What is a Custom 404 Page and Why Do You Need One?



custom 404 page

 

In the life of every online marketer, there comes a time when one simple truth is realized: Driving traffic to your website is very hard. A critical aspect of website management is understanding what is a 404 page and why you need one. The absence of a custom 404 page—a webpage displayed when a user attempts to access a non-existent page—can rapidly repel the hard-earned traffic, making it a crucial aspect of website management.

There are no bones about it; it takes time and effort to get each and every visitor to your site. Each visitor is important: Their visit is an opportunity to convert them into a lead and eventually into a sale. You can’t afford to turn your visitors away, and not having a custom 404 page is precisely the way to do that inadvertently.



What is a Custom 404 Page and Why Do You Need One?

In tech-speak, 404 is the error number returned when a visitor attempts to access a page that doesn’t exist on your site. The two most common reasons a visitor gets a 404 error are:

  • They mistyped the Web address (URL) of the page they were trying to reach; or
  • They followed a link to a page that no longer exists on your site.

No matter what the reason, the default 404 page that visitors see looks something like this:

what is a custom 404 page

Pretty ugly, right? The only purpose this page serves is to overwhelm your visitors with text and technical jargon. Many of them will leave.


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Most of them won’t be back.

The result? You’ve just missed the opportunity to convert a visitor into a lead or even a sale and that’s a very poor return on the money and effort you spent to get them to your site in the first place.

The solution? A custom 404 page.

Aside from the obvious benefit (i.e. not scaring away potential customers), deploying a custom 404 page can help you turn an unfortunate incident into an opportunity. Let’s take a closer look at four ways to do so.



How to Create a Custom 404 Page

Thankfully, you can create a custom 404 page for your site. Once this page is in place, the disastrous default page shown above will be banished, never to be seen again.

Branding

Many businesses use their custom 404 page to re-emphasize their branding. For example, GitHub serves the geek community and their page clearly reflects that fact:

what is a custom 404 page

Magnt uses their custom 404 page to emphasize their creativity as well as the recognition they’ve received for that trait (the tabbed box at the bottom contains links to articles where their custom 404 page has been praised):



what is a custom 404 page

Search Engines

Search engines crawl your website by following links to all the different pages on your site. If a search engine is indexing your site and hits a 404 page with no links, it’s not going to be able to continue. The result? Entire sections of your site can be left unindexed and if your pages aren’t indexed, then the search engines don’t know they exist and they won’t show up in the search results.

A custom 404 page ensures that this doesn’t happen by providing links to all the relevant parts of your site (or possibly even a site map) so that search engines have access to your complete site.

A good example of this is Thesaurus.com’s custom 404 page:



what is a custom 404 page

Goodwill

If you want to be successful when marketing online, you need to build trust. One of the best ways to do so is by being useful and helpful, both of which increase the goodwill that leads to trust.

You can do this by making your custom 404 page useful and helpful like the one over at hop.ie:

what is a custom 404 page



In this case, they’ve taken the incorrect URL entered and suggested a page on their site. If that’s not what the visitor is looking for, they can click the “No thanks” link and see a list of the site’s archive. Now that’s useful!

Lead Generation

The last example combines the previous three in a brilliant way, one that can turn a lost visitor into a lead. LeadPages did just that when they made their custom 404 page a landing page:

LeadPages

Simple, elegant and effective, this custom 404 page emphasizes LeadPage’s branding (creating landing pages is what they do), contains links for search engines to follow and builds goodwill by offering a free give-away.



