In an ideal world, your website users will never arrive at a broken page on your website.
In fact, one of the first thing we do for our clients is perform a technical site audit to make sure that–among other things–none of their internal links are pointing to broken URLs. If we do find any, we remove the link or point the problem URL to a working page.
But despite your best efforts, there are still times when a user might end up on a URL which returns a 404 NOT FOUND status code. When that happens, there are a number of things you can do to minimize the negativity of the interaction and maybe–just maybe–even make the experience a positive one for the user.
Build A Custom 404 Page
If your website users land on a URL that doesn’t exist, they’re going to see a 404 page. But it’s up to you whether they see their browser’s generic “can’t be reached” notification or a custom page you’ve set up for this very purpose.
A custom 404 page can minimize the user’s frustration at failing to find what they’re looking for.
It can provide an easy-to-use interface to point them towards the resources they want and need.
Most importantly, it can keep them on your site and get them back into the funnel rather than exiting and finding what they’re looking for on your competitor’s site instead.
Brand And Customize Your 404 Page
You’d rather your users don’t end up on a 404 page. But if they do, you might as well take the opportunity to facilitate another brand interaction.
Make sure your custom 404 page has the same colors, fonts, and logos as appear on the rest of your site so that users don’t feel lost or confused.
Use Conversational Language On Your 404 Page
One way to reduce the negativity of the 404 experience is to speak to the user as if she’s a human. Be authentic. Empathize. Apologize for the experience and offer resources that may help solve the problems she has.
Consider making your custom 404 page funny. This doesn’t work for every brand, but if humor is within your brand’s Overton window, it can be a great way to minimize the user’s negative experience.
Make It Easy To Navigate From Your 404 Page
The user isn’t where they’d like to be, so make it as easy as possible for them to get where they’d like to be as quickly as possible.
The easiest way to do that is by including your normal header and main site navigation at the top of the page.
Add Links From Your 404 Page
Adding links is another way to help the user find what they’re looking for. You may consider linking to some of your pillar content or money pages.
Install a Site Search Bar on Your 404 Page
Site search is another way to help the users navigate to the resource they’re looking for. Most CMS platforms have the ability to install site search functionality on your website.
One of the first things you should do when you begin your SEO efforts is to eliminate broken links and 301 redirect broken URLs so that users and Google’s crawler don’t end up on a 404 page. But just in case a user somehow finds their way to a page that doesn’t exist, a custom 404 page can do a lot to build your brand reputation with them.
If you’re concerned that you might have broken links on your site, use a free SEO site audit from Longtail Dragon to identify them for correction.