It would be hard to find anyone who has not encountered a "404" message if the individual has spent more than a few minutes surfing the web. No matter how much importance you place on making sure your website makes a great first impression, things will happen that are beyond your control, making it inevitable that visitors will occasionally encounter an error message.
A recent survey indicates that up to 40 percent of visitors who encounter a "page not found" error abandon the website instantly. Since error messages cannot be avoided, the challenge is how to design error pages that enhance your brand, encourage visitors to remain on your site and reduce any negative reactions that visitors might have. This requires that the error page possess three basic attributes.
Deliver Information Efficiently
Your visitors want to know why they have been re-directed. Perhaps the requested page has been removed, or maybe the link is broken. Perhaps, in spite of your efforts to ensure that you employ responsive web design, a new device or platform could cause some problems. You do not need to provide a complete explanation, but you should provide a concise list of possible reasons for the error. Place the information "front and center" so that the visitors will see it instantly. Make it easy to read by using proper font sizes and colors.
Give Visitors Options
The second thing that visitors want to know is what they should do to escape the error page. Give them at least two options, such as "Return to Previous Page" or "Go to Home Page." You might also want to consider a "Contact Us" link so that the visitor can choose to notify you of the problem or request the information that they could not find on your website. You might consider placing a link to your online catalog on the error page. Make sure that the option buttons are large, highly visible and conveniently placed.
Use the best marketing principles available when designing your error page. Eye-catching images, a touch of appropriate humor or a different wording of "page not found" can be incorporated in the page. There are numerous examples of clever message pages that are currently in use. These range from humorous cartoons or photographs featuring black holes or flaming computers to animated text or mascots. Others maintain a more serious attitude, but they deliver the message via interesting graphics or in multiple languages. Consider the error page as an extension of your website and give it the same attention as any other page.
A Word Regarding Responsibility
You might be tempted to try to shift the blame for the error to someone else, such as your hosting provider or website developer. However, doing this can backfire. It is, after all, your company's website, and your visitors hold you responsible for its operation. Accept that responsibility with grace. Offer a brief apology for the inconvenience without fixing blame. You need not make a lengthy apology, but make it sincere.
You cannot eliminate the possibility that a visitor to your website will land on an error page. Therefore, you should view it as an opportunity to extend your marketing efforts and improve customer relations.
- Deliver the information in a concise, easy-to-find and highly readable format.
- Give visitors a selection of exit routes and make it easy for them to find them.
- Be creative and consider using humor to defuse visitors' frustrations.
- Apologize for the visitor's inconvenience.
- Look for ways that you can continue to market to visitors from the error page, such as a "Contact Us" link.