Many a mickle macks a muckle – How to optimize 404- and error pages

404 error pages are a huge annoyance online. But it has happened to all of us before: you follow an expired link or have a typo in the URL or the search bar and instead of reaching the page you want, you end up on a 404 error page. In most cases, all you see are the words “We’re sorry, the page can not be found/There are no results for your search.”


If this happens on your website, your customer will most likely leave the page disappointed and search for the desired item in another shop. But does it really have to end like this? 


Obviously, the answer is no. 404 error pages hold a lot of optimization potential – but they are oftentimes forgotten about. But: These pages too should be optimized in the best possible way. In the following blogpost, we will demonstrate how to properly exploit the potential of these pages and successfully win customers back into the buying process.

Error pages – How they occur and how to prevent them

There are many reasons users end up on 404 error pages. For example, expired links. These can lead to the page from external pages such as blogs, Google or SEA ads. But also a wrong redirect or internal links are explicable reasons. Preventing by checking your links regularly is the No.1 to pursue. SEA ads might be an exception though – as sold-out products are often hidden on the website until they are back in stock. There might also be discrepancy in the update frequency of the product feeds. Whilst the product catalog on the website has already been updated, the feed on Google etc. is updated less frequently. Then users of SEA ads experience 404 error pages – at least until the feeds are aligned again. 


Users also end up on error pages if no suitable products or content could be found for their search query. Potentially due to the wording, for example. Is the user looking for a term that is dialect-specific or colloquial and thus cannot be mapped via the search? A striking example: panties vs. underpants. If the shop only provides search results for underwear referring the name “underpants”, the search will be inconclusive. In such cases, it is elementary to carefully analyze the search queries that often deliver errors and to correct them if applicable.


Sometimes, however, it is not preventable by regular checks, namely when the user makes a typing error, enters the wrong search terms in the search or the product is sold out. The results are a great disappointment as the product searched for is supposedly not available in the shop.

Meeting the dead end with humor

Search queries without any results are an immense challenge, because the user ends up in a dead end when searching for a product or information. One option is to use humor when designing the error page. This doesn’t help with the product search, but disappointment fizzles out to a small extent. Amazon has been doing this for some time now with the “Dogs of Amazon.” If users end up on a 404 error page, they are greeted with an error text, but also with cute dog pictures. The pictures are actually dogs of the Amazon employees and have been part of the strategy for 404 pages for several years.




Error pages – solving problems and offering alternatives

Cute dogs and humor are nice, but they shouldn’t be the only approach to optimize 404 error pages.  If you want to prevent customers from leaving the shop as soon as they end up on an error page, you have to offer them more services and guide them back into the customer journey. In addition to an apology, it is therefore best to address the customer with a motivational  speech to return to the online shop and continue the purchasing process. Enriching error pages and offering initial solutions directly leads to success.


Would you like to try again?


If the user follows an expired link or misspells the URL, the user’s motivation is not yet possible to guess. But maybe he is willing to give the shop another chance by searching again. Accordingly, the search field should be placed prominently on error pages. To save the user some time, various result options can also be integrated. These then lead back to for example the homepage or to particularly popular categories. The contact details for your customer service can offer further assistance. An integrated chat window or prominently highlighted contact data may encourage the user to interact further and find the desired product – or at least an alternative – via customer service.


Skillfully ignoring typos


With users that are in search of a product in a hurry, mistakes are bound to happen. Accordingly, spelling errors can be directly included in the search results. For example, if the user searches for “box spring bread”, he can be informed that no products were found for “box spring bread” and that results for “box spring bed” are displayed instead. For such an addition to the regular search, special search technologies such as Findologic can be used.


No products found? No problem!


Nevertheless, it will occur more often that there are simply no results for the searched product, or as described above the user ends up on a 404 page, because the product is briefly sold out and thus no longer listed. 

There is no need to bury your head in the sand here: Enhance error pages with additional product recommendations. These can be fed, for example, with the shop’s top sellers, particularly popular trending products or current special offers. 

Is the search query known and the product or brand is currently not in stock, suitable alternative products of the same category or from comparable brands can be displayed. In case of a known user, products from their preferred categories or the favorite brand can also be included. Adding up to a better user experience, users may still find something they are looking for and not immediately leave the shop again.

Error pages – Reach your full potential!

Even if error pages are not among the most popular, you can still exploit some potential here and do not necessarily have to lose traffic on the page. Optimize error pages with clear messages, additional help and recommendations for alternatives, and be back in game.


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