The dreaded 404 pages. Every webmaster’s worst nightmare. A dead-end for people browsing your website. It has a long history that goes all the way to the birth of the internet in Switzerland at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research).
The History Of The 404 Page
The 404 page goes by many names. There’s 404, 404 Not Found, Page Not Found, HTTP 404 and Server Not Found.
People wondered where the error code 404 came from. Why 404? What does it mean?
Well, according to Wired.com, in the early 2000s, someone came up with the idea that the name came from a room in CERN, in Switzerland, where the World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee had his office. The room was number 404 (duh) and he couldn’t find it at times.
I guess the CERN must be pretty big. After all, the tunnel complex runs along a 17-mile (27-kilometre) circuit.
While that is a good origin story for our page, it is not exactly true. At least according to Robert Cailliau. Robert Cailliau is a Belgian computer scientist and author who proposed the first hypertext system for CERN in 1987 and collaborated with Tim Berners-Lee on the World Wide Web from before it got its name.
In an interview with Wired, when asked about the 404 page’s name, he said it’s a trivial question and that he didn’t even have a hunch about the 404 fascinations. He explained where the 404 pages came from:
When you write code for a new system, you don’t waste too much time writing long messages for the situations in which you detect an error, numerical ranges for error categories were done according to the whims of the programmer.
Client errors fell into the 400 range and 404 error comes after 403 – Forbidden and before 405 – Method Not Allowed.
He debunked the myth once and for all when he added:
404 was never linked to any room or any physical place at CERN. That’s a complete myth.”
Well, that’s a shame.
What’s The Big Deal With The 404 Page?
It is actually a normal and necessary thing. When it appears, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there was an issue with your website. Customers are human and not just numbers in Google Analytics. They misspell, mistype or misunderstand things.
So it’s not bad when it comes from the frontend. You just have to be careful with the backend – make sure that links point to actual pages and not dead ends.
You can do that by using Chrome extension Check My Links. It’s a link checker that crawls through your webpage and looks for broken links. Check My Links is an extension developed primarily for web designers, developers, and content editors.
Third parties that link to your site might use outdated links or misspell as well. And that will lead to a 404 page.
And if you don’t communicate well to your visitors what’s happening it can cost you.
404 Can Cost You
Let’s face it, people are lazy. In this day and age, if something doesn’t happen straight away, we’re gone. Here are some shocking statistics from Akamai Online Retail Performance Report for you:
- A 100-millisecond delay in website load time can hurt conversion rates by 7 percent
- A two-second delay in web page load time increase bounce rates by 103 percent
- 53 percent of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load.
Here’s my favorite from Neil Patel – 79% of web shoppers who have trouble with web site performance say they won’t return to the site to buy again! Wow!
There is also a poll conducted by webmasters that revealed that only 23% of visitors that land on a 404 page will try to find the missing page that they were looking for. The rest of the visitors are bouncing out of there!
How To Utilize The 404 Page
Now that you’ve been warned, let’s see what we can do with our 404.
#1 Offer a Lead Magnet
This is a great chance to highlight your whitepaper, course or checklist and grab a valuable lead. If they don’t enter their email at least it will grab their attention and when they see your exit pop-up they will have a familiar image in their head.
Instead of just pressing x, they might read what you’re offering and grab it. Voila! Your lead has landed.
#2 Link To Your Best Content
Ok, so they’ve hit the wall but that doesn’t mean that they have to bounce. If you catch their eye with your best content there’s a great chance that they’ll click on it. There’s hope that the article they were looking for is now in front of them.
#3 Add a Contact Form
Adding a direct contact form is pretty obvious. You can incentivize them to report the issue they’ve encountered or to simply send you a message.
#4 Add a Search Box
Why not make life easier for your visitors? They can quickly type in what they were looking for and find it in a second (if your website isn’t slow that is). Searchbox and a homepage button are the most utilized options for a 404 page. Straight forward and expected by website visitors.
#5 Link To Your Products
This tip is best used by e-commerce websites. Offer them products that are on sale or promotion. I’m sure a good deal will catch their eye even if they weren’t looking for it. You don’t have to shy away if you’re not selling physical products though. You can pitch your course to visitors as well.
To Humor Or Not To Humor?
Personally, I like to see humorous 404 pages and there are loads of great examples. You can even see them on t-shirts.
It all depends on your industry and/or niche. I’d stick with the tone of the website to keep it on the safe side.
404 pages can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be. Add a search box or a home button and you won’t go wrong. But why not test out different approaches? 77% percent of visitors that will not continue to look for the page they were looking for is a lot of missed opportunities.