404 Page: 7 clever ways to design error pages

error pages

A guest post by Kenneth Sytian. 

Your 404 page is a landing page that nobody wants to see. But if users do happen to land there anyway, you need to make the most of it.

Remember that getting lost on a website is not fun. Therefore having a cleverly designed 404 page to lighten up the situation for your website visitor is a good idea.

In this post, we’ll walk you through the seven clever ways how to design your error pages, but first, let’s start with the basics:

What is a 404 Page?

A 404 page is an error page that your server shows when they couldn’t find the page a user is searching for your site. Also known as a Page Not Found error, you’ll often see it when a specific page within a live website could not open.

A 404 is a single page error, and it is different with the whole website getting down or becoming inaccessible. Usually, 404 error pages show up when someone mistypes a web address, a specific page is removed, and a redirect to a different page is not an option.

Why do error pages matter?

A 404 page is essential because it allows you to showcase your company’s brand, why it’s unique, and take the creative approach on things that seemed not so pleasant before. Although errors are inevitable, making the process as smooth as possible is essential.

Now because a 404 error showing up is often thought of as a bother, designing this page helps to eliminate the feeling of disappointment which may make your customers leave and perhaps never return again to your site. Without it, you’ll lose your potential customers and users.

7 best practices for designing your 404 error page

Here are the seven best practices for designing your 404 error page:

1. Explain what happened

To prevent confusion, take the time to explain to your visitor what happened. Explaining the error is important, especially for those who lack a technical background – simple error messages such as a 404 error can be scary.

That’s why you need to show users some empathy, explaining to them what happened, even if you think it’s pretty obvious. Make sure that you keep it short and to the point. Let users know it isn’t their fault.

2. Maintain a branded look

Your page doesn’t have to be artfully crafted, but it should fit your brand voice and site design. To ensure this, you need to develop branding on the page. Your site navigation and logo should be visible on top. You’ll also need to ensure the additional elements on the page suit your site’s colour palette.

The copy of your page needs to be warm and welcoming. Ideally matching your site’s overall vibe.

3. Provide the next step

If a user hasn’t done something to result in an error, you need to help them get to where they need to be. Ideally, this should be a two-step process:

  • Show a message with a block copy which shows them that their desired action didn’t happen. You also need to be careful with the language to not look as if you’re blaming the user for messing it up. Your words should be neutral and helpful at the same time.
  • Provide a solution. Make sure that you’re using your brand voice. Ask something light like, “Do you need help with something?” or “Maybe this is what you’re looking for?”, providing them with a button or list of options.

4. Don’t overload the page

Placing several links on your 404 page doesn’t mean dumping every link you can find on a single page. A page filled with links causes a lot of clutter and can even overwhelm your site visitors, which further exacerbates the user.

So, to improve your chances of success and minimise your cognitive load, include three or four links on the content you think is the most popular.

5. Quirk up with humour

Humour quickly defuses any tense situation and makes people more forgiving. In the same way, it neutralises a negative event with a more positive one.

If you can come up with a good joke to wrap your error message in, you’re giving visitors some extra tolerance to manage the incident.

6. Engage with interactive content

Interactive content is another foolproof content to engage customers and generate leads. Interactive content is more effective in grabbing people’s attention than static content.

Plenty of interactive content works wonders for 404 error pages. Great examples include chatbots, surveys, polls, quizzes, contests, and more. The trick is to choose something which goes well with your company’s needs.

7. Provide deals and promotions

Offering special deals like a 10% discount on your 404 page will encourage them to go with your site and still profit from the situation.

You can tell them you’re sorry for the inconvenience this has caused, but you’re giving back a special deal. Offers can be a powerful motivator to go on and make a purchase.

Over to your error pages

Having a 404 page is part of building a site. While this can, in itself, be a frightening experience, you can turn these missed opportunities with a little bit of creativity, uniqueness, and humour.

We hope that these tips and key elements have allowed you to take control of your 404 error pages today.

About the author:

Kenneth SytianKenneth Sytian is a professional website developer in the Philippines. He is the owner and CEO of Sytian Productions. Kenneth has been designing websites and developing web apps for more than a decade. He is the driving force behind the company and influencer in the industry of web design and development in the Philippines.

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