In short, a 404 page is the error message that pops-up when a visitor clicks on an invalid link. Whenever a site doesn’t have a custom 404 page set up, the browser will display a default error message that may look like this:

This is about the most un-inviting welcome message your visitors can receive when they land on your site. It creates a negative first impression that usually encourages users to leave your site. And while the link the visitor used may have worked in the past, that page either no longer exists, has moved, or the user typed in the URL wrong. Seems like a large price to pay for such a small error, huh? Good news is there is a fairly simple and easy fix to this situation that can be highly beneficial to your site. 

In an e-commerce site user experience is the equivalent to customer experience in a store, which is one of the most fundamental attractions to your business. Therefore, it’s important that you use tools to enhance user experience such as a custom 404 page. A custom 404 page is simply a friendly way to communicate to your visitors that they’ve stumbled upon a technical mistake. Broken links that lead to a 404 page are very common, so rather than focusing on getting rid of them, shift your focus towards creating an effective custom 404 page.

What Do I Include?

There are four elements that a quality custom 404 page is comprised of.

  1. An Explanation: Your users just want to be kept in the loop and know what happened. One of the most nerve-wracking things a customer faces in the store is uncertainty, and an online shopper is no different. When you inform users by calmly and lightheartedly explaining what happened, you begin to form rapport, which relates to the second element that your custom 404 page should include.
  2. Friendly Language: That pesky “error” message can be annoying and leads to a dead end, which leaves the user with no choice but to leave your site. This not only increases your bounce rate, it also costs you sales. Change your 404 message to include friendly and inviting language to encourage visitors to stay on your site. Also, eliminate any tech jargon that discourages the user from reading your message in the first place and make your message conversational in tone. You might want to try one of the following rewrites:
    1. Oops, looks like the page you are trying to reach has moved or no longer exists. May we suggest you try one of these pages to find what you’re looking for?
    2. Uh-oh, it looks like we don’t have this page anymore. But these pages may have what you’re looking for!
  3. Relevant Links: Once you’ve discouraged users to quickly hit the back button, encourage them to explore your site further by providing a list of alternate links that can direct them to specific products. Include just enough options to not overwhelm users. Although you want to be as helpful as possible in redirecting your traffic, you don’t want to overload customers with choices. Offer a list of 5-10 simple choices that are intuitive and helpful such as your homepage along with other category pages, specifically those with high traffic. You can also further encourage users to click on a link by adding image buttons in place of a bulleted list.
  4. Search Bar or Site Map: One of your links should be your search page, if not the search bar itself, as well as a link to your site map. If your list of relevant links doesn’t appeal to each visitor, your search bar and site map will ensure that have all your bases covered. Include a link to your site map so users can easily just CTRL+F for your product and include that advice in your link text.

Why Should I Use a Custom 404 Page?

Without a custom 404 page, users are likely to leave your page as they scramble to hit the back button on their browser and continue their search elsewhere. This leads to a spike in your bounce rate and results in another phenomenon called pogo-sticking

A custom 404 page can eliminate this issue among others. Here are four elements of your site that a custom 404 page can benefit and improve: 

  1. SEO: Bounce Rate & Pogo-Sticking: Pogo-sticking is almost the same as a bounce rate, only it’s worse. The difference is that it occurs in the first five seconds that a user lands on your pag, which reflects immediate discontent with your content, whereas a bounce rate requires a little more time. When this happens, search engine crawlers gather the impression that users don’t even bother to look through your site before leaving. Therefore, your site gets lumped in with other sites that execute poor SEO practices such as poor meta titles, poor meta descriptions, irrelevant content, and so on. Pogo sticking communicates to Google that your site doesn’t have value, which will cause your rankings to suffer.
  1. User Experience: First Impressions & Usability: When you use a well-designed custom 404 page, you encourage your users to remain on your site and offer to help them match their search query to your products.
  2. Brand & Reputation:  It’s the little things that make a brand truly stand out and your disposition to go above and beyond for customers will set you aside from the competition.

Keep in Mind…

We’ve covered a small list of items that your custom 404 page should include and they are more than enough. You want to keep it simple, minimalistic even, since this page is meant to be a call to action. It should read and feel more like a pop-up window minus the nuisance of a pop-up window. But here are some style elements we recommend including to make your 404 page really stand out.

Keep It Fun: Make your message, lighthearted, friendly and funny if possible. There’s nothing like humor to alleviate any possible frustration and it reflects your dedication to create a positive user experience despite any mishaps.

Visual Appeal: Adding a funny gif or cartoon as your humor element will go a long way in improving user experience. Anything you can add to make your site less dull, will make users want to stay and a high-quality or intriguing graphic just might do the trick.

Stay True to Your Branding: This is an opportunity to give new users an insight into your personal branding. Is your appeal quirky, funny, serious or techy? Your custom 404 page will be the first impression you give users instead of your home page if they click on a broken link. Therefore, you want to make sure that it’s reflective of the appeal your site strives for. A company with unique personal branding is a breath of fresh air and a good reason your company stands out for.

How a 404 Page Benefits Your Business

In a time when customer service, friendliness and experience are the distinguishing factors amongst businesses, you can’t afford to put online user experience on the back burner. Creating a friendly, easy to navigate and most importantly, personalized shopping experience for your visitors is fundamental to your business. It makes you stand out from the competition and provides a better shopping experience, leading to higher customer satisfaction, which improves your bounce rate and assists your conversions.

When we have so much available at our fingertips, the smallest of inconveniences can redirect users away from a site. But if you take the time to enhance your UX with friendliness, customization, humor and guidance, you can begin to build rapport with your clientele that will make online shoppers more likely to buy from you and more likely to return to your site if they had a positive experience. Your ability to turn a problematic mishap from a negative to a positive interaction will help your site immensely.