Back in 2015, I did my first site rebrand. This was after I had two really big posts go viral. Therefore, I had a pretty well-established site and also needed to maintain that traffic. While we redirected permalinks from one domain to the other, there were some pages that I didn’t want to migrate to the new domain because they didn’t fit my brand. and this is when I learned the importance of a custom 404 page.
If people are genuinely interested in your content, but can’t find it whether because you’ve done a complete rebrand or simply changed your permalink structure, then a 404 gives you an even more powerful opportunity to connect to readers.
Because you can highlight your most popular content, your cornerstone content, and the content you know will 100 speak to their real needs.
The key to captivating 404 content
- Create a shift
- Meet their needs
- Offer more
These three keys should be how you think about creating a custom page. They need to shift away from what they thought they were getting to something else that you think they need more.
But of course you must meet a need or they’ll bounce out.
And finally, offer more than what they were expecting.
If you’re attracting your true avatar audience and you’re staying on-brand in everything you do including telling someone what they were looking for is missing or gone… then you have a captive audience and can send them anywhere you want.
And that’s powerful.
What should be on a custom 404 page?
An apology or immediate indication that the page can’t be found
This can be an image or some simple text, but definitely needs to be a clear message that the person is not seeing what they thought they were going to be reading. But remember to make it captivating.
Make it interactive: An opt-in, subscription, or contact form… a search form at the very least
I like to take every opportunity to convert readers to invested community members. And by this, I mean I want them on my list. Your form can be something simple like, “let’s connect” or “let me help you” where someone can either tell you their need or what they were trying to find.
Which of the three options you choose probably is determined by your business model. If you are more of a storefront, then a contact form is most relevant. But if you’re predominantly a blogger, some sort of lead capture.
A path you want to direct
This might be directly to a sales page, a free webinar that then puts someone into a sales funnel, or maybe just to popular content.
404 case studies
On our parenting site, we obviously are most interested in serving people with children. Or at the very least, professional who work with kids. So in thinking out our avatar to keep cohesive branding even on the 404 page here are things we considered:
- What frustrations do most parents go through when they can’t find something?
- What is the average age of the children of the parents visiting the site?
- What problems can we help solve the majority of parents?
- And what content have we already written that might serve this potential audience well?
- We told a story almost every parent “gets”. In fact, my dad constantly tells a story from my childhood where I hid a greeting card that he never found. For us, our second child actually lost my husband’s wedding ring. It’s a common problem and it adds humor to the situation.
- We have offered some free printable in exchange for their email address. These printables cover common needs across multiple age ranges: calming strategies, screen time rules, and conversations starters.
- Finally, we are directly traffic to top posts and/or the ones we feel best represent who we want to be coming to our site again and again!
How to create your own branded 404 redirect content
The absolute easiest way to do this is with a simple plugin or page builder platform. While I regularly advocate to decrease the number of plugins, there are several lightweight options and in this case it’s a really good thing.
For years I used Genesis 404, but depending on your theme, it’s only a basic edit and doesn’t allow for the featured image to populate correctly. However, I still recommend this option if you are on a Genesis Child theme and it’s not reliant on featured images.
- Genesis 404 Plugin Options
- Build your own page and use Smart Custom 404
- [Affiliate referral] Leadpages
- If you’re tech savvy enough or have extra time, Code it yourself
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