404 errors exist to let the browser know the page they were looking for isn’t available to them at the current URL. There are several reasons you might see the error: a URL was mistyped, the page was renamed, or removed altogether. It’s a common sight, and anyone who spends at least some time online has encountered one.
But without guidance from the page, the error itself doesn’t do much for the user. What next? Where are they supposed to go to find what they’re looking for?
That’s where the custom 404 error pages come in. Custom error pages can help shepherd customers back to a working area of your website. It gives you another opportunity to present the character of your brand and is much more reassuring than the generic and somewhat jarring default errors.
A custom error page shows respect for your user experience and gives your customers other avenues to help them find what they seek. Without a custom page, you could hemorrhage traffic and potential clients with off-putting errors that offer no solutions or recourse.
Creating a custom page isn’t necessarily complex or time-consuming, but you should do it with some thought and care. The page’s tone and feel should be congruent with the rest of your website. Here are some practical ways to set up a custom 404 error page that can expertly escort your customers back to baseline.
You’ll see a 404 error for yourself if you attempt to reach a URL that doesn’t exist. If the spelling of a word is off or a character is missing, you could end up at a completely different website. But within your site, the subpage of /FAQ accidentally typed /FAW will basically guarantee the error will appear.
They’ll also pop up if someone clicks on a broken link. For example, if you have a brand new Contact Us page but haven’t edited the button “Contact Us” to reflect the new URL, that’s a dead end for the user, and they’ll get the 404 error page instead.
The custom error page is an opportunity to tether a possibly frustrated customer and bring them back from the brink. Even one error could turn someone off your product, especially if they cannot access the information they need because of the broken link. A good custom page recognizes the frustration and aims to minimize or diffuse it by approaching the error thoughtfully and creatively. Here are some examples of fantastic 404 error pages and why they work so well.
You may know your website like the back of your hand, but the average user will get easily lost at the 404 fork in the road. Your custom 404 page is responsible for letting them know it’s not their fault and directing them to an alternative page. Avoid the trap of redirecting the error to the homepage – it’s like driving your car back to your garage to get to your destination instead of doing a simple U-turn. Maybe you’ll still get there, but not efficiently.
Example: Adobe – https://www.adobe.com/404
Why it works: Adobe’s 404 page isn’t only elegant. It gives the user many popular options that could help them solve their problem faster. While search engines are also an excellent way to accomplish this, Adobe’s page has clear-cut choices that can make for a fast and painless transition.
The tone of your brand should be consistent throughout your website, and your 404 error page is no exception. Finding ways to bring bits and pieces of your brand cleverly can ease some of the tension wrought by the error message. Bonus points if you can incorporate some wit and humor, as those pages are often memorable and could even bring in a social media following if someone likes the page enough to share it. But don’t force it; Cluttering the page with a smattering of beautiful ideas is still a pretty jarring experience for the user, so edit yourself as necessary.
Example: Ikea – https://www.ikea.com/404
Why it works: While the IKEA page does send you back to their home page, the design is a masterclass in elegant, simple branding. There’s not much to it – the 404 “page not found” message is displayed, but the numbers are created using some of their products. Not only that, but if you refresh the page, you’ll also get a 404 made from entirely new products.
Custom 404 error pages should offer ways to see more of your website, not less of it. Custom 404 pages increase the chances that the customer will stick it out and continue using your website for their needs. The standard 404 page doesn’t provide any alternative options, so there’s not much a customer can do when they see it.
Example: Spotify – https://www.spotify.com/us/404/
Why it works: Spotify’s 404 page is beautifully minimalist, but it also offers three clear solutions to reaching the page, all of which provide potential solutions and promote engagement. The FAQ option can help answer common questions, while the Community could give more niche or personalized support. The third option is to go back, which is great if the user just hit something accidentally.
404 pages don’t have to be bad for business; if you do it right, they’re even a place to create business opportunities. Clever graphics or fun animations won’t sway many customers at their boiling point. Consider adding special offers or CTAs that entice the user to stick around and hear more about what you’re all about. Remind them that you take their needs seriously and value their time.
Example: Ervin & Smith – https://ervinandsmith.com/404
Why it works: Ervin & Smith’s 404 page asks a captivating question: “how certain are you that what you’re looking for is actually what you need?” The page explores a few possible answers but ultimately encourages the user to fill out a contact form for a more customized experience. It’s a fantastic approach to engagement and retention while turning the 404 page into a secondary contact us page.
Sooner or later, a user will get a 404 error on your website; it’s out of your control. But what you can control is the experience when they reach it. Taking the time to build your customers a bridge when they see nowhere to cross is vital to improving your website’s UX and the reputation of your business.
Contact us today if you need help creating a 404 error page for your website but more importantly for your future clients and customers.