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.
Provide helpful links
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.
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.
Fix broken links
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.