By Bob Speyer and Alison Brown – Web Success Team
No one wants to lose sales or lead opportunities once a prospective customer lands on your website. If you have broken links or error pages, visitors may downgrade your website and leave. Your site may also need a search engine optimization (SEO) overhaul. When viewers see a 404 error page, this is your opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.
One marketing tip that is often overlooked is the promotional use of the 404 error page that appears when trying to access a webpage that can’t be found. While annoying to some, this can actually be an opportunity for online marketers to further promote their brand. By creating a “customized” 404 error page for your website, instead of allowing for the standard message to appear, errors will be less intimidating and browsers can get back to your site easily before they wander away.
What is a 404 Error Page?
The 404 or Page Not Found message appears on a webpage when the page you were trying to access won’t let you. This means that the page may be temporarily inaccessible and that there was a miscommunication between the client and the server. Sometimes this means that the host address was correct when you clicked on a link, but the extension was not. For instance, if you wanted to visit someone’s Facebook profile, and you misspelled their name at the end of the URL, Facebook will tell you that you “may have clicked an expired link or mistyped the address. Some web addresses are case sensitive.” It doesn’t necessarily mean something bad has happened, but when viewers have a difficult time navigating themselves away from the error page, you know that changes need to be made in order to retain visitors.
The Value of a Customized 404 Message
The importance of using a customized 404 message to improve search engine optimization is particularly undervalued or overlooked. People become absorbed in a website’s layout, content, or usability and they often forget about how to keep customers on their site when something goes wrong. You can make these error messages work for you by acting as a creative advertisement. If you make someone laugh, or catch their attention, they’ll have more incentive to stay on your site and continue searching for what they were trying to locate in the first place. It depends on how invested a user is in searching your website, but if you think about it, if you see an error message come up when you try to access a website, you usually close the window if there are no other links or re-direct options provided. According to marketing experts at Bruce Clay Inc. a customized 404 page should include: “an apology for the error, a prominent search box, a link to your site map, a link to your home page, and links to the other main areas of your site.” That way, users have many options for redirection and the error doesn’t seem as noticeable.
Examples of Customized Error Messages
If you access the Web Success Team’s 404 error page, you have the option to resume your search, return home, go to the blog page, or download two free reports which can tempt visitors to continue to browse your site. A call to action is also added, in case the user to call for more information. Navigation and sidebar are the same as the rest of the site for easy access.
Some websites have even gotten pretty creative and comedic with their 404 error pages:
Heinz.com tomato ketchup, uses a combination of both wit and functionality to entice users to keep browsing
Website DDZ.net uses pokes fun at the current price gauging of gasoline at $4.04 per gallon
To Error Is Human
In closing, make sure your website is properly SEO’d and do check periodically for broken links and other website anomalies. 404 errors occur, so get creative and people will be more forgiving if you can amuse them and help them find their way back to the appropriate page.
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