Data: opening the closed door of 404 pages
We’ve all experienced 404 pages before; they’re the pages that show when a page or URL is unavailable. While brands produce increasingly light-hearted 404 pages, users still find them frustrating, as they act as barriers to the content they are looking for.
This frustration is evident within the statistics surrounding user behaviour after reaching a 404 page. Less than a quarter of users make a second attempt at finding a missing page after reaching a 404, with almost three quarters leaving your site after viewing the error page. And the impact of this can be massive — 79% of users are less likely to buy from a site again if the website performance is poor.
What causes 404 errors?
A 404 error occurs as a result of a broken link. For example, if you’ve launched a new website with updated URLs but haven’t implement 301-redirects on the old web addresses, users will still be using the old URLs — and reaching 404 pages as a result. Webmasters should ensure their site’s web directory is updated when any URLs are moved, updated or changed.
While webmasters have their own roles to play, 404 errors can also occur as a result of user typos and incorrect or broken links from emails, bookmarks, social networks and search engines. While it’s very hard to eliminate 404 errors from occurring all together, there is a way of making your 404 page less of a closed door and more of an access point to the rest of your site. How? It all relies on data.
404 errors and machine learning
Machine learning is a growing movement in digital marketing that can be harnessed to help you get more from your 404 page. The application of machine learning will utilise a wealth of data points to establish what users wanted to find before they landed on the 404 page, which enables the most relevant alternative results to be shown.
By providing alternatives, you are helping guide users to the content they need — even if a particular URL is unavailable. While establishing this level of machine learning for 404 pages will undoubtedly take time, the results can be staggering and should help to significantly reduce the number of people who leave your site following a 404 error.
Of course, the implementation of these intelligent 404 pages will lead to the availability of further data that can be used to drive additional insight. You should be able to track the number of 404s generated, where visitors went to once they landed on the 404 page and how they behaved once they’re there. Essentially, this allows you to establish what content works best, allowing you to identify refinements which can further enhance the user experience.
Every 404 page that a user reaches and bounces away from is a missed opportunity. Harnessing the power of machine learning can reverse this, enabling both a better user experience and improved site performance.