Errors are always unpleasant, and no one really enjoys seeing them, especially when they appear when they’re trying to find something important on your website. However, a 404 error page can be customized, and many people choose not to. A 404 page just represents something that cannot be found to a lot of people and businesses when it could instead represent an opportunity to market.
There is a difference, however, between an attractive and an effective 404 error page. Here are a few ways you can turn an error into something that works for you.
Instead of worrying about someone not finding what they were looking for, offer a small consolation to your potential customers and give them a list of commonly accessed links. While a 404 error may make many customers turn away, posting commonly accessed links can bring them back onto the working pages of your website.
Show Your Personality
404 websites can be put to use when they’re used to brand your business, too. For example, eMusic is a subscription-based MP3 service that brings new music to clients browsing the site. When a page that doesn’t exist is visited, the 404 error says “page not found. But maybe the internet brought you here to discover some cool new music instead!” Not only are they using this page to brand themselves as an upbeat, charismatic company, they’re also bringing potentially lost sheep back into the fold by offering more music to listen to.
Explain Yourself and Offer an Alternative
Often people just want to know why they reached a bad page in the first place, so taking a moment to offer an explanation (for example, an out-of-date link) is never a bad thing, and may help a lost explorer of your website figure out what they did wrong. However, if they did type the link in correctly and they don’t know why it didn’t work, offering alternatives for them to visit is intelligent as well. Sometimes you can even offer links that have something to do with what was searched. If “hamburgers” were part of the URL, then some of the offerings should be alternative hamburger recipes.
No matter what kind of website you run, you have a 404 page, and your 404 page should engage your user before they simply click the “x” on your window. Take a little time and customize your 404 page as you build the rest of your website.