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How to Use Your 404 Page to Engage Your Audience

It happens, ladies. We redesign our websites. We direct traffic from one URL to another. Inevitably, a visitor will stumble onto a 404 error page.

Now it’s not as bad as it sounds.

A 404 page is a page that exists on your website to let people know the link they’ve followed is no longer there.

You might access a 404 page when the web page you’re trying to get to doesn’t exist anymore.

Some of the reasons it may have disappeared include:

  • The URL (the link) or its content (such as files or images) has been deleted or moved (without adjusting any internal links accordingly)
  • Adding a strange extension to your URL
  • The URL was written incorrectly (during the creation process or a redesign)
  • Your overall sitemap structure has changed
  • User error: the visitor typed it in wrong
  • Bookmarking an old page

Whatever the reason, when your website visitor hits your 404 page (it WILL happen), you need to make sure you do two things:

  • Tell people why they got there. In other words, it’s okay to admit there was an mistake. While it’s unreasonable to expect that your 404 page gives an exact explanation for each specific error scenario, it can give a broader reason, like “the content you are looking for may have moved or no longer exists.” Your users will understand.
  • Tell people how to get where they want to go. This is your opportunity. You can get creative here and use this page to help. It only makes sense that you’re going to invite them to use a search button or direct them to a home page. You could also invite them to contact you if they have further issues or can’t find what they need.

Bottom line: Don’t let the 404 page be the last place they visit before they head back to Google (and your competition).

A 404 page doesn’t always need a clever design but by using your creativity you can help restore confidence and show your audience that even though they haven’t found what they were looking for, you care about the experience that they have on your website.

My personal best practices in designing a 404 page:

  • Do it creatively, with purpose, and stay on-brand
  • Keep it free of advertising and pop-ups
  • Acknowledge the error in not reaching the page she was looking for
  • Allow it to reflect the personality of your brand
  • Have a clear way to find the original page she was originally searching for
  • Keep it clean so it loads fast

If you’re curious, here’s my 404 page:

I’ve also got some other creative and on-brand examples of female-led brands who are doing a great job with their 404 pages.

Click on a photo to bring up a screen shot of the full 404 experience.

The Girls Guide to 404 Pages by Krista Smith, ActivateHerAwesome.com | It happens, ladies. We redesign our websites. We direct traffic from one URL to another. Inevitably, a visitor will stumble onto a 404 error page. In this post discover what a 404 page is, why you need one, and how you use yours to restore confidence and show your audience that even though they haven’t found what they were looking for, you care about the experience that they have on your website.
The Girls Guide to 404 Pages by Krista Smith, ActivateHerAwesome.com | It happens, ladies. We redesign our websites. We direct traffic from one URL to another. Inevitably, a visitor will stumble onto a 404 error page. In this post discover what a 404 page is, why you need one, and how you use yours to restore confidence and show your audience that even though they haven’t found what they were looking for, you care about the experience that they have on your website.
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Krista Smith

Hi there, I'm Krista. Not only do I design + code websites, but I offer customized strategy and coaching that help you highlight your gifts, identify & attract your ideal client, create services that sell, and code happiness right into your business model.

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