How to Create a 404 Page that Improves User Experience

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A custom 404 page is a crucial element of any professional website. When users encounter a broken link or mistyped URL, a well-designed 404 page can provide a friendly, helpful experience that keeps them engaged with your site and reduces bounce rates. In this guide, we’ll walk through the key steps to create an effective 404 page that matches your brand, improves the user experience, and even adds a touch of humor and personality.

Why a Custom 404 Page Matters

A 404 error occurs when a user tries to access a webpage that doesn’t exist on your server. The standard 404 error page is typically just a generic message like “404 – Page Not Found” which can be confusing and frustrating for visitors.

A custom 404 page allows you to:

  • Provide a more friendly, on-brand experience when an error occurs
  • Keep users engaged and navigating your site rather than leaving
  • Improve SEO by avoiding “soft 404” errors that confuse search engines
  • Gather analytics on 404 errors to identify and fix broken links

By taking the time to create a thoughtful 404 page, you can turn what is usually a dead-end into an opportunity to guide users to relevant content and keep them on your site. Let’s dive into the key elements of an effective 404 page.

How to Create a Engaging 404 Page for Your Website

Step 1: Plan the 404 Page Design

The first step in creating a great 404 page is to decide on the overall look, feel, and tone. You have flexibility here to get creative with humor and branding or keep it simple and straightforward. Consider these key design elements:

  • Error message: Clearly state that the requested page doesn’t exist, using plain language without jargon like “404 error.” Avoid making users feel stupid for the mistake.
  • Advice: Provide clear, actionable guidance to help users correct a URL mistake, such as checking for typos or navigating back to the homepage. Use an encouraging, friendly tone.
  • Branding: Ensure the page design matches your website’s overall look, feel, and personality. Use your brand colors, fonts, and imagery.
  • Navigation: Include your main site navigation and links to important sections like the homepage, blog, products, and contact page.
  • Search: Prominently feature an internal site search bar to help users quickly find what they need.
  • Humor: If it fits your brand personality, consider adding a light-hearted, humorous touch with an illustration, GIF, or clever copy. But don’t overdo it.

The key is to keep the page simple, uncluttered and focused on helping users get back on track. Avoid overwhelming them with too many options or distractions.

Step 2: Create the 404 Page Content

With the design plan in place, start building out the actual 404 page content. Here are the key elements to include:

  • Title tag: Give the page a descriptive, keyword-rich title for SEO and accessibility, like “Page Not Found |”
  • Heading: Use a large, clear heading like “Oops! The Page You’re Looking For Doesn’t Exist.”
  • Error message: Explain in a sentence or two that the requested page doesn’t exist, using friendly, conversational language. For example: “It looks like you tried to access a page that doesn’t exist on our website. No need to worry though, we’ll help you find what you’re looking for!”
  • Advice: Provide clear guidance on what to do next, such as checking the URL for typos, navigating to the homepage, or using the search bar. Offer a friendly call-to-action like “Let’s get you back on track!”
  • Navigation links: Include links to your homepage and other key sections like the blog, products, and contact page. Use clear, descriptive anchor text.
  • Internal search: Add an internal site search bar to help users quickly find what they need. Make sure it’s prominent and functional.
  • Humor: If appropriate, add a humorous image, GIF, or text to lighten the mood and showcase your brand personality. For example: “Looks like our website is a little lost, just like you! Don’t worry, we’ll get you back home in no time.”

Keep the content concise and scannable. Use short paragraphs, bullet points, and formatting to make it easy to read. Avoid jargon and use a friendly, conversational tone.

Step 3: Configure the Server

The exact steps to set up a custom 404 page depend on your website platform and server configuration. Here are the general steps:

  1. Create the 404 page file: Save your 404 page as an HTML file, such as “404.html”, in the root directory of your website. Make sure the file is named correctly and saved in the right location.
  2. Configure the server: Tell the server to load the 404 page for 404 errors. For Apache servers, add this line to the .htaccess file in the root directory:
ErrorDocument 404 /404.html

Replace “/404.html” with the actual file path if needed. For other server types, consult the documentation for the appropriate configuration method.

  1. Test the 404 page: Confirm it returns a 404 HTTP status code, not a 200 “soft 404” code. You can test this with a tool like Screaming Frog or by manually entering a broken URL in your browser.
  2. Add web analytics: Include your site’s analytics tracking code on the 404 page to measure traffic and user behavior. This will help you identify common broken links and optimize the page over time.

If you’re using a CMS like WordPress, there may be built-in options or plugins to set up a custom 404 page without manual server configuration. Consult your CMS documentation for specific instructions.

Step 4: Optimize the 404 Page

After setting up the basic 404 page, optimize it for the best user experience and SEO:

  • Descriptive title tag: Use a unique, descriptive title like “Page Not Found |” that includes your brand name and relevant keywords.
  • Relevant content: Ensure the content is relevant and helpful for users who land on the page. Avoid generic, one-size-fits-all 404 pages.
  • Internal links: Link to your most popular content and important site sections to keep users engaged and reduce bounce rates.
  • Search: Make the internal search bar prominent and functional. Test it to ensure it provides relevant results.
  • Analytics tracking: Confirm the page has the same analytics tracking as the rest of your site so you can measure its performance.
  • Mobile-friendly: Test the page on mobile devices and optimize the layout if needed. Ensure it looks great and functions properly on all screen sizes.

Regularly review your 404 page analytics to identify common broken links and make updates to improve the user experience. Look for patterns in the most frequently visited 404 pages and fix the underlying issues.

Examples of Great 404 Pages

Here are some examples of creative and effective 404 pages:

  • Dribbble: Features a 3D illustration of a lost astronaut and a search bar to help users find shots
  • Airbnb: Uses a friendly tone and a search bar to help users find what they need, with a call-to-action to explore the homepage
  • Trello: Includes a humorous image of a dog and a clear call-to-action to go to the homepage
  • Intercom: Provides a search bar and links to the most popular help articles to help users find support
  • Wufoo: Features a fun, retro-style illustration and a search bar to help users find forms
  • Mailchimp: Uses a friendly, conversational tone and a search bar to help users find what they need
  • Slack: Features a humorous illustration and a call-to-action to go to the homepage
  • Asana: Provides a search bar and links to popular articles to help users find support

The best 404 pages share these characteristics:

  • Clear error message: Explicitly states the page doesn’t exist in a friendly, conversational tone.
  • Helpful advice: Provides clear, actionable guidance on how to fix the issue and get back on track.
  • Prominent navigation: Makes it easy for users to get back to the homepage or access other key sections of the site.
  • Internal search: Helps users quickly find what they need with a prominent, functional search bar.
  • Relevant content: Offers links to popular content and important pages that are likely to be useful for users who land on the 404 page.
  • Branding: Matches the overall look, feel, and personality of the website through the use of brand colors, fonts, imagery, and tone of voice.


Creating a custom 404 page is an important step in providing a great user experience on your website. By following the steps outlined in this guide and learning from the examples, you can design a 404 page that:

  • Clearly communicates the error in a friendly, conversational tone
  • Provides helpful guidance to users on how to fix the issue and get back on track
  • Keeps visitors engaged with your site by offering relevant links and a functional search bar
  • Reduces bounce rates and improves SEO by providing a positive user experience
  • Showcases your brand personality and adds a touch of humor or creativity

Remember to regularly review your 404 page analytics, identify common broken links, and make updates to continuously improve the user experience. With a well-designed 404 page, you can turn a frustrating situation into an opportunity to showcase your brand, provide value to users, and keep them coming back to your site.