How to optimise your 404 page

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When someone tries to access a non-existent webpage, they’ll be greeted with the domain’s ‘404 page not found’ error warning.

You should do everything in your power to prevent users landing on your 404. Unless they sought it out for novelty value, this result means they haven’t found what they’re looking for — and are therefore likely to leave your site. Those ‘bounces’ are bad news for conversion rates, brand image and SEO.

Broken links are responsible for most 404 errors. You can identify them by looking at the URLs referring traffic to your 404 page in Google Analytics, and contact the relevant webmasters or set up 301 redirects to fix them. This process should even help you harness untapped link equity and improve site structure, byproducts that are also great for your search rankings.

However, even with regular broken-link monitoring and repair, visitors will find their way to your 404 page. Broken links will slip through the net, and web users will mistype URLs. Ensure these 404 visits don’t go to waste by optimising your error page using the tips below.

1. Let visitors know what’s going on

Some users won’t understand what the 404 error means. They might think that your whole website’s broken, for example. Put their minds at rest — and therefore encourage them to stay onsite — by explaining exactly what’s happened.

LEGO makes it clear it’s just the requested page that’s missing, and clarifies: “It might be an old link or maybe it moved.”

LEGO 404 page

The ASDA 404 page states that the requested page is no longer available, but the small text is overwhelmed by an accompanying ad, confusing the overall message. Make sure you use clear copy and design to prevent user disorientation.

ASDA 404 page

Worse is Ford’s solution: automatically redirecting visitors to its homepage when they attempt to access a non-existent URL. This is certain to confuse and frustrate users.

2. Take the blame

Don’t make your visitors feel like they’re responsible for the 404 error. Be apologetic and take the blame — the customer’s always right, after all.

Apple takes a ‘mistakes were made‘ approach with its main message, “Hmm, the page you’re looking for can’t be found.”, and follows up with the slightly accusatory “Did you try searching?”. Command sentences like “Click the search icon above and enter one or more keywords.” also make this 404 page come across quite aloof.

Apple 404 page

The Museum of Modern Art is far more polite to lost online shoppers.

MOMA 404 page

3. Redirect

The best way to keep users onsite? Redirect them to somewhere more useful. A search bar is probably most convenient for relocating the missing content, but a home button, navigation menu and site map link are helpful too. Don’t provide a back button, as it’s likely to send people away from your domain (I’m looking at you, ASOS).

ASOS 404 page

eHarmony keeps its end goal in mind with a simple, clear call-to-action button.

eHarmony 404 page

Travelodge goes one step further in an effort to maximise conversions, taking the opportunity to supply lots of helpful links and even a booking form. Why not share a useful tool, links to your best-selling products or recent blog posts on your 404 page?

Travelodge 404 page

4. Request users to report a broken link

Ask 404 page visitors to report the broken link they followed, and you might discover bad referrals that slipped through the net. Even if you’re aware of the problem, allowing users to notify you gives the impression that you care about fixing customers’ issues.

Starbucks’ 404 page nails these first four points with clear, informative copy, although the home link could be more eye-catching. The concept is supported with imagery suggesting a missing coffee cup.

Starbucks 404 page

5. Get creative

To sweeten the blow for users who’ve disappointingly landed on a 404 page, inject a little fun and creativity into your design. Our Head of Design, Ross, charmingly created a collage of unflattering staff photos to accompany the ‘This looks awkward…’ message on the Mediaworks 404 page.

Mediaworks new 404 page

IMDB shares one of many cleverly adapted movie quotes when you land on its 404 page, keeping things relevant and entertaining.

IMDB 404 page

There’s an aptly named song playing when you get lost on The Rolling Stones’ website.

The Rolling Stones 404 page

6. Brand, brand, brand

Although it’s good to unleash your creativity on a 404 page, you still need to ensure the design is on-brand. This will help assure visitors they’re on the right domain, and maintain consistency to enhance the user experience.

Despite being one of the best-marketed brands in the world, Coca-Cola has got its 404 page all wrong.

Coca Cola 404 page

And it’s anyone’s guess who this 404 page belongs to! (Psst, it’s BHS.)

BHS 404 page

On the other hand, Hotel Chocolat keeps its header and design style consistent, while reminding you of the goodies it sells…

Hotel Chocolat 404 page

To recap…

You can customise your 404 page to increase conversions, improve your brand image, and boost your search rankings. To make the most of people landing on this error page:

  1. Let visitors know why they haven’t landed on the page they expected to
  2. Be apologetic and welcoming; don’t make visitors feel like the error is their fault (even if it is)
  3. Help users get where they were going with helpful redirect options
  4. Ask users to report if they followed a broken link
  5. Make your 404 page fun and creative to soften the blow for visitors
  6. Maintain branding to assure visitors they are on the right domain


Have you seen any amazing 404 pages? Share the links in the comments section below!


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