Our 404 Snapshot tool gives you a detailed look at the key aspects of your 404 error page. However, before you use the snapshot tool, there are some areas you can evaluate, even if you do not have a technical background.
To start, load a 404 error page on your website. The easiest way to reach a 404 error page on your site is to add random characters at the end of your website. For instance, if I wanted to reach a 404 error page on springtrax.com, I could go type springtrax.com/fdsafsaf into my address bar.
Once you reach your site's 404 error page, you want to ask yourself a few questions:
The first thing you want to make sure of is that your 404 error page looks like it belongs to your website. Does the 404 page say the name of your company? Does it contain your logo?
Having a 404 error page branded to your website will help people understand that while they have reached the right website, they have accessed an invalid page. Without the proper branding to tell people they are on the right website, people who reach a 404 error page are left wondering if they have even reached the right website. This confusion drives more people away from your website than average.
While you do want to make it clear that the person has reached your website, you also want to make it clear that an error has occurred. If your not found error page too closely resembles every other page on your website, it will take people an extra step to realize that they have reached an error page.
You have already frustrated the visitor by showing an error page. Making it harder for that visitor to understand they are on an error page will further frustrate the visitor. That added frustration will drive people away from your site.
By making it visually clear that an error has occurred, you can alleviate this frustration. For example, state "Error: Page Not Found" in large letters that stand out on your 404 error page. Or, like Google, you can show an image that indicates the error has occurred.
Next, you want to review the text on the 404 error page. Do you tell people what has gone wrong? Do you offer an explanation on why it might have gone wrong?
While you do not want a lengthy explanation, you do want to offer the people who reach an error page some idea of why the error has happened. Even something as simple as stating your website cannot find the file requested can help. Offering an explanation clarifies what has happened to the person who has arrived on your 404 error page.
While reviewing your text, check the tone of the message you have on your 404 error page. Is it apologetic or accusatory? The screenshot above shows Mozilla's 404 error page. While humorous, the text clearly blames the user for the problem. ("Did you make a left at that last URL?")
Why is this tone a problem? Think of this in the offline world. If you walk into a retail store and ask a clerk to help you locate an item, which response would you prefer? "How dare you ask me for that? It isn't here!" Or, "Sorry, we don't have that."
Your 404 page is your last chance to keep a lost visitor on your website. Your text should be friendly and apologetic. Even if the visitor did mistype a URL, you should apologize for the error and offer to help. That leads us to...
Finally, do you offer suggestions on what to do after encountering the error message? If you don't offer alternative options, people will take the one option they know they have: leave. When people leave after reaching an error, they are less likely to return to your website in the future.
To prevent people leaving, offer clear, simple suggestions on what to do next. For example, offer your search tool on this page or offer suggested links to your website's most popular products or pages. The more you can offer, and the more specific the suggestions to the error page encountered, the more likely you will be to keep people on your website after an error has occurred.
After you have personally reviewed your site's 404 error page, review your website in our 404 Snapshot tool. The snapshot tool looks at some of the items discussed above, but at other areas as well. The snapshot tool will offer more suggestions on how to improve your site's not found error page.
The next step is to know how your 404 page performs for your visitors. Do lots of visitors encounter a 404 error page on your site? Do a lot of those visitors leave? If so, how many customers does that cost you? Sign up for a free trial of SpringTrax to find out how 404s affect visitors to your website.