404 pages are among the most common errors a web user encounters. And yet, there's no question that broken links significantly impact your website's conversion rates and brand image, as well as user experience.
Did you know only 23% of visitors that encounter a 404 error page attempt to find the missing page? It's not the end of the world, though. There are numerous ways for site owners to direct them back to what they're looking for while providing a great user experience and increasing sales.
Let's discuss some best practices for 404 errors in eCommerce.
There’s nothing worse than seeing a 404 error page. A user types in a URL into your website’s search bar, or clicks a link in one of your blog posts, expecting to land on a specific page or article, but instead receives a 404 error.
In simple terms, a 404-page error, AKA a “Page Not Found,” is an HTTP status code that means the page a user wants to access on a website cannot be found on the server. A 404-page error pops up when a user inserts the wrong URL in their browser or if they try to access a page that’s been removed.
To quote Google: “404 errors are a perfectly normal part of the web; the Internet is always changing, new content is born, old content dies, and when it dies, it (ideally) returns a 404 HTTP response code.”
The presence of 404 error pages does not directly harm your SEO. However, if they affect important pages on your website, you should guide users to the correct page with a permanent 301 redirect. This helps mitigate other issues like user experience and website performance that might negatively impact your ranking in search engine results.
As your website grows, and you make adjustments over time, various URL extensions may change, and some internal links may be inaccurate. That’s why you should check links regularly using the Chrome browser extension Check My Links, or the external SEO spider called Screaming Frog to keep you high in search results.
There are times when 404 error pages are necessary, especially if a customer uses an incorrect URL. Don’t forget your customers are human and can make mistakes. Other than that, you can optimize dead links to encourage visitors to stay on your website, subscribe to your email list, and even become customers.
Remember, if a user can’t access the product they want, they can’t purchase it. And if you’re not proactively nudging them down the sales funnel, you’re creating a poor user experience and losing revenue. Ultimately, 404 error pages should be used as an opportunity to gain more leads and increase sales, not increasing bounce rates.
When people end up on 404 pages, it’s important to create an experience that keeps them on your site. Below are some great examples from well and lesser-known brands:
Academy’s self-deprecating humor about having poor aim and landing in a sand trap fits their brand perfectly. The levity isn’t offensive, and the text that follows clearly communicates and redirects lost visitors back to their homepage.
In addition to a funny GIF, a selection of their most popular products attempts to direct customers toward Urban Outfitters’ product pages. The “continue shopping” button presents a strong call encouraging customers to browse through their other pages.
Missguided’s neat page is simple and to the point. It lets visitors either contact customer services or go back to the homepage, and reminds them to double-check they’ve typed in the correct URL.
Ted Baker uses its 404 error page to intentionally redirect users back to shopping on its website in the hopes they’ll stick around. To appeal to their entire target audience, the page displays clean and clear navigation linking to their main product categories.
Lego does a great job of staying on brand. The Lego man adds a touch of humor (and showcases strong branding) while the text is straightforward, directing visitors back to shopping. Like most of these 404 pages, it nudges visitors back into the sales funnel if there’s an issue or sold out product.
On some sites’ 404 error pages, the traditional menu navigation isn’t available, making it difficult to find what you’re looking for. While not the most visually appealing, Best Buy has the same navigation on their 404 page as the rest of the website, which is highly recommended.
There’s just the right amount of humor and on-brand imagery on this error page, along with a button to return home and a short menu to help users fund what they need. Backcountry also provides an exhaustive list of products for online shoppers to check out.
This page perfectly captures visitor disappointment. An animated illustration captures the disappointment felt when hitting a 404 page, and offers great advice on what to do next. It also includes a search bar along with a short menu of useful links.
In terms of usability, The Container Store’s 404 error page is better than most of the other 404 pages on this list. It gives customers the widest selection of ways to find what they’re looking for. So, for usability, it scores a solid ten out of ten.
The Mailchimp 404 page takes responsibility for the error, yet gives the visitor a choice of how to proceed. It ticks all the boxes and reinforces the brand. The illustration also adds a nice creative and aesthetic touch.
For designers, Behance offers visual inspiration. In an effort to help lost visitors get back on track, the site’s 404 error page shows them a list of all projects, categories, and popular design projects.
