By Daniel Foster, Co-Founder and Technical Director, 34SP.com

Website fault messages like the 404 error page can be a common online occurrence, but many companies don’t know they can hold serious implications for their business.

A 404 error message will display on your website when a page on the site cannot be found or reached. This is frustrating to the user and can also cause problems for the business in question.

How do you get a 404 message?

Often the problems causing the 404 page to appear are relatively easy to avoid as long as you maintain your website properly. Customers may land on the 404 error message page due to any one of a number of issues – it could be mistakes in links, pages being deleted or pages redirecting incorrectly.

Scraping tools are a great help when checking for broken links on your site because they allow you to identify issues that lead to users hitting your 404 pages. You can also automatically redirect visitors to non-existent pages to another part of your site.

How can 404 pages affect your business?

Websites that constantly display 404 pages to users typically have higher bounce rates and fewer conversions, which in simple terms means your business is missing out. In today’s fast-paced culture, customers want quick results. If they come across a 404 message within the first few seconds of clicking on your site they are unlikely to return.

What’s more, constantly displaying your 404 error message risks making your website look amateurish, and as a result customers may associate the quality of your website with the quality of your business.

What are the best 404 pages?

Unfortunately, it is inevitable that users will occasionally land on your 404 page despite all of your best efforts. Nevertheless, by creating an imaginative 404 page you can retain the goodwill of your visitors and encourage them to continue using your site.

Some websites include amusing comments or fun images to keep their customers engaged. For instance, Lego’s 404 page shows a Lego Man pulling a plug apart, to illustrate to the user in a light-hearted way that something has gone askew.

Other websites use a more formal approach to their 404 page, and explain to the user how they got there and suggest where they might want to go next. A good illustration of this is the Mozilla 404 error message which gives users an idea of what might have gone wrong and provides a list of options to click through to.

Unfortunately, it’s to be anticipated that the user journey on your website will not be completely smooth every time. However, putting a little bit of thought into your 404 strategy will maximise your prospects of keeping those online visitors onside and on your site.