Best of all, this custom 404 page helps them convert website visitors into leads and that’s a great return on the money and effort you spent to get them to your site in the first place

Fun

Finally, a custom 404 page can turn a poor experience (not finding what you’re looking for) into a fun one. Over at CHARGEBACKS911, they turned their 404 page into a game that visitors can play:

CHARGEBACKS911

AspectDescriptionInsights
BrandingUtilize your custom 404 page to reinforce your brand identity. Showcase your brand's personality, values, and tone.GitHub and Magnt demonstrate how branding can be integrated creatively into 404 pages. This strengthens brand recognition and resonates with the target audience, turning an error into a memorable engagement opportunity.
Search EnginesEnsure search engines can effectively index your website by providing links to relevant parts of your site on the 404 page. Prevent sections from being left unindexed due to inaccessible pages.Thesaurus.com's 404 page exemplifies the importance of providing links for search engines. Enhancing indexability ensures your content is visible in search results, driving organic traffic and potentially recovering lost opportunities.
GoodwillFoster trust by offering a helpful and user-centric 404 page. Assist visitors in finding what they need, even when they've reached an error. Showcase your commitment to user satisfaction and establish goodwill.Hop.ie's approach of suggesting alternative pages demonstrates customer-centricity. An empathetic 404 page can salvage the user experience, enhancing trust and showing your dedication to meeting visitor needs.
Lead GenerationTransform lost visitors into potential leads by designing your custom 404 page as a strategic landing page. Incorporate branding, valuable content, and call-to-actions to entice visitors to engage further.LeadPages' example showcases how a custom 404 page can be used for lead generation. By offering a free giveaway and incorporating effective design, you convert lost opportunities into prospects, boosting your marketing ROI.
FunConvert a negative experience into a positive one by adding an element of fun to your 404 page. Turn frustration into amusement by offering interactive elements, such as games or playful visuals.CHARGEBACKS911's gamified approach illustrates how a creative 404 page can captivate visitors. By injecting humor and interactivity, you enhance user engagement, leaving a memorable impression and defusing potential frustration.

A Journey of Constant Enhancement

In the intricate world of online marketing, evolution is the norm. Trends shift, technologies advance, and consumer behaviors change. Amid this dynamic landscape, the custom 404 page retains its relevance as a testament to a brand’s adaptability and commitment to user-centricity.



Harnessing the Potential of Emerging Technologies

As technology continues to evolve, so do the possibilities for enhancing the custom 404 page. From incorporating AI-driven recommendations to implementing interactive elements, brands can utilize cutting-edge technologies to provide even more value to lost visitors. Imagine a custom 404 page that not only redirects visitors to relevant content but also predicts their interests based on past behavior, providing tailored recommendations.

Responsive Design for a Multichannel Experience

With the proliferation of devices and platforms, the user experience transcends desktop screens. A responsive custom 404 page ensures a seamless experience across various devices, further elevating brand perception. Whether visitors access your site from a smartphone, tablet, or desktop, they encounter a consistent and engaging experience.



Data-Driven Insights for Continuous Optimization

In the quest for optimization, data-driven insights are invaluable. Analytics can reveal patterns of broken links, allowing businesses to proactively address issues and enhance their site’s navigation. Additionally, analyzing the behavior of users who encounter a custom 404 page can offer insights into their preferences and needs, guiding strategic decisions.

Localization: A Global Approach

For businesses with a global audience, localization is key. A localized custom 404 page not only communicates error messages in the visitor’s language but also provides region-specific solutions or recommendations. This personal touch fosters a deeper connection and showcases a brand’s commitment to understanding diverse audiences.



A Gateway to Engagement

The journey of a visitor encountering a custom 404 page need not end there. Smart businesses use this opportunity to direct visitors to related content, encouraging further exploration. By suggesting popular blog posts, featured products, or trending topics, brands can seamlessly transform a stumble into an engaging journey.

Educational Resources for Empowerment

In the spirit of adding value, some businesses leverage their custom 404 pages as educational resources. Whether through informative articles, video tutorials, or FAQs, this approach not only resolves the immediate issue but empowers visitors with knowledge for future navigation.

Embracing the Future of Marketing

As the boundaries between marketing and technology blur, the custom 404 page exemplifies the holistic approach required for success. It’s no longer just about driving traffic but about nurturing relationships, fostering engagement, and delivering value at every touchpoint.

In the grand tapestry of marketing strategies, the custom 404 page is a thread that weaves through the user journey. It exemplifies the philosophy that even when things don’t go as planned, brands can seize the opportunity to create positive impressions, drive engagement, and pave the way for meaningful interactions.

