Is it really worth having a custom 404 error page on your website?
I've seen many websites who have spent a lot of time creating custom 404 error pages. Is it really that worth it to have a creative 404 page as the intention of any website is to not show that page to the best they could - and offer the users a seamless experience?
I echo what Taylor and Mylene have said but add that if you don't have a custom 404 page, you're missing an important way to engage your website visitors -- something vital to your overall digital marketing strategy. A creative page will also reinforce your brand identity and make a positive impression. It's an opportunity to share some of your personality with the user.
Now, getting creative with a 404 page can also yield some important insight into your web traffic. How you build-out your custom 404 page can help you fine-tune your digital marketing.
First off, I'm assuming it's well understood that NOT having a 404 page -- or simply redirecting your 404 traffic to an existing page, like your home page -- is a very bad idea. Doing so can hurt you from an SEO perspective as Google expects your page to be relevant to the user. Imagine if you clicked a link expecting to land on a page about dog treats but got redirected to a page about cat food (or no page at all). You would click the back button or leave the website entirely. If your 404 error redirected to the cat food page, that page is going to get devalued by Google because of an unnaturally high bounce rate (thus making it harder for people actually looking for cat food to find your page); and if you don't have a 404 page at all, you'll get penalized by Google simply for having a broken link to your site.
As suggested by Taylor and Mylene, is it a good idea to have a page that tries to keep the visitor from leaving your site. Many do this by providing links to other popular pages on their website, such as your FAQ page, your "products" page, or links to your most popular blog articles.
The idea is to reduce as much user frustration as possible and keep the visitor engaged. How you do this will depend on how "creative" you want to get. It may -- or may not -- be enough to guide your visitor to your home page, or to popular blog pages.
Instead, you might:
(1) Include a way for the user to contact you directly (like a webchat feature or a simple contact form) -- this way the user doesn't have to navigate away from the page to ultimately contact you about what they just weren't able to find.
(2) Embed "exit tracking" on the page and offer some kind of incentive (like a coupon) -- AddThis.com provides a free "exit tracking" tool you can embed into the code of your page. If the user tracks their mouse toward the URL bar in their browser (indicating the intent to leave the page), you can cause a pop-up to fire to give you one last chance to engage your user with, say, a coupon offer.
(3) Offer something of value -- for example, a free e-book download if they provide their email address. The idea here is to capture a lead in exchange for something useful.
(4) Install a "site search" feature. Again, the idea here is to reduce user friction and get the visitor where they really want to go as quickly as possible -- so allow them to search your website for the topic of interest. Google used to provide a free product called "Site Search" but this has been discontinued in favor of a new product called "Google Custom Search". This is also free but includes ads. There are other ad-free products to enable a site search feature on your website, but most have a minimal cost. One I recommend is called Swiftype.
You can also use your 404 page to get other insight into your visitors' behavior. A broken link can come from anywhere -- internal to your website, or external -- so having a custom page with Google Analytics code will enable you to get some insight into where the bad link exists and give you an opportunity to do something about it.
With Google Analytics, you can trace the path of the visitor to see whether they arrived on your 404 page from another page on your website; you can then examine that page and fix the broken link. It can also tell you if the user arrived on your website from an external link, and you can determine the source of that link by checking the "referrer", i.e. the web domain that hosted the broken link (this might be an external blog or directory, etc.) That way you can contact the "referrer" and have them correct the broken link. Here is a good article that shows you exactly how to get this information: https://www.searchviu.com/en/404-errors-google-analytics/
Of course, sometimes a visitor will type an incorrect page URL into their browser. You'll see that as well in your Google Analytics reports. You might find that more than one user is having trouble typing the correct URL, thus landing them on your 404 page. You can then perhaps change the URL to something more accessible and create a "301 redirect" to redirect traffic to the old URL to your new, more accessible URL.
So having a custom 404 page can serve many purposes from a marketing perspective. Hope that helps!
Great question. I agree with you that one of the goals of the website should be to avoid a user ever having to see a 404 page. However, it's impossible to predict the exact behavior of every new website visitor which is why even tech-savvy users can click an outdated link or search an unrecognizable term that returns a 404 page. Sometimes it might not even be your website that leads the user to a 404 page, but a third party website that is out of your control. Some users may understand what went wrong and go back to the previous page they were on, while some users may assume something is wrong with the website and leave.
That's why I think it is important to have a 404 page that redirects the user on where to go, which you should be able to do without spending a lot of time or money on the page. I recommend considering the minimum when designing a 404 page:
-The error page should match the look and feel of the rest of the website. An unfamiliar looking page will surprise the user and make them feel like they are somewhere they aren't supposed to be, causing them to leave the site.
-Accept the blame. Let the user know they did nothing wrong here, it was a mistake on your part (even if it's not).
-Don't let your 404 page be a dead end. At the bare minimum, add a CTA back to your home page for the user to begin their search over. If you have the ability, serve up general content that relates to your industry or talks up your business.
-Give the user the option to report the page if they think they landed on it by mistake. This will help you identify potential bugs sooner so you can prevent more users from coming face to face with your 404 page.
Yes, the 404 page is, of course, the one any website user shouldn't see. But let's face it - we cannot control everything and there could be many reasons, especially when you have a lot of pages on your website when a 404 page can pop up. From a technical error to even a typo error can lead to a 404 error page and we may not be able to control those. And having a custom 404 page has some benefits:
1) It helps the users to not switch away from your website, even when he lands on a non-existent page (as they can easily navigate to the home page or search for the page they want - I believe every 404 page should have a link to homepage and a search box).
2) It has an SEO value - Having a custom 404 page is one must-have requisite for the on-page SEO.
3) This is a page where you can be as creative as you can. If you take it that way, you have no restrictions on this page to become creative and show the creativity of your company (even if it is meant for those who accidentally reaches this page). I just stumbled upon an article which has some really cool 404 error page examples featured in it: https://acodez.in/404-error-page-designs/
This would give you a glimpse on how creative you could be with this page.
I understand trying to balance and justify time/resources/$$ on a page that should be the least served to a user. But as Taylor Perras has mentioned in her response, it's impossible to predict when this might happen. As Taylor has outlined, a useful 404 page should:
1. Explain why the user might have received that page (and that it is not anything they did wrong) - don't just show a "404 error page".
2. Provide alternative avenue(s) for a user to continue on the task they were trying to achieve - don't dead-end your users.
3. Align with your overall brand.
As you put yourself in your user's shoes (and also potentially leverage quantitative and/or qualitative data), what would you want to experience after getting a 404 page?
Your website is your digital salesperson.
Websites play a central role in the customer acquisition process. A brand's website engages more prospects on a daily basis than a sales team possibly could. Today, buyers use the web to research, compare and buy products. A website needs to express the personality of the brand, provide information for each phase of the sales process, and be integrated into marketing and sales meaningfully. Websites need to be attractive, easy, useful, but also informative.
Regardless of what type of business you have, you are most certainly selling a product or service to a certain person or entity. The ultimate goal is to increase your revenue stream. Custom 404 error page is an advantage if you could show an error message that is directly related to your business. If you don't have a custom 404 page then users may think that they have landed at some other site and they may leave the site instead of browsing it. So it is very important to have a custom 404 error page with a redirection to the home page.