In most of the cases there is only a short message on 404 error pages. And that is unfortunate. 404 pages are enormous missed opportunities, but from this article you will learn how to exploit them to the fullest possible extent.
We are going to discuss the following topics:
- SEO and user experience
- Offer products!
- Write creatively, be helpful
- Use visual elements
- Never leave out navigation
- „Not what you’ve been looking for?”
- What to do with products no longer available?
- Run regular checks!
- What you should definitely keep in mind
SEO and user experience on 404 pages
Why should you beware of 404 errors? It is simple: neither people, nor machines like them.
The worst possible case is if the users do not get to your own page but to a real 404 error page when there is an error. That is because Google disfavours the websites on which the number of 404 errors is noticeably high, since it ranks them lower on the search results lists.
The non-operating external links, in other words those that point to non-existing pages within your website, also have a negative influence on your rank: Google will regard your domain as less trustworthy.
However, the biggest problem is that by having a 404 page you do nothing in order to convert your potential customers into real ones.
There is no navigation, there is no content, you do not make an offer – you do not even help the visitors to find what they were originally looking for.
Consequently, a good 404 page can be recognized based on the fact that it steers the visitors: try to find out what they were looking for and direct them towards similar products or content.
Arriving to an error page is definitely annoying: the purchasing process is interrupted, the users “fall out” of your sales process funnel.
How can you improve it then? How can you make your 404 page user-friendly?
[bctt tweet=”A properly designed 404 error page navigates the visitor towards conversion.” username=”aionhill”]
1) Offer products!
We cannot give you a simpler or more obvious piece of advice.
You would most probably like the visitors looking around in your online shop to purchase something in the end. They do not have the opportunity of doing that on a 404 page, on the other hand, you might as well politely direct them towards a site where they can convert.
Case studies prove that an error page that contains some kind of a product offer – for example about three different products under the text that clears how and why the users got to the error page – increases the click-through rate, the conversion rate, the number of new purchases, the add-to-cart rate and the number of page downloads.
It is best to have a system with which you can monitor the past behaviour of the users: this way, instead of simply showing them randomly selected products, you can present them something that they may really be interested in, something targeted to them. If for instance they have been looking at strollers for half an hour on your site and then they get to an error page, there you can show them three products that they have not yet viewed.
2) Write creatively, be helpful
If the only thing that the visitors find on the page is “error”, “page not found”, they will not be either smarter, or less frustrated. But the actual problem is that if they see a standard 404 error page, a great deal of people will simply leave you – instead of having content that could catch their eye and thus you would have the opportunity to make the visitors stay.
If on the other hand you write some sort of a witty text, you already have better chances with them. With a little humour you can ease their disappointment that nothing can be found on the given page.
But it’s not enough to be funny: you also have to be helpful.
After it has become obvious what happened – as you have to inform them in the first place – you will also have to tell your visitors what they should be doing after this.
The point is never let them go: if you cannot give them what they want, offer them the second best that you have. And you should do that in the most possibly customized way.
3) Use visual elements
In order to get rid of the frustration in the visitors, it is sometimes enough to distract their attention a little – visual elements are perfectly suitable for that.
A funny image or animation can work well in this case, but you definitely have to make sure that this is in line with the design of the page, so that the visitors do not feel they have been transferred to somewhere else.
Consistence is just as important in case of a 404 error page than in case of a landing page or a product page. If you redirect the prospective customers to a page that is completely different in terms of visual elements than the previous ones, that will destroy, interrupt the smooth process of browsing.
The mental process ongoing in this case is simple: it is like taking the wrong turn from a familiar highway. You will no longer have the goal in your mind, you will only think about the next step. And in such cases the customers can quickly close your page – especially if they are having a similar experience on a 404 page.
4) Never leave out navigation
Your 404 page should be at least as rich in opportunities for navigation as any other of your pages in your estore. Play safe, make sure that the customers can stay on your site in their most uncertain moment by being able to click on some kind of a navigation element or menu.
It is best if you offer additional options right away – by having a search field for example, or, in case you experience inactivity, even by having a pop-up window offering the visitors to take them back to the previous page or just as well helping them to launch a new search.
Take a look at this blog post to check out some really nice examples of ecommerce 404 error pages.
„Not what you’ve been looking for?”
The most useful function of Google is that it helps you ask the questions right from the first moment: the algorithm offers you search terms and expressions based on the previous search trends and the information in the database already while you are typing.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could build something similar into your error page? If you did not have to continue leading the visitors based on guessing?
The good news is that you do not have to. The bad news is that it won’t be free. However, it will most likely be worthwhile for you investing in the function since it would help to generate more conversions in the end. We are talking about the following:
You can implement Google Custom Search API into your website (or you can ask your developer to do it for you).
By doing this you can basically use Google’s own technique within your own website: it will analyse it for you what the users have searched for and will offer the hit most similar to that.
You can apply various setting options: you may even send on the users right away to the URL that is considered the best one, however, we do not suggest that. Because this can spoil the user experience: the users may often feel that you do not help them in making the decision but you are making it for them.
So if they arrive on a 404 error page, let them do so, but you should immediately draw their attention to the fact that you can help them. Offer them the opportunity of making the choice: this may require another click from them but if your message is convincing enough, you will make them even more committed.
What to do with products that are no longer available?
What happens if one of your visitors wants to arrive on a previously actually existing product page but in the meantime the given product has gone out of sale?
According to some professionals an automatic redirection to the next higher category based on the breadcrumb may be an ideal solution in such a case – it is like you were trying to get into a non-existing directory on the hard drive but the system, as it cannot find it, would throw you into the next higher one.
This may really be fortunate as it takes the visitors closer to what they are looking for: they will immediately see the similar, relevant products instead of the one you cannot offer them anymore.
At the same time, it may be fortunate in such cases to inform them in some way about what happened. So that they do not simply find themselves on another page. A small message displayed on the page, or even a pop-up window closing after a few seconds may be ideal for that: something that interrupts the browsing only minimally but provides the most information during that, thus clearing up the confusion.
Run regular checks!
If you want to keep both the level of the user experience and your rank on the search results pages, you have to monitor the searches ending on the 404 error page.
If you find that their number is unrealistically high or it is continuously increasing, you have a problem to solve.
Two things are recommended to do:
- You check whether there are URLs that the users regularly try in vain. If you see that many users arrive at the wrong place following the somewhat incorrect URL of an otherwise existing page of yours, you already know what you should look for – and you can address the problem more effectively as well.
- Use a backlink checking service (e.g. ahrefs) and monitor continuously in what condition the links pointing from other pages to your domain are – whether they are pointing at non-existing products for example.
In addition to that, you will naturally have to regularly check the cross references within your own site. If the site map is full of dead ends, you can quickly say goodbye to your high rank on the search results pages.
It is not a problem if someone arrives to an error page – everyone has got used to such a phenomenon.
The problem is if you do not handle that in the right way. If you do nothing to communicate with your visitors even in such cases, or to give them assistance so that they get to where they set off to, to somehow direct them back to the track leading to conversion.
You can easily do that by applying the above outlined techniques: optimization of the error page is one of your important tasks, don’t forget about it.