Someone made a mistake.
Maybe it was a typo in the URL. Maybe he followed a broken link. Maybe she was searching for a hidden page, and the search was for naught. In any case, she tried to access a page on your domain that did not exist.
What’s her reward? No, I’m not kidding. This visitor took the time to go to your site, search your content, and engage with your brand. How are you going to show your appreciation on the 404 page that appears?
It’s easy to treat your company’s 404 page as an afterthought, a tiny element of your digital presence that ultimately doesn’t matter. However, every touch point with a potential customer is an invaluable opportunity, and the special circumstances surrounding your 404 page make it especially important.
If a customer sees your 404 page, someone made a mistake—and how you react to it tells that customer a lot about your company, your brand, and your service. Here are some ways to use your company’s 404 page to your advantage (with my favorite examples in hyperlinks):
Best Practices for Your Company’s 404 Page
Present the Right Attitude—Every time your 404 page loads (outside of testing), something went wrong. In awkward moments like this, it’s important to acknowledge the mistake without blaming the visitor or escalating the tension that can come from an error. Humor is a proven way to strike this balance—a gentle joke or funny image accompanied by a “something went wrong” message can make your visitors feel at home on your site even when they don’t find what they want.
If your brand would rather be serious, it’s a good idea to make your error message fit your company messaging. For example, a big data company focusing on customer analytics might use a 404 message like “Even the best analytics can’t find what isn’t there. Sorry, but the page you’re looking for does not exist.” This offers a gentle plug for the company’s value while letting the visitor know that an error occurred.
Adapt Your 404 Page to the State of Your Site—If you just redesigned your site’s look and navigation, remember to update your 404 page to match the new design. It’s also a good idea to include a message on the new 404 page reminding visitors that you just redesigned your site, so some URLs may be different. In addition, you can use this message to invite visitors to comment on the new site navigation in order to guide future development.
Helps visitors find what they’re looking for—Chances are, whoever landed on your 404 page was trying to find a specific page on your site. To get this visitor back on track, provide links to the most popular pages on your domain, such as your blog or eCommerce page. You can also provide a search tool or steer the user to your contact section so he can tell you what he was trying to find when he landed on the 404 page.
Learn from the kind of pages your customers wanted to find—A broken link is rarely a garbled string of letters. By analyzing the key terms your customers are trying to find when they land on your 404 page, you can gain insight into the kind of pages your customers want. For example, if multiple customers keep trying to access a /FAQ page on your domain, you should consider adding that kind of page to your site. And if a visitor landed on your 404 page because of a misspelled link on your domain, you should fix that link immediately.
Because your website is the digital face of your business, you want every element of your site to represent your brand—even when something goes wrong. While your 404 page may seem like a tiny aspect of your digital presence, it represents a small but powerful component of your brand strategy. By showing that your company cares about every public-facing element of your business, your customers will have greater confidence in your ability to listen to and meet their needs. To learn more about how to design your digital presence to engage your ideal customers, visit the Atlantic BT page on creating a strong user experience.