There are plenty of instructions online telling you how to add custom error pages to your website, but why do you need them and what should they contain?
What is a custom error page?
When you request a web page from a server, normally everything is fine, the server finds the page and your browser displays it, but if for some reason the server is unable to find the requested page then the server will provide a standard error page instead. The “404 – page not found” is the commonest error page and it simply means that the page you requested could not be found on the server.
A custom error page is simply a replacement for this standard error page.
This article will consider the custom 404 error page and what can be done to improve it.
Why would MY website need a custom 404 error page?
The main reason for having a custom 404 error page is to keep people on your website. Most people following a link to your website will simply leave and go somewhere else if presented with a standard 404 error page. Your site may contain exactly what they are looking for, but if they don’t get past the error page and into your site proper, then they’ll never know and you will have lost a potential new customer.
Why would visitors to my site get an error page?
There are many reasons why someone visiting your website might be presented with a 404 error page. It may be that the page they were looking for has been removed or replaced with a page at a different URL. Obviously if the link the visitor followed to get this error page was from your own website then that should be fixed, but it isn’t so easy to fix broken links from external sites.
If you have a good number of inbound links to your site, then there is a strong possibility that some of these will point to pages that no longer exist. Search engines too can point to pages that no longer exist. Even if your site is fairly static and pages haven’t been removed then it is likely that some inbound links will contain typos that then lead to 404 error pages, or people may themselves simply type in an incorrect URL to the address bar of their browser.
Whatever the reasons, people will get 404 error pages when trying to access your site, and if this error page is a standard 404 error page they will simply leave.
Replacing the standard 404 error page with a custom one is relatively easy and will allow you to retain these visitors and guide them to the correct place.
What should a custom 404 error page contain?
A custom 404 error page can contain whatever you want it to, but in my opinion the following are important and some, if not all of them should be on any custom 404 error page.
- A consistent look: It makes sense to make your custom 404 error page look the same or at least very similar to the rest of your website. This allows people to know that they are at least in the right place, even if they haven’t found exactly what they are looking for. It also allows you to display your company branding.
- Explanation: This is an error page, so explain that. Let people know why they may have been presented with this page and what it means.
- Reassurance: It is always a good idea to reassure your visitors. Let them know that the error isn’t their fault and reassure them that you’ll soon have them back on track.
- Options: The most important thing a custom 404 error page should do is get the visitor back on track. So it should present them with some (but not too many) options. Maybe links to the most important parts of your website will be sufficient.
- Search Tool: If your website has a search facility then this should be a prominent addition to any custom 404 error page. The search tool will hopefully allow the visitor to find what they are looking for.
- Navigation: I tend to include the standard top level navigation elements of a website on the custom 404 error page. Normally this helps provide some consistency with the rest of the website and also provides the wayward visitor with a means to navigate to other parts of the website and get back on track.
- Contact / support details: Custom 404 error pages should also contain a means of contacting the webmaster. If the visitor is unable to find what they are looking for despite the options above then you should provide them with a means of contacting you so that you can point them in the right direction and help them on their way.
These simple steps can make a huge difference to visitor retention on your website but are often overlooked. Click here to see the Pixelwave Web Design Custom Error Page, I think you’ll agree that it is much more useful than the standard 404 error page and is something that every website should have.
If you would like to add a custom 404 error page to your website and need help doing so, then feel free to contact Pixelwave Web Design, it is an inexpensive addition to your site that could have a huge return on investment.