We’ve all hit the dreaded 404 pages of plenty of websites. And unfortunately, once we arrive at these dead ends, it isn’t always clear where we should turn to next. Should we try to guess at and tweak the URL, or should we wander aimlessly around the website looking for one specific page?

Most web users opt for neither, cut their losses, and leave the website. But when you’re the website owner, it’s understandable that you want your viewers to stick around. Instead of the standard ‘this page could not be found’ message, take the opportunity to offer some well-constructed guidance. Here’s how:

Offer alternatives

Use your website analytics to offer suggestions to your readers. List the top pages that people usually visit (excluding the home page) to try to keep website visitors engaged in the content you have to offer. If your 404 page already contains a header bar with broad sections, there’s no need for redundancy on the 404; instead, direct them to your most popular posts. You can also use it as a platform to promote a sale, though you risk having readers respond unfavorably to this tactic.

Make it clever

These days it’s easy to find websites with entertaining 404 pages, usually involving humor. Even though it’s not necessarily the attention you want, these clever pages can help to get you some free marketing. Visitors may be inclined to share them on reddit, social media, or email. You may even end up on some ‘best of’ lists!

Make a subscription option obvious

Sure, your 404 page visitors may quickly leave, but some may indicate a future interest by signing up to receive email updates, newsletters, and promotions. Make it easy for them to do so by incorporating it into your 404 page and asking for minimal information (email only).

Provide resources

Specifically, give website visitors the option to find what they’re looking for with some degree of efficiency –a search bar. Many sites stick the search bar somewhere near the website header, but you may have a better outcome by putting it front and center on the 404 page.

Maintain aesthetic consistency

While 404 pages are inherently deterring to readers, they become even more deterring when they look like they belong to a wholly different website. To ensure your visitors that they have come to the right place (kind of), take care to make the 404 page jive with the rest of your web design.

A last word

Now that you’ve optimized your 404 page, it’s time to consider preventative measures. One of the easiest ways to avoid a 404 page landing is to implement a redirect for the URL in question. This will take your readers to the page they intended to go to. You can also aim to keep the URL structure constant through any redesigning that happens. Not only will it help to keep readers on track, but it will also help to preserve your SEO rankings.

** About the Author: Elizabeth Lee is an experienced blogger with great interest in marketing and social media. Currently, she supports PACK & SEND, experts in the field of logistics.