Visitor engagement with error pages

Thursday, April 09, 2015 by Richard Howe

Visitor engagement with error pagesBroken links are never ideal. But there will be times when your users will click on an out-of-date link or try to type in a url within your site that doesn’t exist. When this type of mistake happens, they will be directed to a 404 error page. You know the ones - they usually say ‘Page not found’ and make you hit your head against the nearest wall. Or click immediately off the site.

But not all 404 pages are created equally and if you get it right, what starts off as an error can actually help to engage users with your brand. In this post, we look at a few approaches that can work really well.


Whether it’s through text or imagery, your users need to understand that they’ve reached a non-existent page. Some companies choose to explain clearly what might have caused the issue, from either end, and set out a list of how to avoid the situation in the future. In these cases, honesty and humility are always the best options. Your users will likely be frustrated to not find what they were looking for, and a word of apology goes a long way.


404 error pages offer you a chance to inject some personality into your site and are a branding playground. Because they don’t form a central part of your website, you can really unleash your creativity and come up with something fun and unique.

Anything goes here, as long as it fits within your company ethos and branding. Jokes and witticisms (either in words or pictures) could range from blame:

‘Look what you’ve done now!’ to geeky humour: ‘Cyborgs stole your page. We can’t find it right now, but when we do, we’ll bring it back.’ and anything in between.


It is said that pictures tell a thousand words and this is often the case with 404 pages. Whether you choose a cute, beautiful or funny image will depend upon your brand’s personality, but careful use of imagery will serve to get your message across in seconds and – assuming that you have a clear handle on who your audience are – can really help to solidify and further build your relationship with your users. If you take this amount of care over a 404 page, the assumption is that your other customer service must be exceptional.

Animation, video and audio

Playing an animation, video or audio can work well to ensure that your users don’t immediately click away from your site and could either explain the problem (perhaps in a humorous way) or provide a kind of visual reward.


You might decide to offer your users the chance to play a little game whilst they’re on your 404 page, to make their time here seem less wasted. Puzzles, arcade-style games or pop-up elements that are revealed when users scroll over certain areas are all possibilities here, but just try to make whatever you’re offering, it’s fun and it fits in with your message and branding.

And finally, a few general tips

No matter the type of design you opt for, the following pointers all need to be observed if your 404 page is to be a success. It needs to:

  • be top-notch and tie in with the rest of your site
  • pay attention to detail
  • fit in with your brand and message
  • talk directly to the user in a voice that is consistent with your brand
  • include a clear link or call to action so that the user can navigate quickly and easily back to the main part of your site

If your 404 pages are designed well, they might even serve as advocates for your brand. After all, if your users find them witty, amusing or are impressed by your attention to detail and to customer service, they might choose to share them with their friends on social media, helping to promote brand awareness.

Here, as with the rest of your site, paying attention to detail and injecting something that speaks personally to your audience makes a huge difference.

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