404 page checklist

June 14, 2020

Here are the few things we’ve seen that are (relatively) easy to do, and most likely to have a positive effect on your visitors’ experience.

First of all, make it really clear that your visitor has landed on a 404 page. A simple message like “we can’t find that page, sorry!” is great.

Next, consider adding a few things that will help your visitor get to where they’re trying to go:

Simple sitemap. Yes, you’ll have a navigation bar at the top of your 404 page, as you do for every other page on your site. But a list of common destinations is helpful, too. (A common mistake is to have a fun graphic or other branding that takes up the whole page and makes it an obstacle to your visitor finding what they want.)

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Live chat. If you’re using this, make sure it pops up on your 404 page with a helpful message – “Looks like this page went away, can we help you find what you’re looking for?”

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Search bar. If your CMS allows visitors to search your site, put a search bar on your 404 page.

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Popular content. If you have introductory content that appeals to a wide range of visitors, consider putting that on your 404 page, as well.

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Finally, a couple of other considerations that are helpful to keep in mind:

  • Periodically, you should check to see how often visitors 404 on your site. You can do this through Google Search Console, or using Google Analytics by searching for pages with a title matching your 404 page title. This is a great way to find pages that visitors are still interested in that may have been taken down or moved. Redirect the 404 URL appropriately.

  • 404 pages are a great place for your design team to be let loose to do something interesting. You Need A Budget has a whole playlist! (Which is barely visible because the main graphic is so large. But still!)

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A fun 404 page probably won’t help you stand out since they’re so common, but your design team might appreciate the chance to play around with a page that a lot of visitors will experience.

Alternatively, a really boring 404 page might be a little disappointing and off-brand.

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Conclusion

404 pages are not critical to your site’s performance, but if you’re looking to be buttoned-up and have as good an experience as possible for your visitors, they’re a great place to add some simple utilities and a little bit of branding.


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