Create 404 Pages That Are Great For Sales
- Posted in Sales & Marketing
Up until now, you’ve probably thought that a generic 404 page has done you well. After all, you see them everywhere, right? What harm could they do?
Here’s a surprise: a lot.
Generic 404 page can mean a big loss in profits.
Because generic 404 pages are wastes of the opportunity to market your business, retain prospects and generate sales.
First, let’s describe the purpose of 404 pages…
404 pages show up when prospects or customers mistype a URL or when they attempt to use old, changed, broken or out-of-date links. The 404 page responds with nice little, impersonal message informing them that the page cannot be found.
Simple enough, right? Well, maybe too simple.
As The Responsible Marketing Blog notes,
a good 404 page improves usability, can reinforce your brand and turns something unwelcome into an informative, even entertaining contact point at a time when a site visitor least expects it
That may seem like a tall order for a 404 page, but in all actuality, it should be the most common-sense answer to the problem of a “lost” visitor.
Think of it this way:
When a prospect stumbles upon a 404 page, they often ask themselves,”What now?”
As a business owner or a marketer, you should step up to the plate and offer them options- any and all options except leaving your website.
It’s common for prospects who come across 404 page to give up on the visited website entirely. Why? Maybe they were convinced that the URL was correct. Perhaps they just don’t want to deal with a website that they think is non-functional. Whatever the reason, it’s very easy for them to brush you off and look to a competitor. And who wants that?
You’re probably familiar with actively providing solutions to your target market’s problems. Consider this a new one.
When your prospects stumble upon a 404 page, their problem is that they can’t find your products. Your job is then to become their personal private detective. You can do that if you ready your 404 page for visitors and give them the information they need.
What Not to Do
First, the obvious:
The worst thing you can do is nothing and keep the generic 404 page.
The second worst thing you can do is not enough. What’s “not enough”? Anything that involves designing a custom 404 page and not providing solutions (think: graphics, a simple reiteration of the 404 error message and nothing else).
404 pages that automatically redirect to an index page. Index pages couldn’t be any more of a general answer to your prospect’s specific problem. The unexpected jump can confuse users.
What to Include in a 404 Page
So now that you know what you shouldn’t do with a 404 page, we can discuss what you should. There are lots of options and many will depend on your business’s goals, function and target market. Try mixing and matching the following:
- Language & Message
Anticipate prospects’ desire for an explanation from you. Yes, the fault may be their own, but they’ll still think it’s yours. A simple, plain-language apology and reason why they’ve arrived at the page will do. Keep the tone friendly and inviting- even humorous or interesting. Doing this can reestablish the connection between your prospect and your website that was temporarily lost.
Have a popular product? Provide a link to it to help conversions. Find out what other products you should link by consulting Google Analytics. Try linking to top-level categories if you sell many different products and can’t narrow it down to just one.
- Self-help tools
Implementing a search box, a sitemap and contact forms can help prospects find their way easily. In essence, they’ll have your website at their fingertips with these tools. Give them the option to go back to your homepage and provide email addresses of interest (technical staff or customer service) in case they require more personalized attention.
404 pages are a great way to advertise free promotional stuff like eBooks, newsletters, discounts and social media presences. If you require signups for access, you can also end up building your lists.
- Ways to Make Money
Do you have affiliates that need some publicity? Ads that need showing? Third-party products that need pushing? Take the opportunity to showcase a few on your 404 page.
- Google Analytics code
Keep track of your website’s functionality by using Google Analytics even for your 404 pages. It can give you insight into website performance and the habits of your prospects- which can translate into more sales by helping you optimize your 404 page and corresponding parts of your website.
With all this information, you probably think that you can’t go wrong with a custom 404 page, but there is one way that you could stumble…
You could make your 404 page look like any other page on your website.
Now, wait. Before you formulate a dissenting opinion, let me just say this:
By virtue of its function, it isn’t. You’ll have minimal content on your 404 page compared to the others on your website. A 404 should serve as fork in the road rather than a highway.
Don’t get me wrong. You should use 404 pages to reinforce your brand and include your company name, your logo, headers and footers and use the same color scheme as the rest of your website. Likewise, 404’s should weigh in at more than 512 bytes and be substantial enough so that’s they’re not ignored by search engines. But confusing users with the idea that your 404 acts like the rest of your website will come with a price. You risk cutting them off from all you have to offer. Make it clear that 404 pages are just that…404 pages. Don’t make it easy for them to bookmark your 404 page and think it’s your homepage.
Not Just for Wayward Prospects
Helping prospects isn’t the only reason why you should invest in custom 404 pages. In addition, your website’s ranking may be lowered because search engines interpret visits to generic 404 pages as indication that your website is incomplete, still being constructed or otherwise “isn’t worthy of strong search engine rankings.”
Imagine…all your hard work in creating a website can be lost by simply not treating a 404 page as part of your website! Who would have thought?
So if you want to increase your visibility, get on that custom 404 page ball. It really can’t hurt.
What do your 404 pages look like?
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