Optimizing 404 Pages: 3 Best Practices to Effectively Re-direct a Shopper’s Journey

404 pages aren’t ideal. They can indicate an issue in navigation, a broken URL or that the customer has arrived to the site through an old, or expired link. 404s are however something which most people experience from time to time. When a 404 is shown however, it’s an opportunity to invite the customer to continue to browse the site, instead of an instant bounce back to where they started.

There are some best practices for creating a 404 page; when creating the content, you need to be clear and concise – the customer probably doesn’t need to know exactly why they have arrived at a 404 page, they just want to find what they’re looking for, or something similar

1. Display a Clear and Concise 404 Message

The content above, although relevant is a little long-winded. The messaging is also generic, rather than specific to the store itself. Ensure your content is tailored to your store.

A simple ‘Oops’ message is more in line with what the customer expects to see when faced with a 404 page. Topshop is a good example of this:

Although the text is clear and concise, the customer isn’t given a lot of help in terms of getting to the product pages and is left to navigate only a few categories.

Furthermore, 404 page for Topshop lacks a link to take the customer back to the homepage, where he would be able to browse all categories for himself.

Asos has a rather cold and unhelpful 404 page, which may well have been forgotten about, which is regularly the case as efforts to develop the website  are usually required elsewhere.

404s are pages are rarely visited by the people who work on the site and can be very low down the list of priorities, however if you set up a helpful and clear 404, there may be no reason to change it for a year or maybe longer, even left alone until the site has a redesign.

2. Enable Helpful Navigation on the 404 Page

If your site has products which may be talked about on forums, for example, these links may well have expired if a customer searches for products online and finds an old forum thread talking about how fantastic something is.

Baby clothes, for example may be mentioned on mumsnet and be discussed in great length, but in 2012. A customer might read the fantastic reviews on the thread and be ready to purchase immediately,  however when faced with an unhelpful 404 may bounce straight to google and search for particular keywords and make the purchase elsewhere.

An example of a slightly more helpful 404 page shows the full site navigation at the top of the page, including a link to the homepage, the search bar and a link to the best sellers:

3. Display a Product Recommendation Panel to Encourage a Post-404 Purchase

Additionally, if there’s a link to the best sellers, why not add the best sellers panel directly to the 404 page?

By adding a product recommendation to the page means the customer can immediately see the products you sell and has an understanding of both the brand and the sort of products sold on the site.

Finisterre’s 404 page is a good example of a helpful 404.

It includes a link to the homepage and the full site navigation, should the customer know where they need to go from the broken/expired link and a simple message.

What sets this page apart from other 404 pages is the inclusion of the best seller recommendation panel. This immediately showcases the sorts of products sold on the site and gives them a taster of the brand. Crucially though, this panel gives the customer a direct path to go straight to a product page and get them on the buying journey.

In terms of which recommendation panels to use on the 404 page, bestsellers is a good place to start. Chances are, if someone is accessing the site from an expired link, they won’t have browsing history data to be able to populate a personalised recommendation panel. But there’s always fallbacks to overcome this issue.

A ‘Trending Now’ panel might be an option, depending on your product base and customer demographic. If your products are fast moving, or your demographic is younger, then we usually find creating FOMO can help boost impulse buys and sales.

A recommendation panel on a 404 page can see CTRs of up to 20% and CVRs of up to 10%. This seems a bit of a ‘no brainer’ when otherwise the customer will just see a relatively blank page, rarely with any option to showcase products and no direct route to a product page to start the shopping journey.

Optimizing 404 Pages: 3 Steps, Summarized

To summarise, a good 404 page should be made up of the following:

  • A clear and concise message. Nothing too wordy and it should be specific to your site
  • A helpful navigation, including a link to the homepage or a relevant ‘starting point’ for the customer
  • A recommendation panel which showcases your products and gives the customer a direct path to making a purchase

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