Running a successful website and maximizing ROI not only requires doing the big things right, but also doing the little things right. Even when attention to detail won’t make or break your business, it can have a meaningful impact.
One page that publishers often don’t pay enough attention to is an important one: the 404 page. While you would hope that every visitor to your website will land on the page he or she intended to land on, that’s often not the case. And the page he or she is greeted with, the 404, can determine whether you lose a visitor (sometimes for life) or make lemonade out of lemons.
Here are five tips for making sure your 404s are working for you, not against you.
Set up your 404
The worst way to let your users know that they’ve landed on a page that doesn’t exist is usually to display the default message your web server will spit out if you haven’t set up your own 404, or to show them a white screen of death.
Avoid an identity crisis
A 404 deserves the same papering you’ve probably given to all of the other pages on your website. Ideally, your 404 will look like the rest of your site, but at the very least, it should make visible the identity of the website (use your logo).
Don’t be too terse, or technical
There are a lot of ways to say “Page Not Found” but as a general rule of thumb, your 404 should highlight the problem (“The page you’re looking for was not found on thissite.com“) and provide a simple explanation (“It’s possible you entered the address incorrectly or are looking for a page that has moved“).
Don’t send the user away
Just because you can’t deliver what a user is looking for doesn’t mean that you don’t have what he or she wants. Your 404 should contain the navigation elements present on your other pages, and if possible, should provide a search form or other functionality that gives the user the opportunity to find the content originally sought or otherwise relevant content.
Track your 404s
Bad links happen, files get accidentally deleted, etc. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep track of the 404s you’re serving up. If you see the same URLs over and over again, you may be able to 301 users to a page that has been moved, or direct them to a more relevant page.