Whether you’ve designed one specifically or you have no idea what I’m even talking about, every website has a way to display a 404 error message.
404 is the HTTP error message code. It’s “404 Page not found”.
It indicates that although the client could communicate to the server, the server could not find what was requested or it was configured not to fulfil the request.
In friendlier terms, the 404 page lets people know that something went wrong. Maybe they typed the URL incorrectly. Maybe they clicked an old link that doesn’t have a redirect set up to drop them off at the funky new page.
Whatever happened, your website visitor isn’t where they’re supposed to be.
And that’s what a 404 page often says.
SOMETHING WENT WRONG. SORRY!
Like, duh. The visitor can clearly see that.
This is a valuable opportunity to be awesome with your website visitor. It could be their first visit to your website and you’re going to coldly dump them in The Upside Down without any help to get back on track?
No. That would be cruel, and thoughtless.
And yet that’s what many 404 pages do.
No personality. No help.
How can you make your 404 page rock the socks off your visitor?
#1 Keep them engaged.
Err right. Yeah. But how? Here are tips and some 404 page examples.
This is the most critical part of your 404 page. Don’t just tell someone they’re lost. Give them a map and some help. And maybe some snacks.
You could include a link to your home page so they can start from the front door. Or even better, a search bar so they can search for the page they wanted.
This 404 page example from Wait But Why is quite straight-forward. It explains what has happened and provides a few options to get back on track. As well as some recent reading – because it’s never a bad idea to show people your best stuff.
Which brings me to my point…
Keep them clicking
Your website visitor is lost and your 404 page gets them interested in you. Don’t waste that opportunity!
Show them your best stuff or at least some helpful resources they can read.
John Espirian (UK technical writer) uses his 404 error page to share his most popular posts, packed full of tips. He also has a search bar and a call to action to get in touch. For the win, John!
Don’t be afraid to have some fun
Another 404 fail is letting your page bore your visitors into clicking away. They’re already a bit miffed they’re lost and now you’re going add insult to injury by being boring.
I recently came across this example on New Leaf Writing that really tickled me.
The “Ruh roh!” cracks me up.
And it makes a great point about how clever copywriting can help your audience self-select. I mean, when you know which movie that line is from, you already have something in common with Sarah.
That might just be a differentiator that wins her clients.
Of course, your website copywriting needs to be consistent, so your 404 page should fit with the tone of voice across your site.
If your brand is quite serious, cracking some jokes or including kooky images probably isn’t smart. But that doesn’t mean you have to respond like a computer explaining what’s happened.
(Dalek voice) 404. Website error. 404 Page not found!
If you don’t want to be funny, you can still be friendly.
Like this 404 page example on the CopyHackers website. It’s straight-forward and polite and that’s okay.
Use images to liven up the page
A little bit of text explaining the issues (they’re lost) and how you can help them get back on track is good. Too much text, not so good. Only text? Booooring.
I found this 404 page on the ConvertKit email marketing tool website.
It’s not a super helpful 404 page example but it does have a link to their homepage… and those dogs are adorable. And the best part is the photo changes every time you get the page. Try it!
Mailchimp’s marketing is always on brand so I thought I’d check their 404 page out. And sure enough. It’s awesome, with a sweet monster monkey and moving mist to keep your eyeballs mesmerised.
They also personalise the message with the actual page you typed in, which is a nice touch.
Want more ideas?
A bunch of links with 404 page examples
Let them inspire you or just give you a giggle.
- 24 Clever 404 Error Pages From Real Websites
- 25 Outstanding 404 Page Examples You Have to See
- 37 brilliantly designed 404 error pages
What about you?
What’s your 404 page like? Something you’re proud of, or in need of some TLC?
Belinda AKA The Copy Detective
P.S If you’re a copywriter, why not throw in the 404 page copy as part of your website copywriting scope?
P.P.S. This is mine… what do you think?