A Fusion of Creativity and Functionality

Elevating your custom 404 experience demands a fusion of creativity and functionality. Beyond the surface, delve into the psychology of user behavior. Craft compelling copy that resonates with empathy, humor, or guidance, depending on your brand’s tone. Strategically integrate visuals that not only capture attention but also guide visitors back to relevant content. Each element should harmonize to communicate that a detour doesn’t signify the end of the journey, but rather a redirection to something valuable.

Testing, Learning, and Iterating

Just as marketing strategies are refined through testing and iteration, the same principle applies to your custom 404 page. Implement A/B testing to gauge the effectiveness of different elements – from messaging to recommended content. Analyze user behavior to identify patterns and pain points, enabling you to make informed adjustments. As you gather insights, remember that the journey is ongoing. Continuous refinement ensures that your custom 404 page remains aligned with evolving user expectations and business goals.

An Invitation to Engagement

Finally, your custom 404 page can serve as an invitation to deeper engagement. Beyond redirecting lost visitors, consider offering them a direct line of communication. Incorporate a simple contact form, live chat, or even a link to your customer support resources. This not only solves their immediate issue but opens a door to connection. Genuine interactions at unexpected moments can foster lasting loyalty and turn a moment of frustration into a showcase of exceptional customer service.

In the symphony of online marketing, the custom 404 page is a unique note that has the power to resonate far beyond its humble origins. It’s an invitation to innovate, to empathize, and to enhance the user experience. Embrace this opportunity to convert adversity into advantage, showcasing your brand’s commitment to excellence at every turn. As you stand at the crossroads of possibilities, remember that even when visitors lose their way, your custom 404 page can guide them back to the path of value, connection, and success.

FAQs

What exactly is a custom 404 page and why is it important?

A custom 404 page is a user-friendly error page displayed when someone tries to access a webpage that doesn’t exist on your site. It’s important because it helps retain visitors who might otherwise leave due to frustration, turning a potential negative experience into a positive one.

How does a custom 404 page benefit my SEO efforts?

Custom 404 pages can be beneficial for SEO as they help search engines effectively crawl your site by providing links to other parts of your website. This prevents search engines from hitting dead ends, which can hinder the indexing of your site’s content.

Can a custom 404 page actually help in converting visitors into leads or customers?

Yes, a well-designed custom 404 page can convert visitors into leads or customers by incorporating elements like branding, useful links, or even a special offer. It’s an opportunity to engage with visitors and guide them to other areas of your site.

What are some creative ways to design a custom 404 page?

Creative approaches include incorporating your brand’s personality, adding humor, offering games or interactive elements, providing helpful links or search options, and even using the space for educational content. The key is to make the page engaging and helpful.

How do I know if my custom 404 page is effective?

To gauge the effectiveness of your custom 404 page, monitor metrics like the bounce rate, time spent on the page, and subsequent actions taken by visitors. Tools like Google Analytics can help track these metrics, allowing you to refine and improve your page over time.

404 Error Screen Illustration via Shutterstock, Blank Laptop Photo via Shutterstock


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Matt Mansfield Matt Mansfield is the Tech Editor and SEO Manager at Small Business Trends where he is responsible for directing and writing many of the site’s product reviews, technology how-to’s, and lists of small business resources as well as increasing the reach of our content.

3 Reactions
  1. Matt,

    It’s always refreshing when people are able to take a flaw and reposition it as an opportunity to stand out. You’ve clearly demonstrated that here. Custom 404 page is a no-brainer. Thanks for the tips!

  2. Was just working through this with a client yesterday and yes, it’s a huge missed opportunity for most sites. First, it corrects an error (doesn’t matter if it was yours or theirs) and gets people back on track. Second, it lets you point out something they may have missed, or humanizes the brand with humor.

  3. So many website owners are missing out by not customizing their 404 pages. Not doing this will cause people to click back and look elsewhere.

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