There are a few things to consider when optimizing 404 pages. Let’s go over the best practices for what to include in your eCommerce store’s 404 error pages.
“Internal server error” and “file not found” messages lead to frustrated visitors. Instead of displaying standard 404-page messaging, explain in plain, understandable English what happened and embed a link back to a relevant page on your website.
For example, “Sorry, the page you were looking for couldn’t be found. Why not check out our other products?” A simple explanation like the one above can make your brand more personable.
A 404 page can be simple and effective. The last thing you want is for your customers to think they’ve been redirected away from your website when they arrive at a broken link page. Branding, such as your logo, reminds them which company’s page they’re on.
Additionally, you can use customer analytics tools to create a list of common customer search terms that redirect them to the right pages, even if you don’t know exactly what your customers were looking for.
For instance, if you own a shoe store and the most popular searches are “trainers” and “sneakers”, then you could link to each of these categories on your 404 page.
To expand on the above point: If your customers encounter a 404 page, they shouldn’t assume it’s a dead end. You can offer them the ability to browse through your website and discover other topics that pique their interest via a sitemap or several help links embedded on the page.
It may even be a good idea to include a search bar to help them find their way directly to where they want to go. That being said, the idea is to get them back to your eCommerce store, not overwhelm them with too many choices.
Take a look at our site’s 404 pages to see how we do it:
You can implement some other cool things into your 404 pages to make them really work for you, beyond the basic best practices. Take note: As part of our technical SEO services, we also offer 404-page optimization for eCommerce websites.
Most 404 pages are dull and drab. Smart companies use them as a way to showcase their brand’s personality. Depending on your eCommerce business brand, you may want to do something funny like telling a joke, or be a little self-deprecating (Of course, if your brand is a law firm or doctor’s office, you’ll want to avoid this.)
If you want to connect with your customers on an emotional level, use images or creative language. Amazon, for example, does a fantastic job of this. Amazon offices are renowned for their dog culture, which has become quite prominent among employees.
Hence, they created 404 pages with different “Dogs of Amazon” profiles, along with a link to see the whole group of these beloved company dogs. This tactic is great for softening customer dissatisfaction while promoting and showcasing Amazon’s dog-friendly culture.
A 404 page without any products is like neglecting customers in the store. You could make or break a sale by displaying just a cross-section of products you offer. Your 404 error page should tell people what you have to offer so that they’re encouraged to make a purchase or explore other products. Ideally, you would display your best or most popular products.
eBay does a tremendous job of this, as you can see below:
To maximize conversion rate optimization, each page on your site should push visitors further down the sales funnel. You should keep this in mind when designing your 404 error pages. Lead magnets are one way to increase conversion rates on your 404 error pages. A lead magnet is simply an incentive that you give website visitors so that they give you their name and email address.
How does a lead magnet help you?
People rarely make purchases on their first visit to your website, especially when they land on the wrong page. Before making a purchase, they’ll want to know more about your business. Offering a lead magnet is the perfect way to do so.
Some companies boost the impact of their 404 pages by including links to download their mobile apps. You can, for example, highlight how your mobile app won’t return 404 pages or explain how it makes it easier for customers to find what they want. Even if you don’t generate many downloads, every app installation is another lead on the road to becoming a potential customer.
While big eCommerce companies provide many creative 404 examples, you’ll still find some prominent yet horrifying ones. To demonstrate exactly what NOT to do, take a look at Walmart’s 404 pages.
It lacks information, looks lifeless, and is sure to turn off customers. It is surprising that such a large company would do something so egregious, but they are not the only ones. Don’t make the same mistake!
To optimize pages with broken links, you should; add a search box, feature popular content, use lead magnets, ensure consistent navigation, and implement strategic internal linking, as well as visuals and humor when appropriate.
You may have overlooked your 404 pages, but as you can see, they are an essential part of your brand’s online presence. The fact is that broken links happen no matter how closely you monitor all your links, so why not use your internal 4040 pages to your advantage?
If you’re running and growing a business, details like this can slip through the cracks, so let us help you optimize every aspect of your website. Comrade is a full-service digital marketing agency specializing in eCommerce. We have the right support team and marketing expertise to help your business improve its SEO value and reach new heights.
Get in touch now to see how we can make your 404 pages and eCommerce store a success.
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