The majority of people who see a 404 error will leave the website that contains the error. People who leave your website because of an error are less likely to return. That costs you repeat visitors, and it can cost you customers as well. This is a fact we've seen this play out repeatedly by every website that starts using SpringTrax.
However, there is usually a group of people who stay on your website after they've reached an error. This group of people who stay after seeing an error is rather interesting to observe. You want to find out what made these people stay. If you do, you might be able to use what you learned to convince even more people to stay after they have reached an error.
The more people you convince to stay on your website after reaching an error, the fewer visitors you will lose. More importantly, the fewer visitors you lose, the fewer customers you will lose as well.
Let's talk about the logistics of how people stay on your website after they've reached an error. There are two basic ways people can stay on your website after they've reached a not found error:
Of course, if people click the browser's back button, they could go back to a different website. For example, let's say somebody does a Google search. In that Google search, that person finds a link to your website. That person clicks that link, but after clicking the link they arrive on a not found error page. The person is frustrated that your website returned an error instead of the information they were seeking. So, that person clicks the back button and returns to the Google search result. Once back on that Google search result, that person can choose to click on a link to another website...possibly your competitor's website.
The people who click the back button and go back to a different website are less likely to return to your website. This isn't all that surprising. They view your website as full of errors. So, when viewing a list of other websites to choose from (like on a Google search), why would they choose to return to your website?
Which websites do the best job of keeping people around after they've reached an error? It's the websites that let people move forward from the error page.
You want to encourage people to move forward after reaching an error instead of moving backward. Moving backward gives people a chance to move away from your website. Moving forward though, gives you the ability to guide people to another page on your website.
How do you let people move forward? You give people suggested links to click on from your website's error page. Or, you give people a way to conduct a search of your website from the error page.
The easier you make it for people to move forward and the more compelling ways you offer people to move forward from the error page, the better your chances of keeping people on your website after they've encountered an error. When people move forward from the error, you will lose fewer visitors, and, by doing so, lose fewer customers.