Keep visitors engaged with thoughtfully designed 404 pages

The 404 on 411 Errors Has it happened to you at least 404 times? You are finally checking out that life-changing website everyone at the office has been raving about. You click on a link only to receive the infamous “404 error.” You are officially all booted up with nowhere to go. Your webmasters may…

BY Lisa Ryan STAFF CONTRIBUTOR

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The 404 on 411 Errors

Has it happened to you at least 404 times? You are finally checking out that life-changing website everyone at the office has been raving about. You click on a link only to receive the infamous “404 error.” You are officially all booted up with nowhere to go.

Your webmasters may slave away daily to ensure that your website is up to date by running broken link checkers like the one at brokenlinkcheck.com, but this scenario will still play out, albeit with less frequency than it used to. Web developer Darrell Tianco of American Web Internet Business Specialists reports that the occurrence of 404 error messages has been on the decline for the past five years. Tianco says this decline is in part because businesses are becoming more savvy, streamlining website architecture and navigation and cutting costs associated with “hosting large amounts of personal pages on servers that are no longer available.”

But even when 404 errors do occur, you need not fret. Here’s the real 411 on 404s: they’re something like a cross-examination. You have a chance at the redirect.

Savvy marketing mavens will not let a dead-end message stall visitors on the internet superhighway. They recognize a rich retention vehicle when they see one.

You can customize your “not found” pages in a way that avoids frustrating your visitors. In fact, you might even amuse them. It’s all about engagement. Tianco advises, “By utilizing category-specific 404 pages and customizing those, you can create a path through that dead end. That’s where you can really utilize the power of the 404 as a marketing opportunity.”

Look at customized 404 pages like protective signposts for your website. You do not ever want to lose the visitor because they’ve travelled off the path, and you certainly do not want to lose a visitor because you haven’t given good directions. As Tianco notes, when end users “see a generic 404 error [they] just click back. Either that or they go to another website altogether because of a broken link.” It will have an unavoidably adverse affect on your conversion rate. Ben Franklin advised an ounce of prevention. Up it to a full cup for good measure.

Craft custom pages to keep your visitors commuting. Take them off Highway 404 and onto specific page thoroughfares. To do this, ask leading questions. Here are some page redirect suggestions.

Redirect visitors to an overview of practice areas.
Message: We do not know precisely where you want to go and, let’s be honest, who ever really knows where they’re going? What does it all mean? While you’re pondering these existential questions, perhaps you would also consider which one of these practice areas you may be looking for. We understand that you may be looking for information on our services, and we would like to help you browse our site.

Redirect to a specific practice area.
Message: You have chosen a page in our labor relations practice area that does not exist right now. However, we do offer these similar services, and we think they might be helpful to you. Please click on one of the following labor relations sub-categories if they suit your needs.

Redirect visitors who are vetting your attorneys.
Message: We have an incredible roster of attorneys who, with their combined years of practice, boast centuries of years of experience in the practice of labor and employment law. However, we cannot boast that our attorneys have the easiest names to spell. Would you please double-check the name you have chosen by reviewing our roster of All Stars below? We want you to find the right attorney.

Depending on your budget, your 404 pages can point to any number of combined or separate areas of your website.

Inevitably, there will be times when you cannot avoid sending a visitor to a 404 page. Not all actions can be anticipated. Your basic 404 page should provide users with the tools to find the information for which they were originally looking. Provide a search box and a site map. Suggest actions by providing links to your site’s most popular pages. Do not leave your 404 pages a dead end. At the very least, adopt an all-purpose page that takes a nowhere page to a somewhere-on-your-site landing.

Eradicate dead links and make sure your website is tidy. You clean house when you’re expecting company because you don’t want guests (i.e. potential clients) to get the impression that you run a sloppy operation. Plus, you don’t want your potential clients lost on your website’s many roads. They may enjoy a good scenic drive, but they enjoy finding what they’re looking for much more.

- Diane Dean-Epps

Lisa Ryan

Diane Dean-Epps is a contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine.

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