Bouncing Back from a 404: Strategies for an Effective Error Page Design

Last updated: Jul 28, 2023
7 min read
Bouncing Back from a 404: Strategies for an Effective Error Page Design

Everyone's run into a 404 error page at some point, and we all know how annoying it can be. But a good 404 page? Well, that can erase the frustration, make you smile, and improve your impression of the brand.

404 pages can also be vital in reducing bounce rate and increasing user engagement. We'll explore how to turn a 404 error page into an opportunity to engage and delight your website visitors and provide practical tips you can implement right away. Whether you're a website designer, UX/UI designer, small business owner, or digital marketer, implementing these strategies will improve your website's overall performance.

What Is a 404 Error Page and Why Is It Important?

A 404 error page is displayed when a user attempts to access a website page that doesn't exist or has been moved. It's a common occurrence, often resulting from mistyped URLs, outdated links, or deleted pages. A 404 error can lead to a high bounce rate, negatively impacting user engagement and conversions.

However, a well-designed 404 page can turn this experience around. Investing time and effort in crafting an engaging 404 page can transform a potential roadblock into a positive interaction that leaves a lasting impression. It provides an opportunity to communicate with users, keep them engaged, and guide them to relevant content or back to the main website.

5 Best Practices for Designing an Engaging 404 Page

To create an effective 404 page, consider the following five best practices.

1. Maintain Brand Consistency

Incorporate your brand elements, such as logos, colors, and typography, to ensure a seamless experience that aligns with the rest of your website. Consistency instills trust and reassures visitors that they're still on your brand's website and haven't been redirected to a potentially unsafe environment.

2. Add a Touch of Humor or Creativity

Injecting a sense of humor or creative elements into your 404 page can help alleviate frustration and create a memorable experience. Use witty or lighthearted messaging, playful illustrations, or interactive features to engage users and make them smile. However, ensure that the humor aligns with your brand identity and resonates with your target audience.

3. Provide Helpful Links or a Search Bar

Assist users in finding relevant content or navigating back to the main website by offering helpful links to popular pages, categories, or a site map. Including a search bar allows users to easily search for the content they want, making their browsing experience less frustrating.

4. Use Clear and Concise Messaging

Communicate the error in a friendly and helpful manner. Avoid technical jargon and use plain language to explain that the page they were looking for couldn't be found. Provide a brief apology and guide them back to the homepage or relevant sections of the website.

5. Use Engaging Visual Elements

Use visually appealing graphics, directional cues, or creative illustrations to direct users toward search bars, relevant links, or the main page. The visual elements should be aesthetically pleasing, complement the overall design, and enhance the user experience.

Examples of Creative and Effective 404 Pages

Let's explore some well-designed 404 error pages.


Mailchimp's 404 page features a playful illustration of a donkey with its head deep in a hole in the ground looking for the lost page. The page clearly states that the requested page couldn't be found and provides a helpful link to the homepage. Clicking the donkey sends you to a simple browser-based game called HorseSnake with silly, upbeat music.

Using humor and helpful navigation options keeps visitors engaged, likely reduces the bounce rate due to people playing the game, and encourages further website exploration.


GitHub's 404 page takes a unique approach by incorporating a gamelike interface. It displays a cartoon character shrugging his shoulders and a search bar to help users find what they're looking for.


Tripadvisor's 404 error page features a brightly colored animated image at the top showing a hand pulling a suitcase. The headline and subheadline read, "This page is on vacation ...​ and you should be too. Let's get you started."

Below that are four simple buttons to help you choose where on the site to go next: hotels, restaurants, things to do, and vacation rentals. This is an excellent example of a fun, helpful 404 error page that directs visitors where to go next.

Analyzing and Improving Your 404 Page

To ensure your 404 page retains visitors, consider the following steps in your website development process:

  1. Use analytics tools: Track the performance of your 404 page using tools like Google Analytics or website heatmaps. Monitor bounce rates, exit pages, and user behavior to understand the impact of your current design.
  2. Analyze user behavior: Identify patterns and common user frustrations by analyzing user journeys and interactions on your website. Look for insights into why visitors encounter 404 errors and use this data to improve navigation and internal linking.
  3. Make iterative improvements: Based on data and user feedback, refine your 404 page to optimize the user experience. Test different variations, messaging, or visual elements to find the most effective design that keeps visitors engaged and encourages them to explore further.

Refine Your 404 Page To Leave a Lasting Impression

A thoughtful and user-friendly 404 page reflects your commitment to providing a seamless browsing experience. It's an opportunity to showcase your brand's creativity, maintain visitor engagement, and minimize the negative impact of broken links. Following the best practices outlined in this blog post can help you transform a potential roadblock into a positive user experience.

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