Ideally, you would never need a 404 error page. Links will never break, resources will remain in one place, and visitors will seamlessly navigate your site by clicking on the link. However, despite best efforts, 404s still occur.

This error is the most common error your website’s visitors encounter. This basically means that the page the visitor is trying to reach cannot be found. This may be because the page has been moved to a new URL or has been removed from the site.

While you should take steps to correct these errors on your site when you find them, it’s also important to create a 404 error page that helps visitors find what they’re really looking for when they encounter this error. When done right, 404 pages can even be used to increase SEO and increase conversions. That’s it.

Customers don’t want to see a 404 page, and companies don’t want broken links, because both of these situations lead to fewer sales opportunities.

But it’s not all bad news. With the right approach, businesses can optimize their 404 pages to provide value. Here are 12 ways to create better 404 error pages.

1. Position your product.

First? Use your 404 page as an opportunity to effectively target your product. Show visitors a curated selection of some of your most popular products, along with links to each. While potential clients may not be looking for these specific items, this approach provides a way to drive visitors from your 404 pages to your active website pages.

One thing to note: always include images. While a link to a product is better than nothing, a link with an image is far more effective at getting customers to click.

This image from fashion accessories company Steve Madden shows the actual product approach.

How to Optimize 404 Error Pages for SEO: Steve Madden

2. Provide user reviews.

You can also improve your 404 page by including user reviews of your product or service. Here’s why: When users land on a 404 page, they’re naturally frustrated. They weren’t sure what was wrong, but they did know they didn’t find what they were looking for. As a result, they’re already pissed off, making them less likely to buy whatever you’re selling.

But by adding a few well-chosen customer reviews, you can mitigate the impact of 404 pages and get customers to the pages they want to see (and get back on the road to conversion.)

3. Attract new customers.

Starting your 404 page with an apology is a solid strategy, but you can improve your 404 action by generating new leads. Here’s how it works: In addition to the “We’re sorry this doesn’t work” message, give customers a way to contact you or provide a free demo of your product or service.

Create a simple one-line hook that asks users to submit their email addresses, then you can cultivate new connections, like HubSpot in this example:

How to Optimize 404 Error Pages for SEO: HubSpot

4. Make an impression.

If you can’t make them stay, at least make them laugh. From self-funded jokes to funny videos that may (or may not) be relevant to your brand, humor can both have a positive impact and help customers remember your brand.

Consider a visitor landing on your 404 page, watching your funny video clip, and laughing. The next time they see your brand’s ad on social media, they’re more likely to remember the positive impact of your funny 404, rather than be frustrated by landing on the wrong page – they’re likely to visit you again.

5. Point them in the right direction

While you may not know what customers are looking for when they land on your 404 page, you can make an educated guess. By using the data collected from your customer relationship management (CRM) and analytics tools, you can create a set of common customer search terms that help inform your 404 designs.

For example, if you’re an outerwear e-commerce brand and your top searches are “winter coats,” “raincoats,” and “waterproof boots,” put links to all three categories on your 404 page, to help guide customers in the right direction.

6. Provide value.

If you can’t find what your customers want, give them something of value. an option? Exit intent popup.

While as a general rule people really don’t like popups, this approach provides an exception: by creating a popup and using a code to offer a discount or sale pricing before the user leaves your 404 page, you can convince users that it’s worth it of return to your homepage to find what they were looking for in the first place – or buy something else.

7. Keep it simple.

When it comes to 404 pages, don’t think too much. Of course, explain in basic terms what went wrong and offer potential ways to help solve the problem, but don’t write paragraphs explaining the problem and solicit the client’s goodwill.

Why? Because they can’t read. Instead, simplify your apology and add lists of frequently used links (that actually work) to your site, such as your home page, search pages, and help pages.

8. Provide interaction

What if you could make 404 pages more interesting? Some brands choose to create mini video games that customers can enjoy for a few minutes and then provide links to other website content. This is a great way to positively impact an otherwise negative experience. By letting your clients bomb the aliens, you’re taking the pain out of landing a 404 page.

Kualo does this with its 404 page. By pressing the space bar, visitors can photograph aliens in space as they move across the screen in the shape of the brand logo.

How to Optimize 404 Error Pages for SEO: Kualo

9. Use keywords.

404 pages can also help boost your SEO. Here’s how: Instead of simply adding a brief message and apology to your 404 page, add some of your most popular keywords along with relevant links. This helps add value to an otherwise broken page, as it helps users find what they’re looking for.

Let’s say you’re a company that provides pick-up pet care. You can include keywords like “dog daycare” or “pet services” along with a link on your 404 page. In practice, that means adding a few lines of text after the 404 message, such as “Looking for our dog daycare page? Click here” or “Need best-in-class pet services? See what we can offer.”

10. Put your application front and center.

Another option that can help boost the impact of your 404 page is to add a link to download your mobile app. Of course, it’s a bold move — visitors might not want to have anything to do with your app after landing on your 404 page, but if you target it the right way, it might work.

For example, you can highlight that your mobile app won’t return a 404 page, or make it easier for customers to use the app to find what they’re looking for. Even if you don’t generate a lot of downloads, every install of an app is another customer on the road to a potential purchase.

11. Create a connection

If you can connect with customers, you can keep them coming back. One way to do this is to understand their frustrations. Tech company Emailcenter did this by creating a “choose who to fire” page, letting visitors decide who should be held responsible for the 404 pages they see. While it’s just a funny interactive joke, it helps create a connection between the customer and the company and keeps them coming back.

How to Optimize 404 Error Pages for SEO: EmailCenter

12. Socialize.

last but not least? Provide links to all social media sites on the 404 page. In effect, this opens the door for clients to express their concerns, but it also sets the stage for companies to initiate relationships.

If you can respond quickly when guest reviews come in, you can overcome the initial 404 disappointment and keep customers coming back to them by providing them with a link to a specific product page, a form to provide feedback, or even a special discount .

Create a Marketing-Focused 404 Page

Looking to increase your marketing efforts? Solid options for 404 pages include:

search bar – A great feature is the highlighted search bar on the page. Your visitors are clearly looking for something, and while they may not have found it the last time they clicked, a quick search should send them in the right direction.

Navigation menu – You may also want to include a site navigation section so that visitors can immediately continue browsing your site without having to return to the page.

pleasure – Some sites like to include wacky apologies in their 404 pages. These are not entirely necessary from a usability standpoint, but they can go a long way to calming down visitors who might be frustrated.

Bottom line? While it’s impossible to completely avoid the dreaded 404 page, it’s possible to turn this not-found functionality into an asset.

By considering what customers are likely to be looking for, leveraging relevant marketing data, and making sure your 404 pages reflect your brand positioning, you can move 404 pages from simple placeholders to SEO and marketing executives.

This article was originally published in February 2011 and has been updated for completeness.

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