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What Is a 404 Page and Why Is It Important?

Discover the significance of 404 pages and why they're critical for website success.

A website is a crucial aspect of any functioning business. It's how new customers can find you and current customers can get in touch with you. If it works as intended, it should increase traffic to your business and help you interact with customers and/or clients. It’s an essential tool that helps people find you and extract information from your business in a convenient way.

But sometimes, your website doesn’t work as intended, and when people try to visit it, they get a 404 error message. In fact, you’ve probably seen such messages when using the internet yourself. But what are 404 errors, and why are they important for a website?

A 404 error page can be a useful tool that helps you spot and resolve issues. Or, it can be a source of frustration that drives people away. As a website owner, it's crucial to create user-friendly 404 pages that clearly state what the website visitor needs to do next. Otherwise, you're going to turn away potential customers and leave your website visitors with a negative impression of your business.

As a website owner, it's crucial to understand the meaning of 404 error pages. So to help you out, here's a comprehensive guide to 404 errors and how to create a custom page that will attract customers to your website and not away from it.

What is a 404 error page?

So, what is a 404 page?

A 404 error page (also known as “404 not found”) is an error message that is designed to appear when a website won’t load. For example, if your website isn't loading or a user attempts to reach a non-existent page on the website, then the 404 error page is supposed to load instead and explain the problem.

Specifically, 404 pages are related to DNS issues. This basically means that the computer couldn’t find any website that matched what was typed into the bar. This can happen for two reasons.

First, it’s possible that a website that used to load is no longer operating under the same address. That website could have moved to a new address, or it might have been taken down. The other possibility is that the user simply mistyped the website.

In either case, when a browser tries to load your website but the address doesn’t quite match, it will send a signal to the closest match it can find. Because there is a discrepancy, this triggers a 404 error, and the user will see the 404 page loaded.

Keep in mind that this happens even if you optimize your website for mobile. It’s a universal problem that can appear on any website or device.

Why are 404 pages important for a website?

If users can’t load your website, that can present some serious problems for your business and drive away customers. So, it’s important to understand how to use this tool to spot and resolve problems.

But before getting into those technical talking points, you need to understand why all of this matters.

You use your website to conduct business. Maybe the website primarily works as a tool to get in touch with customers. Maybe it’s a resource to build your brand or develop relationships. Or maybe you even have transactions directly through the website.

Regardless, your website is a crucial aspect of your business, and when users can’t load your website, your business suffers. That’s why you want to understand how to use 404 pages to minimize problems and build rapport with customers who run into trouble when trying to use your website.

How to design a user-friendly 404 page

When designing a 404 error page, it's imperative that you make it as user-friendly as possible. If a customer opens up your web page and receives an error message, they're most likely going to click away. However, if your 404 page clearly states what to do and how to find the way back to the home page, they're more likely to stick around.

So, when designing a 404 page, there are a few simple tips you should keep in mind:

Keep it simple

This is often the key to all aspects of web design. Making something user-friendly usually falls in the category of UX design, and it's crucial to keep things simple if you want your visitors to stick around.

If the page is filled with technical jargon, contains too much information, or has a layout that is hard to follow, then it isn’t easily conveying information to users who stumble across it. Simplicity is key.

A single error message with a friendly graphic can make it easy for users to understand that a problem exists, and you can even explain in simple instructions how to resolve the problem.

Use humor or creative design

Humor goes a long way when it comes to 404 pages. Including a joke lets users know that the site still exists; there’s just a problem at the moment. A little humor can also make the process feel less frustrating.

In fact, you have probably run into 404 pages with light humor at some point, and you might have even smiled. Your 404 page can also tie into your branding, and humor is invaluable in that respect.

Use branding elements

Speaking of branding, you can include logos, catchphrases, or other branding elements from your business. This accomplishes a few things:

  • It lets people know where they are on the internet.
  • It puts your brand in their mind.

It associates your brand with the friendly, humorous, welcoming error page Think of your 404 page as an extension of your website. So, it should match your site's branding in terms of tone and visual aspects.

Include a search bar

If someone lands on your 404 page, it means that their web browsing attempt has failed. If you include a search bar, then you make it easy for them to try again to find whatever it is that they are seeking. That improves the user experience, which can keep people happy even though they ended up on an error page.

A poor user experience is going to drive people away from your site, so try to make your 404 page as straightforward and easy to navigate as possible.

Enhancing the user experience on your 404 page can be achieved by incorporating both internal and external links. Often, individuals arrive at this page as a result of unsuccessfully attempting to access a portion of your website. By providing links to the functioning parts of your site, you increase the likelihood of them finding what they were searching for.

