There are times when a visitor to your e-commerce site clicks a link to a page that doesn't exist. Instead of loading the information they wanted, your website generates a 404 page. A thoughtful 404 page redirects users and sends more online payments to your business, while a neglected one leaves shoppers confused and frustrated.

What is a 404 page?
A 404 page is one of the most common error pages online. When a user clicks on a link to a Web page that doesn't exist, they're given a 404 error. The user's browser is able to connect to your server and access your business's website, but it can't find the particular page it was searching for. The faulty link could have come from anywhere – an old social media post, a hyperlink still on the company website or even a search engine.

In the past, 404 pages appeared as basic text pages describing the error that occurred and nothing more. There was no branding other than the URL and no instructions to tell users what steps to take next. These days, many e-commerce businesses are aware of the negative impact this can have and have customized their 404 pages to make them more user-friendly.

If you haven't check out your site's 404 page, it's a good time to do so. The first step is to determine the page's exit rate. This is the percentage of users who receive a 404 error and leave your website altogether. According to Monetate, insights gleaned from the error page are mainly useful in two instances. One is when businesses want to monitor the  online checkout process. If any of the pages in this process have a high exit rate, it indicates users are abandoning their online shopping carts and aren't submitting electronic payments.

The second instance is when your 404 page has a high exit rate. This implies visitors either didn't know what to do next or were frustrated enough to take their business elsewhere. There are several steps e-commerce retailers can take to reduce their error percentage and keep users on their site.

Branding is key
Your 404 page should look like an extension of the rest of your website. The color scheme, fonts, logos and layout should be similar enough that users understand they are still technically on your site and don't need to leave it for another. Likewise, the tone of your page should be professional and onbrand. Keep your written copy positive and consistent with the rest of your website and market.

Be helpful and provide navigation
If the user can't find the page they're looking for, what should they do instead? It's important to provide users several options they can take to locate what they need. Many websites put a search bar on their 404 page, while others suggest other products and pages based on popular items and the user's site history. Practical Ecommerce suggested copying the header navigation on the rest of your site and placing it atop your 404 page. That way users are able to quickly reach the major categories of your Web page and get back on track.

It's also a bad idea to imply the 404-generating error was on the visitor's end, Practical Ecommerce said. Most shoppers use hyperlinks to navigate your site, not typing URLs into their address bars. Thus, it's more likely the mistake was on the company's end. Implying the user mistyped will frustrate them and be bad for your business.

A custom 404 page allows you to keep shoppers engaged with your site and helps direct them to what they were looking for. If you haven't taken a look at your 404 page, you could lose a lot of shoppers.

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