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Digital marketing – 404 error – how to use it to drive leads

Tomasz Sąsiadek

The 404 error page is one of the most recognizable error pages. Encountering it can cause discomfort and frustration in people who visit your company’s website. However, it can also evoke positive emotions, respond to the users’ needs, and provide marketers and companies with a source of valuable leads.

I often feel that websites are alive. They have their own individual cycles, consisting of various types of changes – expansions, simplifications, upgrades, re-brandings, and updates. Information pages constantly gain new content, while online stores undergo a steady stream of smaller and bigger modifications at the level of landing pages due to changes in the product range, introductions of new products or withdrawals of old ones. It may therefore lead to a situation in which the address of a given page ceases to exist. If it has been posted elsewhere on the network or has been saved and referenced somewhere, and somebody tries to use it, the 404 error page will be displayed to inform said person that the page they’re looking for does not exist – that’s one of the most popular causes of 404 errors. The second most popular reason for 404 errors is associated with mistakes made by users – mostly page addresses which were incorrectly entered into the browser.

In this article, I will try to showcase the potential of 404 error pages and introduce actions which can be undertaken to make use of this potential and gain as much as possible for your business.

HTTP response status codes

I’ll start with the basics. Before the web page can be displayed to the user, their computer will communicate with the server by sending it a data request. The server responds with a HTTP header containing the status corresponding to the given situation. Information on the method of execution of the request or lack thereof is communicated by means of HTTP response status codes. These codes are expressed as sets of three digits (e.g. 503 – Service Unavailable), and are divided into five categories:

  • 1xx codes – informational codes, e.g. code 100 – continue;
  • 2xx codes – success codes, e.g. 200 – OK;
  • 3xx codes – redirection codes, e.g. 300 – multiple choices;
  • 4xx codes – client error codes, e.g. 400 – bad request;
  • 5xx codes – HTTP server error codes – internal server error codes.

The most popular member of the 4xx family

One of the most frequently displayed and thus also the most recognizable errors is the 404 error – a representative of a family of errors whose codes begin with 4 which indicate client rather than server errors (server errors are represented by response codes beginning with 5).

The famous “four hundred and four” indicates that the requested resources (file or website) cannot be displayed for a given URL, because they do not exist at this location. At the same time, this code plays a very important informative role – it notifies users that the requested resource could not be found by displaying a message in the form of a dedicated page – one which will appear every time they encounter the same issue in the future. The 404 error appears most frequently because of an incorrect or incorrectly entered link or request for data that does not exist on the server.

404 errors can cause frustration!

There is no fun in getting a 404 error message. Nowadays, when Internet users expect to get the resources and content they are interested in as quickly as possible, the sight of the 404 error can evoke negative emotions – impatience, frustration or anger. Consequently, an encounter with the 404 error page may result in the website losing not only the attention of the visitor, but also the visitor, a potential customer, if he or she decides to leave the site. Companies should consider spending time and resources to minimise the number of occurrences of the 404 errors and strive to turn the problem of a non-existent page into an asset. The key to success lies in establishing dialogue with users and providing them with interesting and engaging content, which will result in users exploring the company’s website and resources in more depth.


404 – turning threats into opportunities

Any display of the 404 error page is associated with the risk of the user leaving the site, so it is worth paying attention to a few key issues that can help your company compensate for this misstep. You should fight for the user who has encountered a 404-shaped obstacle on their path-to-purchase, stand by them at this potentially frustrating moment and support them in the best possible way.

The graphic design undoubtedly has a positive impact on the reception of any page, even the non-existent one, so you should make sure that the design of your company’s website is attractive, beautiful, modern, eye-catching and attention-grabbing.

Source: http://hugoware.net/404, 08.11.2017

However, canons of beauty and web design are diverse and subjective, so the aesthetic aspects of any 404 pages should be assessed individually. Still, they should not be forgotten, as they are important and in many businesses even key elements of the perfect 404 error page. In the further section of this article, I will focus on those aspects that may (looking from a slightly more objective perspective) translate into concluded business deals and effectiveness of the website.


