Ah, the classic 404 page; the bane of web surfers everywhere. That lovely page that indicates that the link is broken or that the URL doesn’t exist, or some such other irritant. But, if you have a commercial or business-related website, you don’t want prospective customers to turn away from your whole site in disgust when they get a 404. Now, you can actually make a 404 page work for you! Here’s how to turn that 404 annoyance into a lead generator, and keep those people on your site!
404 pages are about as welcome as lost Internet connections
First Of All, Keep It Consistent
Make sure that your 404 pages retain the same basic design scheme as the rest of your site, rather than having it be a jarring white page with stark black lettering. A personalized error page keeps a sense of uniformity and doesn’t give the false impression that that user has somehow been booted off the site. All of the pages of your site, and yes that includes error pages, should have an organic flow to them.
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Explain The Problem
People as a rule will put up with an annoyance if they at least have some idea as to what’s going on. Be forthright and clear, using lay terms, to explain what the issue is. It also doesn’t hurt to inject a little humor, which keeps web surfers in a good mood and receptive frame of mind.
Your 404 Page Should Offer Solutions
Prolonged web-surfing breeds impatience, short attention spans, and a low annoyance threshold. Offering some quick and easy fixes to the despised 404 page will keep visitors around and hopefully defuse any irritation. Among the solutions you can offer:
Step #1 – Link To Your Homepage
This helps orient people who tripped over the bad URL but are trying to find something specific on your site. By sending them back to the home page, you get them to square one and hopefully accessing a site map or other navigational aids.
Step #2 – Implement a Search Bar
Putting a search bar on your 404 page helps users to sort things out for themselves without having to back out of your site.
Step #3 – Easy Contact Form
Include a link that allows the user to easily contact you to report a problem. Perhaps that error message is coming from a problem you aren’t aware of. And of course, when the visitor reports the problem, you now have their e-mail on record.
Step #4 – Include An Offer/Signup
This option might be a little risky if you’re dealing with frustrated websurfers, but it’s not completely out of the question. Including a special deal on the 404 page as a way of easing the sting of the error page could net you some more customers. And of course, in the course of presenting this deal, you ask for the visitor’s name and e-mail address.
Now, granted, many people can simply hit the Back button and take themselves from the offending error page, but if the visitor happened upon the 404 right from a search engine. Acknowledging that mistakes happen and trying to engage a visitor nonetheless is a good way of building leads and keeping people on your site. It’s a way of turning lemons into lemonade.
John Terra has been freelance writing since 1985, and considers 404 pages to be the bane of his web-surfing existence. He writes about everything from SEOs to office furniture.