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Recovering from Kinks in the Web Experience

Posted by: Ruth Rivera on September 10, 2012

As businesses continue to evolve the relationship between their brands and their consumers, great pains are taken to create an idealized experience across touchpoints, both physical and digital. For many organizations, the website is the gateway into creating and nurturing relationships with audiences. From the visitor’s point of view, each click is expected to uncover information and further the journey not only into the website but also with the brand.

So what happens when a visitor takes a bad turn? If you have a broken link on your site (or a site incorrectly hyperlinks you) visitors are likely to land on an error, or “404” page. In a recent TED talk, Renny Gleeson, Global Digital Strategies Director for Wieden+Kennedy, likened coming across a 404 page as “the feeling of a broken relationship…it’s like a slap in the face.”

Error Message

Error pages are disappointing and frustrations that arise from these moments can force an abrupt end to an interaction a user is having with a brand. Research by the World Wide Web Consortium (“W3C”) suggests that 404 Errors can reduce site usage by as much as 10%.

A robust digital experience is central to maintaining a successful brand. Just as important as the website’s UI or its content is how a brand addresses the kinks that inevitably come along during a visitor’s experience. To address these frustrations, educate visitors and create a little fun, business are now incorporating branded moments and conversations into these intrinsic annoyances of the web experience.

So while you cannot always control the cause of an error page, you can minimize hurt feelings with a custom 404 page that addresses the issue and invites visitors alternative paths to continue on their journey. You may have seen attempts at humorous 404 pages, good for keeping visitors entertained. But what goes into making a valuable branded 404 page?

A well-branded 404 page serves as a moment to educate, to encourage a search or to display related information visitors might be interested in reading. When creating or updating your custom 404 page, keep the following tips in mind to ensure your audience stays with you:

Explain: Quickly let the visitor know where they are and why the error has occurred.

Look and Feel: The error page should look as good as the rest of your website (if not more appealing to keep visitors engaged).

Voice: Avoid technical jargon and speak to your audience as your brand would across all touchpoints.

Wayfinding: Provide your audience with some intuitive and easy options to keep them on your website, including a search box. Think about the most valuable sections, articles, blog posts or pages on your website as options to share with visitors.

Tracking: Identify common entry routes to your 404 page to spot, fix and minimize broken links.


While 404 pages are unavoidable, losing your audiences is not. Leverage a smartly executed 404 page to create a second chance to re-engage visitors, create a branded moment and direct them to what makes your brand great.

Ruth Rivera is a Strategy Consultant for Interbrand.

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