If you've ever come across a 404 error page then you know just how frustrating it is to find that the web page you're looking for no longer exists, and all you have to show for your research now is a silly error message. For web developers 404 error pages aren't really given much thought until they're running traffic analysis on their site weeks later, only to discover that several hundred people have been looking for a particular page that "somebody" deleted by accident.
404 pages actually provide you with a fantastic opportunity to not only engage your visitors that bit more, but also to ensure that even if you've messed up and deleted a particular page that the visitor doesn't simply leave your site and go elsewhere instead. Remember the reason why you created your website in the first place was to provide people with information, or a resource, on a particular topic, so you should provide as many ways as possible for that to happen; after all no navigation structure is 100% foolproof.
Here are some tips for making your 404 page part of your overall online marketing effort
There's nothing wrong with the default 404 error message, but adding a touch of your personality to it will make your users feel more engaged. It can be something as simple as "Ooops! The gremlins ate what you're looking for - please 'Click Here' to get back to our homepage". It's fun, functional and ensures that your visitors stay on your site. Just make sure that you avoid language that might be viewed as being too "colorful".
Telling the user that the page they're looking for no longer exists is helpful, but providing a search box to find the updated/redirected page is even more useful. This is your second chance when it comes to keeping a visitor on your site, so please don't waste it. If your site isn't big enough to benefit from including a search box then provide with a link to your sitemap - you do have a sitemap, don't you? Or alternatively just include a link back to your homepage instead.
There's a very good chance that some of the other content on your site is going to be related in some way to what your visitor was searching for, but was ultimately unable to find. Based on that why not include a list of links to your most popular web pages/blog posts on your 404 error page - there's a very good chance your visitor will be interested in at least one of them.
Remember that less is always more when it comes to web design, so the last thing you want to do is crowd your 404 page with links, ads, surveys and other junk that serves absolutely no purpose being there. A clean and effective 404 page which helps the visitor get where they belong is all you're trying to achieve here.
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