  |  October 30, 2013  |   Website Improvement

Error

What if you could turn website problems into business assets?

What if there was a simple, quick website tweak that could help any lost or confused website visitors find their way, figure things out, and smile (instead of grimace in frustration)?

You’d probably jump at the opportunity, right?

Great. It's time to jump.

All you need to do is invest a little bit (honestly, it doesn't need to be a lot) of time and energy in your website's 404 pages.

Wait... what is this and why does it matter?

A 404 page is the error page that gets displayed when one of your website visitors ends up at a web address in your that doesn’t exist.

Maybe the visitor typed the web address with a typo. Perhaps the link he followed was incorrect. Or maybe the you deleted the page or moved it to a different location.

However your website visitor gets there, when he ends up on a 404 page, he's not where he intended to be. Surely you've been there before. It's frustrating.

And unfortunately, default 404 pages are both ugly and unhelpful.

Here are a couple examples. Perhaps you've run into one of these yourself in the past?

404 page example: The page cannot be found

Not found 404 page example

These default, generic, unhelpful 404 pages force your website visitors—who are probably lost, confused, or frustrated within milliseconds of arriving at one—to hit the back button and start over.

(Well, force is a strong word. In reality, sometimes it just isn’t worth the hassle and website visitors close their browser window or decide to go to a new website. They have the option of leaving, and sometimes they do. Sometimes for good.)

But enough bad news, let's talk about the good!

How to take advantage of your 404 pages

Instead of relying on the default 404 page a user's browser automatically displays when he accidentally goes to a page in your site that doesn’t exist, your webmaster (or trusty and reliable web agency) can set up a custom 404 page that reflects your brand, helps re-orient your users, and supports your overall business goals.

Pretty simple and rather cool, eh?

What should go into your custom 404 page?

Your site's custom 404 page should look, feel, and sound exactly like the other pages in your site.

It should also offer your website's visitors an easy way (or ways) to find what they're looking for—or at least a suggested direction.

And it should be clear and simple.

A few great examples

Let's take, for example, the 404 page on the Rosetta Stone language learning software website:

Rosetta Stone's 404 page

The colors, the Rosetta Stone logo, and the navigation make it clear the user is still on the Rosetta Stone website, the primary message is in the consistent, language-celebrating Rosetta Stone voice, and the page provides links to not only their language software pages and social media accounts, but three popular and sales-driving pages within the site as well.

Next let's take a look at the 404 page visitors see if they get lost at Mint.com:

mints 404 page

Again, you'll notice the Mint logo, brand colors, and voice are consistent—letting the lost website visitor know he's still on the Mint website. And, like Rosetta Stone, Mint.com uses their 404 page as an opportunity to guide these lost visitors to three popular and strategic pages within their site.

Finally, take a look at the error page we use:

Followbright 404 page

Like Mint.com and Rosetta Stone, we've kept our design, logo, and voice consistent. We've also included links to our social media accounts and links to the most popular sections of our site.

Additionally, a sidebar graphic encourages visitors to grab our free website improvement tools. And of course we apologize to our users for the inconvenience and offer not only a little empathy, but reassurance that we're on top of the problem that got them there in the first place (which we think is always a good idea).

So...what now?

It's time to think through what might go on your website's 404 page.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Use your 404 page to show your personality. Tie your language back to your company's brand, just like Rosetta Stone does. Feel free to be a little witty like Mint, if it matches your company's brand and personality. (Don’t just do funny for funny’s sake—but do let your personality shine through.)
  2. Direct your website's visitors to offers, freebies, or promotions. Give them something that will turn their frustration about that broken link into excitement about your products or services.
  3. Help your website's visitors find exactly what they're looking for. If your site is a wealth of resources and content, consider including a search option or a list of popular blog posts, videos, or other content. Help your lost visitors get back on track.
  4. Support your business goals. Take a cue from Rosetta Stone and include a list of links to your most popular products or services. Help your visitors get back into your sales funnel.

Turn that ugly into valuable

We suggest you invest just a small bit of energy and transform (or have your webmaster transform) your ugly, unhelpful 404 page into a valuable business asset.

Your 404 page can be a powerful brand tool that helps frustrated and lost visitors locate the type of content that's most useful to them while presenting your company voice in helpful, friendly manner. And when you take good care of your website visitors, you're taking an active step forward toward reaching your online marketing goals.

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