What To Do When Someone Loses Their Way (on your site!)


404 error image

You probably read the headline and thought it was some self-help stuff about finding your way in life. Apologies. We’re talking ‘404’ website errors here, the consequences, and how to leverage them to your advantage.

If you’re not the slightest bit interested in directing people who got lost on your site then head on over to TheNumberOneClub.com instead where you can find out what it takes to become number 1 in ┬ábusiness (which is far more fun).

Meanwhile, here’s how to help your lost audience who just hit a ‘404 Page Not Found’ error on your site.

If you enter any internal webpage address in your browser that doesn’t exist (eg. yourdomain.com/im-sorry-its-not-here) the server will return a 404 page not found error. We’ve all seen them and we all ignore them.

If that comes via a Google search for whatever reason, then the visitor will bounce immediately (because, why stay?) and your rankings suffer a tiny bit more. But it’s much worse for the visitor, your brand, and even your reputation.

You can see how many times it happens if you hook your site up to Google Analytics and Google Search Console. I highly recommend you do that if you haven’t done it already. Many people are scared by the power of Google, but for me, what’s more scary is the shortness of life.

If someone is searching for a specific page on your site but got the address slightly wrong (or they didn’t realise addresses are case-sensitive) then up pops the 404 error.

What you may not have realised is you have complete control over what is shown on that ‘page’. You can create your own 404 page, which means you now have control.

The question is what to put on it? Many put useless messages, such as “I’m sorry, the page you are looking for cannot be found”. It’s more polite, but doesn’t do anything useful.

What can you put there instead, that will a) keep the searcher on your site, and b) give them something useful to do that may help them find what they want? Isn’t that just the best way to serve your audience?

The next question is how to create your 404 page. What happens on a typical server is that it generates a page of its own. That is, your site ‘disappears’ and instead some generic and very boring page is sent back to the searcher’s browser instead.

The only control you have over it, is if you know what your server does and can create and upload a static page yourself. All very techy and boring.

However, most website frameworks (or themes on content management systems such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla) are 404 friendly these days and usually give you a neat user interface to go design your own 404 page.

Say NO to boring 404 pages.

About the author 

Quentin Pain

Quentin Pain started his first business, a courier company aged 23. He sold it 4 years later and used the profits to start a recording studio. A couple of albums later, he started two software companies, the last one being Accountz, which he grew from zero to 36,000 customers and retired from in January 2013. He is a director of ProofMEDIA, a specialist digital consulting business. He's also a published author (including a Dummies title), and has won many awards including the IAB Small Business Mentor of the Year. Copywriting is his speciality and he runs 3 groups on Facebook under the Science of Copywriting brand, which combined has well over 100,000 members. Quentin is also Founder of the International Copywriters Association and SEO Lead for the UK's largest private hospital group.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}