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Redesigning your 404 page for profit

How much traffic goes to your 404 page, and what do they do after? Does your 404 page scare them, amuse them or does it help them convert?

Tracking your 404 page

Fortunately today custom 404 pages are becoming increasingly common, although it is also quite likely these are being tracked and monitored in your analytics account. Firstly check your have your analytics code on your website either directly or through tag management. If your 404 page has a unique title tag and you are using Google Analytics, take a look in your Page Views for this page and you can start to see just how much traffic is going to the broken links page

Navigating to this report
Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages then change the primary dimension to “Page Title”

Once you spot this (Often titled Page not found) then click into it and you will see all the most popular URLs, there maybe a popular one that can should be fixed by a redirect and potentially you have a broken link into that page that needs altering.

At this point you have a starting point, if not then next stage is to implement analytics and make sure it is trackable, make sure it has a custom title tag that is easy enough to find.

Improving tracking

If you have GTM we can at this point improve tracking, if not then we might have to do it using some code modifications – the title tag simply isn’t enough to track the 404 page well enough, you want a custom dimension or a page grouping, this allows you to start properly looking at the impact your changes have on conversion.

404 mistakes

As a user imagine you clicked on a link and were met with your error page, is it actually the user experience they were looking for?
What not to do –

  • An amusing animated gif might seem amazing although unfortunately it might now help users who were looking for your products.
  • A big red “you messed up” – did they? Typically they followed a link which means that, well it wasn’t them that messed up, this isn’t to say you need to take credit for it.
  • Is your h1 a big ‘404’ ? This might be appropriate if they are on a developers blog, but your average customer wouldn’t know the difference between a 404 and a 418 (which is I’m a teapot) they shouldn’t have to.
  • Does your 404 page work in subdirectories?
    A common issue seems to be to use links to assets that start without a preceding slash, this means the CSS and other assets no longer work.
  • Redirects and incorrect status codes – ideally your 404 page should render under the same url, no redirects and the status code should be a 404 (there are occasions for different headers such as a 410) but absolutely avoid being classed as a soft 404. If you have URL re-writing or parameter driven content, then also ensure that empty content pages return a 404 and appropriate messaging.

The 404 page design

You do need something which says “whoops, you have followed a broken link, this page has moved or been removed”, otherwise the user could be confused.
Ensure the page has appropriate navigation and not just a home link (this can actually be a useful data source).
A good starting place should be your homepage, what elements on your homepage are most used, can the homepage template be used? A search box & your main call to action. (depending on your traffic levels it may be a great place to run some simple A/B tests, although on most sites if the traffic levels to the 404 page are that high, it needs a little more investigating).

Custom 404 pages

You do not need the same sitewide 404 page – if your site has a structure that means that you can tell the type of content from the URL, a generic we couldn’t find what you were looking for is less useful, a more useful page might be to customise the page content (if not the navigation) with popular search links on it, this is particularly significant on an ecommerce website where products have been removed, the 404 page can drive users to a similar category. If you have WordPress this probably has a different 404 template, take a look at that as well and make sure it is included in the analysis.

Tracking your results

There are some metrics which are appropriate here including the bounce rate, exit rate and finally create a custom segment of users who have seen the 404 page or entered through it from here you can spot improvements.

Summary

If you do have a large number of users coming to your 404 page see if there is a couple of quick fixes to this then improve your 404 page, on a large site it is not uncommon for users to many users to visit the 404 page and whilst it should be less than 1% by improving the conversion of this page, it can be a relatively quick and easy win, this is especially critical after a site migration or re-platforming. Sometimes a small code error can lead to a sudden spike in the 404 page.
Your 404 page might be an opportunity to make some money – have you stopped providing a service or product that has high demand, do you have an affiliate partner who can provide?
Done? Is it time to tackle the 50x error page?

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