Some 404 pages make you want to throw your laptop through the nearest window. A 404 page is the one webpage that most people don’t visit on purpose. In the hands of an amateur website owner, a 404 page is nothing but an infuriating inconvenience.
But other 404 pages are so charming and well designed that people actually start to seek them out.
Keep reading to find out how you can build a website fast and create a website 404 page that keeps your visitors right where you want them: on your website.
What’s a 404 page?
A 404 page is a webpage that displays the HTTP 404 error message on your website.
The HTTP 404 error is also called the “Page Not Found” or “Server Not Found” error message.
It means that the browser communicated with the server, but it couldn’t find the exact webpage that your visitor was looking for.
How to make a website 404 page that your visitors will actually like:
It sounds crazy, but there are actually nine things you can do to make a website 404 page a pleasant experience for your visitors:
1. Explain what’s gone wrong
Remember: Most people don’t get to your 404 page on purpose.
And not all your visitors will be tech savvy enough to know what the 404 page even means. Some of the more paranoid among them might even think that the 404 page is some kind of virus or that it means a cybercriminal is trying to get hold of their personal data.
Be sure to put your visitors at ease by explaining what might have gone wrong. Maybe they typed the URL incorrectly or maybe you recently re-launched your website. Either way, make a website 404 page that lets your visitors know that it’s still safe to use your website; it’s just that that particular webpage might not exist, or at least not the way they typed it.
2. Simplify the design
A 404-error message is jarring enough without also being cluttered with all sorts of images and animations that prevent your visitors from even seeing the error message.
Create a website 404 page that’s simple, so your visitors can quickly see that they haven’t been redirected by malware; they’ve just tried to access a webpage that doesn’t exist.
A simple design isn’t important only for your 404 page. Keep all your webpages simple, so your visitors can easily find what they’re looking for.
Even if you create your website some other way, be sure to create a website design that’s clean and easy to read.
3. Don’t be afraid to use humor
How do you feel when you’re trying to visit a webpage quickly, so you can go on with your day, and you end up seeing an error message? Probably not very good, right?
Your visitors get frustrated when this happens with your website, too. A bit of well-placed humor will go a long way towards alleviating the tension and getting them to stay on your website. They might even like your 404 page so much that they seek it out, so they can show it to their friends!
4. Take responsibility for what happened
Whatever you do, don’t blame your visitors.
Some 404 pages insult users or heavily imply that it’s the user’s fault that the error message is being displayed.
Unless this is somehow a part of your brand, stay away from blaming your visitors, even if you’re trying to be funny.
Make a website 404 page that tells your visitors that what happened wasn’t their fault.
5. Show your visitors how to get back to the rest of your website
If your 404 page feels like a dead end, your visitors will feel like they have no choice but to click out of your website if they want to get away from the 404 page.
Make it easy for them to find their way back to the rest of your website by including one or more of these:
- A link to your homepage, so they can start fresh
- A search bar, so they can look for the webpage they really wanted to get to
- A menu, so they can choose a category they’re interested in seeing
6. Give them links they might be interested in
You can also create a website 404 page that treats your visitors to some of your most popular webpages, so they can smoothly transition back to your website.
7. Keep your 404 page consistent with your brand
When you build a website fast, it’s easy to overlook things like your 404 page. But your 404 page is also part of your brand. Don’t treat it like an afterthought.
In fact, this is especially true when you build a website fast. You don’t want your visitors to feel like you weren’t being careful when you designed your website. They might think you skimped on other areas of your website, too – like keeping their information safe.
So, make sure your 404 page fits in with the rest of your brand. If the rest of your brand is lighthearted and funny, your 404 page should also be lighthearted and funny. If your brand is crisp and blunt, your 404 page should also be crisp and blunt.
8. Avoid tech-speak; use language that appeals to the emotions
Don’t bombard your visitors with lots of technical jargon on your 404 page. They’re probably not visiting your website for a lesson in various error messages. Find a simple way to let them know what’s going on. (Explain it to them the way you’d explain it to your five-year-old cousin.)
9. Fix broken links
This probably goes without saying, but even if you’ve designed a 404 page that you’re proud of, you really should minimize the number of times that your visitors stumble on error messages when they’re trying to use your website.
Even the most charming 404 page starts to lose its appeal after the fifteenth time. Maintain your website by making sure to fix broken links.
You don’t have to treat your 404 page like it’s a pile of dirty laundry you’re ashamed your visitors will see.
If you do this right, your 404 page could actually be an amazing branding opportunity that turns casual web surfers into loyal visitors!