The Lost Profits: Making the Most of Your 404 Pages

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It amazes me how small things can increase profits, whether it is a wording change here or a different advert image there, little things can have a profound effect on the income that your website generates.

As an online entrepreneur I suspect that you already have an inkling about this, even if you have never heard of A/B or multivariate testing, your gut already tells you that making a change could increase conversions, sales or sign ups. And they do, they really do.

So it amazes me just as much, how a lot of successful authority websites neglect things that could keep a visitor on the site for longer or even turn into a full blown customer.

I’m talking about the usually (hopefully) unseen pages: the 404 page and the Search not found page.

These little gems might not seem like much, but just take a moment to think about the last website you visited via a search engine that went straight to a 404 page: what did you do? I bet that 9 out of 10 times you hit the back button and tried a different search result instead.

Maybe you’re thinking that that is just one lost customer, so what, there’s plenty more fish in the sea, right?

Maybe so, but if you haven’t been tracking 404 errors (I don’t, do you?) you have no clear idea exactly how many people have hit a 404 error on your site. And that is worrisome.

Now image you have moved your site from one domain to another and done a bunch of redirects but managed to mess them up slightly, so that a chunk of them go nowhere.

Having a quality 404 page would make the world of difference. I will focus on 404 pages here, but applying any ideas below to search results not found pages is a wise idea too!

I believe there are 3 types of 404 pages: the crap, the good and the great!

The Crap

From the downright unhelpful to the barely helpful, there is a large amount of websites out there that simply rely on the server or theme (if it’s a WordPress site) to generate a 404 page for them.

The problem with this is that there is barely any information on these types of 404 pages, leaving the visitor a little bewildered or in the case of Anthill Farms, thinking that the site has broken!

These pages could benefit your brand and your wallet if you let them, so why not put in a little effort?


I've Tried That.com's 404 page

The Good

These pages are generally more positive; they reflect the brands identity and are usually humorous! These pages, when found, can potentially generate a little bit of viral sharing, though having a 404 shared probably isn’t exactly what you are after!

However, they don’t add any real value to your visitor, as they also tend to be weak on the help and information side of things.

Chuck Norris 404 page

The Great

In my opinion the best 404 and search not found pages revolve around getting the customer or visitor back into the site, where they can start converting, buying, signing up or whatever it is you want them to do.

A great 404 page must contain guidance, and if you want to there is always room for some humor too!

If you give people some help then they are more likely to continue on their journey within your site rather than look for an alternative.

As such you need to give them information, which could be as simple as a search box or a sitemap, but event those are a little weak and ideally you should provide more direction.

My personal site, ApinaPress, may have gone overboard with information providing but at least you have options!

Some e-commerce websites out there have taken it upon themselves to showcase their products on a 404 page, which is a great idea for generating interest and potential sales.

If you have a blog or information based site fear not, why not list some random posts, or even better your most visited/commented on posts?

A great ecommerce 404 page

Going Beyond Great

There are also a couple of other ideas you could try: forms and deals.

Adding a contact form is perhaps more suitable for after you have moved your site, or changed your link structure,  as it allows your visitors to get in touch with you when they hit a 404 and advise what they were expecting to find. That way you can either resolve the issue or re-create the content that people actually want to see!

Deals only work if you are selling something (though in theory you could use this with an affiliate site as well), and work by offering a discount coupon because they landed on a 404. Why not try $4.04? Or if it’s a high ticket item $40.40?

This has the benefit of getting people back into your site and into a selling mood, because everyone loves a discount code and will try to use it!

In Summary

Don’t neglect your “lost” pages, because if done correctly they can not only help to improve your brand and authority by providing your visitors with a seamless and helpful experience, they can even convert!

If you make sure that you provide enough information to get the visitor back into the main site, ideally where they wanted to be or near enough, then you have a successful error page!

Photo credit by Vironevaeh

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