Start by informing visitors about the situation

You should inform users about the problem – a non-existent page. Focus on an open, straightforward, and fact-based message. “The page does not exist”, “There is no such page” – these are good openings for such communication. Remember that not every visitor to the site will be familiar with the 404 error. Therefore, it is worth providing information about possible causes of the error.

Source: http://www.t-mobile.pl/404, 08.11.2017

[404 ERROR

The page you’re looking for is somewhere else

Possible reasons:

– the URL you’ve provided contains no such page

– the URL you’ve provided has never contained such page

Maybe you will be interested in:

Offer for you / Offer for companies / Our websites]


Take the initiative, provide help and engage users

After informing the user about the non-existent page, the company should try to respond to the need related to the content they sought for and focus on engaging the user in such a way as to prevent them from leaving the website. You should, therefore, think about what the user can look for on the website, how to respond to their needs, what your company has to offer and how the user’s needs can be aligned with yours.


Make the navigation menu available on the error page, allowing users to move to other, desired or interesting content. The design of the 404 error page might become less streamlined, but it will give users the chance to go straight to the thematic categories they are interested in, which will surely benefit them.


Provide access to the internal search engine, which should be positioned in such a way as to ensure that it is easily accessible, catches the user’s eye and encourages them to use it.


Suggest a transition to the home page and/or valuable website resources. In the case of an information-based website, you should add links to the latest or most popular articles, which make it more likely that users will become interested in and engaged with other content available on the site and will explore it further.

Source: http://www.paniswojegoczasu.pl/404, 08.11.2017

In the case of an online store, you should show new arrivals, best-selling products and services, or the most attractive offers. Any person who encounters the 404 error page on an e-commerce website is a potential customer who is already on their customer journey. Remember to constantly update the most attractive offers presented to people who reach the error page and make sure that the graphic design is appropriate and that the products or services you want to promote are showcased in an effective manner. Automate the entire process, so you don’t have to worry about refreshing the offer.

Source: https://helion.pl/404, 08.11.2017

Online source: https://www.militaria.pl/404, 08.11.2017

Collect e-mail addresses of people who reached the 404 error page. You have a wide range of arguments that you can use to encourage users to provide their personal information. For example, you can offer a newsletter with interesting, unique, newest or time-limited materials which could be sent to those people who provide their e-mail addresses. Consider the possibility of adding a discount coupon, a chance to take advantage of a promotion or special offer, or offering newsletter subscribers a small gift.


Source: https://www.zalando.pl/404, 08.11.2017


Source: https://www.doz.pl/404, 08.11.2017

Ask users to submit their phone numbers. It is a unique opportunity to use your effective call centre. Make sure that you turn the still hot lead into the first contact as efficiently as possible.

Source: https://www.plushbezlimitu.pl/koniec-swiata, 08.11.2017

Provide your contact details and contact form. Provide your customers with an easy way to contact you, receive help and solve their problems. Perhaps some of such solutions will open the way for upsell activities. Regardless of that, it will definitely build a positive and professional image of your brand.

Improve the good, eliminate the ineffective

Constantly test the solutions which generate most conversions. There are many tools available on the market that make it easy to carry out A/B testing (e.g. Optimizely, or experiments in Google Analytics) which will allow you to identify the most effective solutions generating the highest number of conversions.

Listen to your users. Surveys testing customer satisfaction can also be useful, as customers can often share their insights concerning given pages or the situation in which they found themselves. Responding to the identified needs will significantly increase the chances of reaching customers at various stages of their path-to-purchase.

Pay attention to 404 error pages

Make sure you provide users who encountered the 404 error with the best possible experience. Do not try to be a minimalist. Invest time to prepare 404 error pages that respond to the needs of people who use your company’s website.

Source: https://www.google.com/404, 08.11.2017

Even the biggest players on the market can commit errors due to inattention. Your company should not be one of them. Check your 404 pages regularly, update them, and search for original and visually attractive solutions. Turn errors into opportunities for your business. Open dialogue with your users and obtain valuable leads. Good luck.

Source: http://www.interia.pl/404, 08.11.2017

The article was published in E-commerce & Digital Marketing 4/2018

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