As a business owner, you want all search users who visit your site to find the content they’re looking for. But, when a search user clicks on an interesting link and finds an Error 404 Not Found display, a negative experience occurs.

This is where a custom 404 error page comes into play. By creating a well-developed 404 page, you transform a potentially negative experience into a unique conversion opportunity. But what makes a highly alluring 404 page?

In the article below, I’ll highlight the essential best practices to creating a custom 404 page that results in reduced bounce rate and keeps visitors engaged with your site’s content.

Why custom 404 pages matter

Before we tackle best practices, let’s cover the basics of a custom 404 page. While a custom 404 page requires more investment than a generic 404 page, there are significant benefits to developing one.

One of the primary reasons to build out a custom 404 page is its ability to elevate your brand and reduce your site’s bounce rate.

As mentioned, a dead page on your site delivers a shoddy user experience. But by using a custom 404 page, you’re able to offer consistent branding. And as a recent poll suggests, 75% of respondents view branding as a critical aspect of SEO.

Another reason to consider building out a custom 404 page is its ability to engage and uniquely surprise audiences.

Since 404s naturally cause frustration, a custom 404 page built with humor and exciting visuals contribute to moments of delight. And when customers are happy, they’re willing to spend 17% more for that experience.

Custom 404 pages can also be used as a lead magnet or conversion tool. OptinMonster, for example, uses a custom 404 page as a lead magnet, which has converted like “gangbusters.”

Image Credit: OptinMonster

Now that we’ve made a case for custom 404 pages, let’s look at the elements that make for a highly engaging custom 404 page.

Custom 404 pages best practices

Ready to turn 404 pages into a lead magnet or conversion opportunity? Following these eight error page best practices will contribute to stronger branding, better usability, and, most importantly, delightful user experiences.

1. Avoid technical jargon

Most generic 404 pages contain technical words like “HTTP 404 Status Code,” “Server Error,” or “The requested URL was not found on this server.” Here’s an example from Google:

Image Credit: Google

The problem with this text is that most users don’t know what any of these words mean.

Instead, cut out the technical jargon and use uncomplicated language that any user can understand.

Some good examples of straightforward 404 error messages include:

  • “Sorry, the page you were looking for doesn’t exist.”
  • “We can’t seem to find the page you’re looking for.”
  • “Oops, something went wrong.”
Image Credit: LEGO

This type of language helps users immediately recognize that the page they’ve landed on is 404.

If you want, you can also take the extra step to explain to users why they’ve landed on a 404 page. Wording like “You may be seeing this page because” or “You might have ended up here due to” helps users better understand why a 404 error occurred.

2. Be consistent with your branding

When it comes to 404 pages, it’s best to think of them as a type of landing page. And like any other landing page on your site, consistent branding is critical. Ensuring your 404 page design is compatible with your site, visitors are less likely to click elsewhere, reducing bounce rate.

Take a look at this generic 404 page:

Image Credit: SearchNetworking

And compare it to Hootsuite’s custom 404 error page:

Image Credit: Hootsuite

When you look at the two examples, which do you think would be more attractive to a site visitor or prospective customer?

As part of your 404 page design process, be sure to include the following site elements:

  • Your brand’s logo
  • Your website color scheme
  • Your standard fonts and design style

By contributing to a positive first impression, your custom 404 page has an increased chance to persuade visitors to visit other sections of your website, which leads to the next point.

3. Direct users to your homepage

Unlike typical landing pages, most 404 error pages don’t include a CTA. Rather than a CTA, it would be better if you encouraged users to navigate to your homepage. By inviting visitors to your homepage, you provide users better access to the rest of your site’s content.

You can also include a search bar on the 404 pages so that visitors can quickly search for the content or page that they’re looking for.

Image Credit: ConvertKit

Both options give users options of where to go without ever leaving your website.

If you’d like to include some more helpful links on your 404 page, you can include links to some of your site’s most in-demand content. By offering some recommended reading, you direct users to pages already optimized for leads, turning this user error into a conversion opportunity.

Image Credit: BigCommerce

The addition of featured pages to your 404 pages provides users with a sense of control or exciting information. Providing a variety of navigation options can help turn lost visitors into prospective customers.

5. But don’t over clutter your 404 page

Including several links to your 404 page does not give you free rein to dump every link onto a single page. A page that’s jam-packed with links causes clutter and can overwhelm site visitors, which further exacerbates a frustrated user.

This idea is supported by a study done by Nielsen Norman Group, which found that the more cognitive load (mental processing power) needed by users to find content or complete tasks on your site, the more likely they were to abandon the task.

Which, in this case, is your website. To increase user success rates and minimize cognitive load, include three or four links to your most popular content. Any more than that, and you risk cognitive overload.

6. Include your contact information

When visitors stumble upon your 404 pages, the feeling of frustration increases. One of the most effective ways to combat this frustration is to make it easy for your users to get in touch with you.

Image Credit: SEO Sherpa

By providing options to communicate with your customer service team, you’re able to answer any queries site visitors may have directly. This helps to increase brand connection. And as a BIA/Kelsey study has found, phone calls can increase conversions 10-15 times.

7. Consider building a multi-language 404 page

If you have an enterprise site or have customers worldwide, you may want to build a multi-language 404 page. Translating your custom 404 pages into multiple languages helps your visitors better connect with your brand and improves the accessibility of your site.

Image Credit: Disney Middle East

Particular CMS (Content Management Systems) like WordPress allow you to set up rules so that when a user accesses a specific language in your directory, they’re served up a 404 page in their native language.

If you don’t use a CMS that assists you with the process, Gatsby has a great guide on creating 404 pages for different languages.

8. Encourage conversions with exit intent technology

If your custom 404 page fails to encourage visitors to continue exploring your site, you can still deliver an opportunity for conversions with exit-intent popups. And since exit intent technology is rarely used on 404 pages, it’s a powerful tool to gain an advantage over your competitors.

There are several ways to use exit-intent popups. One method is to showcase a relevant offer to the search user’s query. Given that 70 to 96 per cent of site visitors leave your site and never return, an exit-intent popup is one of your last chances to convince a visitor to stick around.

Another way to keep visitors glued to your website with exit intent technology is by providing a special offer like a discount code to your products or services or a free product demo. This provides a no-pressure option, allowing visitors to learn more about your business at their leisure.

Image Credit: OptinMonster

Since exit intent ads aren’t commonly used with 404 error pages, you can get creative with the CTA that you use.

Custom 404 pages: the takeaways

When developing your 404 pages, be sure to apply the best practices mentioned above. Some essential tips include explaining the error in clear language, aligning your design with your branding, and providing an easy-to-follow navigational path to your other content or resources.

Building a custom 404 page eliminates the typical frustration that users associate with 404 error pages. As a brand, a well-designed custom 404 page is your opportunity to showcase your creativity while creating a memorable and positive experience that delivers on conversions.