March 4, 2011 Firebelly Marketing

The Beauty (and Benefits) of a 404 Page

The Unfound PageThe 404 error has become so common that it’s become a key term in technology culture. Face it, we’ve all eagerly clicked a link only to run in to a disappointing “File Not Found” page. If it’s your website causing the problems, you could be losing a lot of key visitors because of broken and out-dated links. It’s important to draw these people back in to your site before they’re disappointed by the error and click away. There are lots of fun and entertaining custom 404 pages on the web, but functionality needs to be front and center.

Give your lost visitors a way to find their way back.
Bring attention to your search box and include a list of your most popular pages or articles. Chances are, if the visitor sees the intended destination somewhere in that list, they’ll click it without a second thought. If the first thing they see is a giant “404,” they’ll just dismiss your website and close the page.

Make your error page friendly to users.
As tempting as it is to just type out “404 Error. Click here to return home,” nobody will be willing to go to your home page and dig through all of the website’s content to find what they were looking for. Even if they try, they’ll simply find themselves growing more frustrated with each mouse click. You don’t want your brand associated with a bad website all because of one out-dated link.

Better yet, do the work for your lost visitor!
With the rise of GUI content management systems such as WordPress, it’s easy to throw in some codes that will guide your users before they go astray. Smart 404 is a WordPress plug-in that analyzes the requested URL and searches the database of posts and pages to find the closest match, and then presents the users with these selections. Redirection is a popular plug-in (that I personally include on every WordPress site I develop,) that allows you to view every 404 error that your website has returned. Trust me, there’s likely more than you think– anything from misspelled URL’s to incorrectly linked images will return an error. Redirection helps you keep track of these, and set up a 301 permanent redirect to the correct page.

There’s no excuse to not have any sort of error handling built in to a website. There are numerous guides on the internet to set up your own custom page, and many systems like WordPress will practically set it up for you. At the very least, even setting up an automatic redirect to your home page will keep more visitors than an ugly 404 page.

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