404 Pages Need Not Be Boring
Consider, if you will, the humble 404 page. It’s an aggravating annoyance, the worst thing an Internet user can encounter.
Right along with dropped connections…
And those ridiculous pop-ups…
And let’s not forget those loud, obnoxious, multi-media ads that have the Close icon carefully hidden…
Or those sketchy banner ads that show a lot of skin just at the moment that your boss or significant other walks by and looks at your screen…
Then there are those stupid redirects, where you end up on an entirely different page from the one you were going to, and…
Okay, wait, let’s start again.
The humble 404 page is one of the aggravating annoyances that an Internet user can encounter, a jarring piece of flotsam that makes the average web surfer wipe out. But whether you have your own personal website or are in charge of a business’ site, you can actually turn the pesky 404 into an asset that keeps people on your pages, not a liability that makes them leave in disgust. Here’s how you do it.
Keep Your Sense Of Humor
One of the best ways to counteract an angry sentiment is by injecting a little laughter into the situation. A 404 page pops up for a number of reasons, everything from a bad link to a mistyped URL by the user. By having a 404 page that includes a humorous message (without laughing at the users themselves), you diffuse the annoyance and remove a reason for the visitor to just up and leave. As a rule, a cool pop culture reference (e.g. “This is not the page you were looking for”), or some self-deprecating bit of humor can go a long way.
Humor is also a good way of conveying the nature of a problem. When something goes wrong, people want to know why. So use the 404 page to tell them the what’s wrong, and yet keep an upbeat vibe going.
There are even 404 page templates that you can download and customize to your particular site, if you’re not feeling especially creative.
Link To Your Front Page And Other Helpful Places
When a 404 rears its ugly head, you must make sure not to lose the visitor. Put a convenient, highly visible link on the 404 page that sends visitors back to your front page. This encourages the user to stay on your site and perhaps re-start their exploration of your pages.
By the same token, you should include a link to your Site Map if you have one. A good site map could help a confused visitor find the exact page that they’re looking for, if they know how to navigate with them.
Consider adding a search field to your 404 page. After all, if the visitor is lost and managed to get a Page Not Found message, giving them the means to do a search within your website will not only help them get to where they need to go, it also removes a reason to leave your site and attempt a Google search. After all, the results of a Google search may send them off to someone else’s site, and you certainly don’t want that, do you?
Give Them A Present
Well, sort of. In addition to humor, getting something for nothing is another surefire way of mitigating frustration. If you have a commercial website, maybe you include a printable coupon, or a special promotional code (one time use only, or you’ll be sorry!) for a discount or an exclusive offer. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to submit an entry into an upcoming prize drawing. You’d be amazed at how much good karma you’ll reap by throwing people even the smallest perk.
Granted, you may be painting a target on your back with this one, but it can still work to your benefit. Give people the chance to report the problem, or provide some commentary. But the trick is, in order for them to send the feedback they need to provide their e-mail address. And when they do, then… BAM! You got them. Now you have the means to contact them in the future about upcoming promotions, events, deals, and whatever. And so, you have the beginnings of a new customer list.
This feedback function can be either a link to a feedback page, or a large field where people can type a message without leaving the 404.
What It All Means Is: Be A Person!
People don’t want to be treated as a faceless number, and they don’t want to deal with automatons. The human touch is very important, because with it you build a degree of trust and friendliness. So yes, be funny, encourage a dialogue, offer help, and do something nice for them. If you treat those 404 victims like people, you will have succeeded in building loyalty in someone who started off being aggravated by an annoying roadblock.
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