Including additional resource links can also offer a solution to their needs, even if it's not directly related to your website. This ultimately results in a win-win situation, where they are able to resolve their issue, and you have satisfied their needs.

Where to redirect users

One of the most important aspects of designing a user-friendly 404 page is figuring out a place to redirect visitors. It's crucial to have a place where you can redirect website visitors, so they know where to go. There are a few options where you can redirect visitors, such as:

Redirect to the homepage

The easiest option is redirecting users to the homepage. With this, you are assuming that users were trying to find your site, and whatever specific page they tried to load failed, so you can send them to your homepage.

Your homepage is the central hub for your website, and it’s a logical place to send a user who tried and failed to load one of the site’s other pages.

Redirect to the most relevant page

While the homepage is often the focal point of a website, there may be instances where it's not the most critical page. For example, if you have a popular article or post on your site, that may be where you want to redirect users. Or you may have a contact, sign-up, or sales page that generates the highest traffic and engagement.

In this scenario, you should redirect users to the most relevant page, rather than the homepage, to ensure they are able to quickly access the information or action they need.

Set up 301 redirects

This is ideal if you have renamed your business or moved a page. 301 redirects often happen when you change the name of a blog post or if you rebrand and create a brand new website. It could also happen if you close a site made for a specific location. There are a lot of possibilities.

301 redirects just automatically send users to the new web location. It simplifies everything and promotes a good user experience all around.

Make sure to track and analyze 404 errors

Your job doesn't end after you create a 404 page. You then need to track and analyze your 404 errors. Monitoring your 404 page errors is important because it can help you identify and resolve problems on your website, enhance the user experience, and improve your website's ranking.

Use analytics tools to monitor 404 errors

Google Analytics allows you to easily track 404 errors. You can see how frequently the error page is loaded and get insights as to what is wrong. As long as you check in on the analytics regularly, you can spot 404 errors early and fix the problem.

Some of the most frequent errors stem from users just typing the wrong address, but the goal with analytics tools is to identify what is causing the errors so you can fix them as quickly as possible.

Broken links are one of the most common reasons why your 404 numbers will spike. A renamed page can lead to this without the problem being obvious. But with analytics tools, you can see the 404 errors, check all of the links, and find which one isn’t working.

From there, it’s a simple matter of correcting incorrect URL information. Make sure each page name is correct, and that will resolve the majority of these problems.

A dead or broken link can prevent users from accessing important information and impact your search engine rankings, so make sure you fix broken links as soon as you find them.

Regularly check and update redirects

You also want to ensure that your redirects are functioning properly. Theoretically, your 404 pages should load a lot less frequently than other pages on the website. That means that any redirect problems with the 404 page might not trigger a spike in statistics.

It’s important to manually check that the redirects are working at least once a month ( or once a week for high-volume websites). Regularly checking this enables you to spot and resolve problems early on.

Creating a custom 404 page

You don't want your company's 404 page to look like everyone else's. It's important to create a custom 404 page that is unique to your brand and clearly tells the user what to do. So then, when a web user encounters your 404 page, they'll know exactly what the error is and how they can fix it.

Match the website's branding

Remember that your 404 page is a branding opportunity. So, it's important to match the branding that is on the rest of your website. The elements of modern website design are your friend here, so keep in mind how the rest of your website is designed when creating your 404 page.

Use popular graphics, match the language of the rest of your site, and mention your business's catchphrase or motto. A custom 404 page provides an opportunity to reinforce your brand and maintain a consistent visual identity, even in the event of an error.

Provide a clear message

The 404 page exists to provide users with information and redirect them to another page. So, make sure that the information on the page is easy to read and understand. You’re letting the user know what went wrong so they can try again to find whatever it is that they are looking for. Clear messages are essential for this.

Include a contact form or customer support information

When error messages, redirects, and everything else fails, your 404 page can contain contact and support information. This is the last resort to ensure that the user has some help or recourse available to them.

You can include your contact information, any support resources that your company manages, and links to general help. A simple customer care number or email makes a huge difference in ensuring that users have a positive experience with your website.

Wrapping up the importance of 404 pages

It's crucial for website owners to take the time to create custom and user-friendly 404 pages. A user-friendly 404 page enhances the user experience, reinforces your brand, improves navigation, and boosts your search engine optimization.

But creating a custom 404 page doesn't have to be difficult. By following the best practices mentioned above, you can ensure an optimal user experience and maintain your brand's consistency. And the best part? You can make the process easy with Mailchimp's Website Builder.

Mailchimp's Website Builder offers business owners a free, comprehensive solution for creating their own websites. With its user-friendly interface, you can craft a unique look that represents your brand, customize your layout, and manage your site.

Mailchimp simplifies the process, allowing you to achieve your business goals and build a website that reflects your brand's identity.

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