A 404 Not Found page is the eye-saw that’s shown to users when your web server can’t find the page that the user is searching for. The default 404 Not Found page is about as much help as a drunken tour guide and effectively tells users that you’re not open for business. Every person that hits a default 404 Not Found page is, without a shadow of a doubt, a lost lead1.
However, it doesn't have to be this way. What if you could take all of those users, and turn them into leads, or better yet, sales? Well, you can and it's actually not that difficult.
Before we delve into the specifics of how to turn your 404 Not Found traffic into leads, let’s take a look at what might cause this dreaded beast to rear its ugly head in the first place.
Why Do 404 Not Found Pages Exist?
404 Not Found pages exist to tell users that the web page they are searching for can’t be found on the server. Users will come across a 404 Not Found page when one of the following happens:
• You've deleted or moved the page in question2
• You forgot to redirect an old link3
• A user misspells a URL3
• A user follows a broken or dead link
A default 404 Not Found page tells your user that they've hit a dead end. It's a locked door. It's a barrier preventing them from finding what they came there to find. They can scare casual and non-technical users and lead to a higher bounce rate1, which means lost leads.
Most of the time, when an unsuspecting user lands on a 404 Not Found page, it’s your fault as the website owner for not taking care of your site when you redesign it or make changes. So instead of slamming the door in your potential customers face and presenting them with a problem, you should instead try offering them a solution. That's where customized 404 Not Found pages come in.
Capture Leads With a Custom 404 Not Found Page
Through the use of a custom 404 Not Found page, you can provide alternatives that put the user back on the right track. Instead of showing them the problem, you can provide a solution.
What Makes a Good Custom 404 Not Found Page?
Keep it simple, don’t try and be too flashy. It is still a page that’s sole purpose is to let the user know that what they are searching for isn’t there and that they might be able to find it elsewhere.
Here’s a few examples of some good 404 Not Found pages:
The Fast Track 404 Not Found page4 is also a great example of a simple, straight to the point page that firstly apologizes for what’s happened (remember, it's mostly our fault) and then offers an alternative route for the user to try and find what they were looking for via the site map. This way, we don't loose the user’s attention and we instead tempt them into our site, rather than waving goodbye
There are plenty of techniques that the examples above have used to optimize their 404 Not Found pages and turn locked doors into potential leads.
404 Not Found Page Design Dos and Don'ts
• Apologize. It's probably your fault one way or another
Explain what might have happened and how the user can correct it: 'the website you're coming from has an outdated link', 'this page might have been deleted’1, 'check the URL for misspellings’5
- Provide a solution: include a site map, search facility and/or links to your most popular products or posts5. This will help users get back on track and will act as bait to attract potential leads
- Use images or video to provide some positive entertainment
- Make sure the design and tone of voice is the same as the rest of your site1
- Use a distinct, minimalist look6 - it’s still a 404 page after all
- Have fun - it's OK to have a laugh with it and show some personality as long as you're providing a solution
- Blame the user, it's not their fault7
- Just link to your home page. The user was looking for something specific, not your generic home page.
- Use all the tabs and sidebars on your normal website
- Redirect users to a ‘related' page8. There’ll be a disjoint in their journey. If I ask for an apple and you give me an orange, it doesn't make a difference if they're both round, you still haven't given me what I asked for.
- Provide a contact us option. Chances are, they haven't hit a 404 while they were looking for your contact details
- Be too clever or crazy9 unless your brand personality allows
- Force-feed products and services - I know we're trying to increase leads, and forcing things down people's throats might have been how brands of the 90s did things, but it's not how to sell these days.
Show Respect and You’ll Gain Leads
A custom 404 Not Found page shows your users the respect that they deserve. It allows you to offer an invitation and a get out clause from the blockage that they’ve unwillingly found. It’s a chance to repair the relationship before it breaks down and an opportunity to earn your user’s trust. By following these guidelines, you’ll do just that and give yourself the best opportunity to turn strangers into friends.